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close this bookSexual Violence against Refugees - Guidelines on Prevention and Response (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) / Alto Comisionado de Naciones Unidas para los Refugiados (ACNUR), 1995, 106 p.)
View the document1.1 Definition and Nature of Sexual Violence
View the document1.2 Persons Most Vulnerable to Sexual Violence
View the document1.3 Situations Where Sexual Violence May Occur
View the document1.4 Under-Reporting of Sexual Violence
View the document1.5 Effects of Sexual Violence
View the document1.6 Causes of Sexual Violence
View the document1.7 False Claims

1.1 Definition and Nature of Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is a gross violation of fundamental human rights and, when committed in the context of armed conflict, a grave breach of humanitarian law.

Not[es] with grave concern the widespread occurrence of sexual violence in violation of the fundamental right to personal security as recognized in international human rights and humanitarian law, which inflicts serious harm and injury to the victims, their families and communities, and which has been a cause of coerced displacement including refugee movements in some areas of the world,...

Executive Committee Conclusion No. 73 (XLIV) (1993), Preamble
Refugee Protection and Sexual Violence

There are various forms of sexual violence, rape being the one most commonly referred to. The legal definition of rape varies from country to country. In many societies it is defined as sexual intercourse with another person without their consent. Rape is committed when the victim’s resistance is overcome by force or fear or under other coercive conditions. In certain countries “statutory rape” exists as an offense. This is sexual intercourse with someone under a specified age, which is deemed to be unlawful. The victim is presumed by law to be unable to give consent by reason of his or her tender age.

However, many forms of sexual violence do not fall under the strict definition of rape, such as insertion of objects into genital openings, oral and anal coitus, attempted rape and the infliction of other sexually abusive acts. Sexual violence can also involve the use or threat of force in order to have sexual acts performed by third persons.

The term “sexual violence” is used in these Guidelines to cover all forms of sexual threat, assault, interference and exploitation, including “statutory rape” and molestation without physical harm or penetration.

Perpetrators of sexual violence are often motivated by a desire for power and domination. Given these motivating forces, rape is common in situations of armed conflict and internal strife. An act of forced sexual behaviour can be life-threatening. Like other forms of torture, it is often meant to hurt, control and humiliate, violating a person’s innermost physical and mental integrity.

Perpetrators of sexual violence can include family members, for example where a parent is sexually abusing a child. Domestic violence often escalates in refugee situations due to the enormous pressures of refugee life, for example, having to live in closed camps.