Sexual Violence and HIV/AIDS

Sexual violence can take many forms. It violates the most basic of human rights, and its effects resonate long after the act. It also perpetuates the vulnerability of women and girls to HIV infection.

In the developing world 2 out of 3 young people living with HIV are female.

In some countries in Africa young women are five times more likely to be infected than young men.


“The Journey, Exposing the Sex Trade” Coming to NYC

Through a striking art installation, actress Emma Thompson chronicles the story of a naive 18-year-old from a small Eastern European republic who was caught up in London’s sex trade. Her name is Elena, and her story makes its debut in New York on Nov. 10. This art installation will be in Washington Square Park, New York City, November 10-16.  Thompson will be in the seventh container.

Giving Voice to the Victims and Survivors of Human Trafficking

Photo # 418239 	 UN Photo/Mark Garten
Photo # 418239 UN Photo/Mark Garten

The United Nations hosted a special event at its New York Headquarters yesterday for the victims and survivors of human trafficking, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issuing a broad-based call to action for States to tackle the root causes and ensure swift justice against the perpetrators.

“Our fight against human trafficking is guided by three Ps: prevention, protection and prosecution,” he said in an opening address at the event at which four survivors bore living witness with accounts of their own horrific plight, including a girl who was abducted at age 14 by Ugandan rebels and kept as a sex slave for eight years.

“We must also empower victims. They need support systems, information and education. They need viable ways to earn a living. They also need criminal justice systems to pursue traffickers, and subject them to serious penalties. Conviction rates in most countries are microscopic compared to the scope of the problem. But when States help victims, the victims can help States break up trafficking networks.”

Mr. Ban cited a litany of abhorrent practices, including debt bondage, forced labor, torture, organ removal, sexual exploitation and slavery-like conditions. “Human trafficking injures, traumatizes and kills individuals. It devastates families and threatens global security,” he declared of a worldwide industry that generates billions of dollars in profit at the expense of millions of victims.

“Human trafficking touches on many issues, from health and human rights to development and peace and security. Our response must be equally broad, and must tackle this challenge at its roots,” he added, noting that the global economic crisis is making the problem worse as jobs and food get scarcer and rising social exclusion makes minorities and women especially vulnerable.

Survivors of human trafficking who addressed the event included Charlotte Awino, abducted at age 14 by Lord’s Resistance Army rebels in Uganda and kept as a sex slave for eight years; Buddhi Gurung from Nepal, trafficked for labor to Iraq to work on a United States military base; Kika Cerpa from Venezuela, forced into prostitution by a man she thought of as her boyfriend; and Rachel Lloyd, an activist who survived commercial sexual exploitation as a teenager and started a New York organization to aid girls victimized by sex traffickers.

Horrifying Statistics

Today in the world, there are more slaves than when slavery was legal. There are an estimated 27 million victims of human trafficking that live in every major city across the world. Contemplating this, we see a picture of suffering on a magnitude too staggering to comprehend.

  • Human trafficking is a $10 billion+ growth industry with conservative estimates ranging from 700,000 to 2 million people – primarily women and children – trafficked into prostitution and slavery annually.
  • Human trafficking is the third largest criminal business worldwide, after trafficking in drugs and weapons.
  • For traffickers it has been a high profit, low risk enterprise. Laws against trafficking in persons do not exist or are not enforced in many countries.
  • The most common form of human trafficking (79%) is sexual exploitation. The victims of sexual exploitation are predominantly women and girls.
  • In 30% of the countries that provide information on the gender of traffickers, women make up the largest proportion of traffickers. In some parts of the world, women trafficking women is the norm.
  • Worldwide, almost 20% of all trafficking victims are children. However, in some parts of Africa and the Mekong region, children are the majority (up to 100% in parts of West Africa).

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, whose office organized the Giving Voice to the Victims and Survivors of Human Trafficking Special Event, stressed that persisting economic disparities, conflict and discrimination, particularly against women and migrants, continue to push those least able to protect themselves into dangerous situations from which they cannot escape.

Can we End Human Trafficking?

The demand for prostitution is the main driver of the business of human trafficking. The best way to stop the demand for prostitution is to make the act of paying for sex illegal.  See: Stopping the Demand for Trafficking in Women & Children and Norway Makes Paying for Sex Illegal.

There will always be some individuals who will not be stopped from buying sex by such legislation, but the experience of Sweden and Norway has shown that most are deterred by the risk of such penalties as having their name printed in the newspaper, having their car impounded, having to do community service or having to attend educational sessions on human trafficking.

What can you do?

There are many things that you can do to stop the demand for trafficking in women and children.

  • Educate others about the implications of  buying sex, frequenting “gentlemen’s clubs,” patronizing porn sites on the Internet, etc.
  • Promote the passage of anti-trafficking laws that follow the Swedish model of punishing those who buy sex.
  • Participate in awareness-raising groups that make known the situation of human trafficking in your country or region.
  • Pray daily for an end to human trafficking.
  • Speak out against the sexualization and commoditization of women and children in the media and on the Internet.

For more information go to:

Rape as a Weapon of War

Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that “women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of indecent assault.”

Yesterday, the Christian Science Monitor reported that rape is now being prosecuted as a war crime in Columbia. Small progress has been made. In May 2007, only 12 cases of sexual violence were filed with prosecutors appointed to carry out Colombia’s special Justice and Peace Law. Today that number stands at 228.

Local and national women’s organizations say that both right-wing paramilitaries and leftist guerrillas engaged in rape and other forms of sexual violence during Columbia’s four-decade civil war. Women and girls were raped, sexually tortured and mutilated. Many were killed. Fighters would often take control of a village and make all of the women and girls sex slaves. A 2006 report by a special rapporteur of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights said: “The actors in Colombia’s armed conflict, particularly the paramilitaries and guerrillas, use physical, sexual, and psychological violence against women as a strategy of war.”

It is estimated that the number of women and girls who have been sexually abused is in the thousands, but very few incidents were ever reported. Now, women’s organizations are campaigning to make women aware of their rights and to push prosecutors to question paramilitaries about sexual violence. These efforts have led hundreds of females to come forward, but most are still remaining silent out of fear of retaliation. Even though the conflict is officially over, women continue to be sexually assaulted if they speak out

Rape has always been part of war in one way or another. In ancient times women were routinely taken as spoils of war, raped and either sold as slaves or forced to marry their captors. Into modern times, random rape by soldiers has been seen as an unavoidable consequence of war.

In spite of a body of international law condemning rape, the use of systematic rape as a tactic of war has become a common phenomena.

Serbians raped more than 20,000 Muslim women and girls between 1991-1994 in the former Yugoslavia. One goal was to make the women pregnant with Serbian babies. Another was to terrorize women so that they would flee from their land.

Iraqi soldiers raped at least 5,000 Kuwaiti women during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

It is estimated that 500,00 women and girls in Rwanda were gang raped and sexually mutilated, after which many were killed, during the civil war there.

Probably no war zone in recent times has employed rape as sexual terrorism as extensively as the various military forces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), known as the  “rape capital of the world.”

According to MADRE, an international women’s rights group, no one knows how many Iraqi women have been raped since the war began in 2003. Most crimes against women “are not reported because of stigma, fear of retaliation, or lack of confidence in the police. Documenting sexual assault in Iraq by international researchers remains complicated because of widespread violence and because militias often target women’s rights advocates.

How long will men turn women’s bodies into battlefields?

New Afghan Law Strips Women and Girls of Hard Won Rights

Afghanistan’s President, Hamid Karzai, in a bid to gain support for his faltering Presidential re-election campaign, has signed a law that is reminiscent of the days of Taliban rule. The new law prohibits women from leaving their homes, seeking work, education or visiting the doctor without their husbands’ permission, and forbids them from refusing their husband sex.  According to the UN, the law essentially legalizes rape. It also grants custody of children to fathers and grandfathers only and tacitly approves child marriage.

Female parliamentarians report that the law was passed with unprecedented speed and little debate. Through negotiation they were able to raise the minimum age for marriage from nine years old to sixteen and to outlaw temporary marriage.  They wanted other changes as well, but but little or no discussion was allowed.

So far, the international community has not questioned the new law out of fear of being accused of not respecting Afghan culture. However, women leaders in Afghanistan are hoping that foreign embassies and governments that support Karzai will intervene when the new law is published.

Say No to Violence Against Women

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Last year UNIFEM launched a year long campaign, “Say No to Violence Against Women” to raise awareness throughout the world of women’s human rights The goal is to collect 1,000,000 signatures by Tuesday, November 25, when at a special ceremony at the United Nations, Nicole Kidman will present all of the signatures to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Please use the widget to add your name and be counted.

According to the UN:

Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. At least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime — with the abuser usually someone known to her. Perhaps the most pervasive human rights violation that we know today, it devastates lives, fractures communities, and stalls development.

Statistics paint a horrifying picture of the social and health consequences of violence against women. For women aged 15 to 44 years, violence is a major cause of death and disability. In a 1994 study based on World Bank data about ten selected risk factors facing women in this age group, rape and domestic violence rated higher than cancer, motor vehicle accidents, war and malaria. Moreover, several studies have revealed increasing links between violence against women and HIV/AIDS. Women who have experienced violence are at a higher risk of HIV infection: a survey among 1,366 South African women showed that women who were beaten by their partners were 48 percent more likely to be infected with HIV than those who were not.

The economic cost of violence against women is considerable — a 2003 report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the costs of intimate partner violence in the United States alone exceed US$5.8 billion per year: US$4.1 billion are for direct medical and health care services, while productivity losses account for nearly US$1.8 billion. Violence against women impoverishes individuals, families and communities, reducing the economic development of each nation.

“Am I my sister’s keeper?” How do we respond to the stoning of Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow?

When he came home and the Lord asked him, “Where is your brother?” Cain answered that he didn’t know. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Gn. 4.9

I can’t stop thinking about the horror of the last few moments of 13 year old stoning victim Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow’s life. People I work with in the NGO community at the UN are struggling to come up with a response to this atrocity.

Somalia is in a state of anarchy. The Transitional Federal Government of Somalia is not in control of the country and could not have stopped the stoning. The situation of the international community is akin to living next to a family where the parents are completely messed up on drugs or whatever and are abusing their children. Obviously, reasoning with the parents won’t make any difference, nor will picketing outside their house, because the parents are too far gone to change their behavior on their own. Sending in a few bags of groceries once in a while won’t solve the problem either.

So far, the response of the international community to the ongoing violence in Somalia has been equivalent to these ineffectual actions. The UN and other humanitarian organizations make statements deploring what’s happening in Somalia, but the violence continues.

Last April when the Pope was at the UN, he said, “In the internal debates of the United Nations, increasing emphasis is being placed on the responsibility to protect. Indeed this is coming to be recognized as the moral basis for a governments claim to authority. It is also a feature that naturally appertains to a family, in which stronger members take care of weaker ones. This Organization performs an important service, in the name of the international community, by monitoring the extent to which governments fulfill their responsibility to protect their citizens.”

Then he challenged the UN to do more than just monitor, he declared that, “Every State has the primary duty to protect its own population from grave and sustained violations of human rights, as well as from the consequences of humanitarian crises, whether natural or man-made. If States are unable to guarantee such protection, the international community must intervene with the juridical means provided in the United Nations Charter and in other international instruments. The action of the international community and its institutions, provided that it respects the principles undergirding the international order, should never be interpreted as an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty.”

The international community has a moral responsibility to intervene, just as we would to violence and abuse in our own neighborhoods.