|Dying of Sadness: Gender Sexual Violence and the HIV Epidemic (UNDP, 1999, 17 p.)|
In situations of conflict, the risk of sexual violence increases dramatically with the breakdown in law and order, large numbers of mobile, vulnerable and unaccompanied women and children. Men and boys are at risk of being forced to join militia groups. Socialisation into military culture, which often demonstrates male power at its most brutal, may involve sexual violence. Brothels, which may include "enemy" women in conditions of sexual servitude, are likely to flourish in or near combat zones. In many countries rates of HIV infection are considerably higher among military personnel than among the population generally. The very real possibility of death in combat may serve to distance men from the more remotely perceived threat of HIV infection.
Conflict situations make girls and women especially vulnerable in multiple ways. "Forced marriages" (more akin to sexual slavery than to any form of consensual union), coerced sex and voluntary remarriage are all common in conflict situations where men and women have lost partners. Rape may be used by opposing forces as an instrument of terror or as a symbol of victory. The loss of homes, income, families and social support deprives women and girls of the capacity to generate income and they may be forced into transactional sex in order to secure their lives (or those of their husbands or children), escape to safety, or to gain access to shelter or services (including the distribution of food). In transit, refugees who are sexually active (through choice or necessity) will be exposed to different populations with differing levels of HIV infection.
It is reported that between 250,000 and 400,000 women were raped during the 1972 war for independence in Bangladesh. More than eight hundred rapes were reported to have been committed by Indian security forces against women in Jammu and Kashmir. There is evidence that rape has been used as a tool of political repression during specific periods of dictatorship in Haiti. It was estimated that since fighting began in April 1992, between 20,000 and 50,000 Muslim women were raped in Bosnia, many of whom were held in so-called "rape camps" where they were forced to conceive and bear Serbian children against their will.
In pre-genocide Rwanda, HIV infection rates were estimated at 25% (and considerably more than 35% among the military). The conflict itself created large numbers of refugees, exposing women and girls to further risk, and contributing post-genocide to a sense of fatalism among surviving women. While it is certain that some women were infected through rape the exact proportion or numbers will never be known. To provide some sense of the scale of rape committed during the genocide it is believed that every surviving female had been raped. Some survivors report that their persecutors told them that they had been allowed to live so that they might "die of sadness". A survey of 304 survivors reported that 35% had become pregnant following rape and it is estimated that between two and five thousand "enfants de mauvais souvenir" (children of bad memories) resulted from rapes committed during the genocide.
Within refugee camps the risk of infection may still be significant. In such situations with large concentrations of unemployed, traumatised and dispirited men, rape is a common occurrence. Moreover many women in such situations will be less likely to have the 'benefit' of male protection and may be even more vulnerable to assault as a result. There is likely to be little recourse to justice, and those charged with responsibility for administering it may themselves be implicated in abuse. The design of camps (intended as a refuge) may inadvertently increase vulnerability. For example communal latrines, inadequate lighting, insensitivity to internal power dynamics among refugees, lack of protection for those who collect wood or water, may combine to render women and girls even more vulnerable to assault.