When advocates talk about violence against women and its intersections with national security, much attention is paid to rape in times of war and as a tool of war—practices which are obviously abhorrent, and must be stopped. But other forms of gendered violence impact women’s security as well, including domestic violence—which may be a more present danger to women in times of conflict.
Michelle Sieff, a consultant on violence against women, conflict and development for organizations like the World Bank and USAID, implores the national security set around the globe to consider domestic violence in their work—and reminds them what’s at risk when they don’t—in a new piece for Foreign Policy magazine.
The World Health Organization estimates that almost one-third of women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical or sexual violence by their intimate partner. And 38 percent of female murders are committed by a boyfriend or spouse. By comparison, sexual violence done by armed groups is much less prevalent. According to the best available data set on sexual violence in armed conflict, between 1989 and 2009—a 20-year time span that included the civil wars in the Balkans, central Africa, and West Africa—7,331 incidents of sexual violence by armed groups were recorded (against both male and female victims).
Even in some conflict settings, new research suggests that the frequency of sexual violence by armed actors is significantly less than that by intimate partners, acquaintances, and other caregivers. According to a survey of 12 rural communities in Côte d’Ivoire during the 2000–2007 conflict, only four percent of women endured forced sex by perpetrators other than intimate partners. Another survey of 15 conflict-affected municipalities in Colombia found that the reported rate of rape by family members was triple the reported rate by combatants. Finally, a recent study of violence against adolescent girls in refugee camps in Ethiopia and South Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, found that the most frequently reported perpetrators were intimate partners, followed by caregivers or relatives.
New research also suggests that intimate partner violence may be a predictor of other forms of mass violence, conflict and state insecurity. According to one study, in more than half of U.S. mass shootings between 2009 and 2016, the male killer shot an intimate partner or another family member. Both the 2017 Texas church shooter and the man who killed 49 people at an Orlando, Florida nightclub in 2016 had histories of domestic violence. In the 2012 book Sex and World Peace, the scholar Valerie M. Hudson and her colleagues used quantitative measures and found a statistically significant relationship between the physical security of women, which included measures of domestic violence, and the overall peacefulness of states.
Sieff also explores how politicians, advocates and diplomats alike can expand their work to include issues of intimate partner violence—including building on the historic Women, Peace and Security Act signed into law this year and increasing funding for and top-down support for domestic violence initiatives in the State Department and around the world.
“Any discussion of peace and security must begin to account for the security of women in their homes,” she posits of activists. “It is not enough to include women at the conflict resolution table if the agenda continues to exclude violence perpetrated by intimate partners.”