“Sexual violence in conflict is not simply a human rights issue,” Jamille Bigio and Rachel Vogelstein wrote in a recent piece for The Washington Post, “it’s also a security challenge.”
Bigio, senior fellow for Women and Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Vogelstein, director of the Women and Foreign Policy program at the Council of Foreign Relations, call on the United Nations Security Council to address the sexual violence against the Rohingya Muslims in Burma in the piece, making their case in five points. They argue that countries with high rates of sexual violence not only incur greater costs—in terms of loss of people and finances—but ultimately struggle to find lasting peace as well.
Rape in wartime corrodes future stability—but it is not inevitable. It’s true that throughout history, many armies considered rape to be one of the legitimate spoils of war; this crime was tacitly accepted as unavoidable through the early 20th century.
But more recently, legal rulings have outlawed sexual violence and recognized it as a war crime. And research shows that while some conflicts include widespread sexual violence, not all do: One analysis of 177 armed groups in 21 African countries found that 59 percent were not reported to have committed sexual violence. Another analysis of 91 civil wars between 1980 and 2012 revealed that 17 percent did not include widespread sexual violence.
In other words, armed groups don’t always rape with impunity; levels of sexual violence vary from one conflict to another. That’s because while some leaders of armed organizations may order or tolerate rape by their soldiers, others prohibit it. That suggests that sexual violence in conflict can be prevented. Research has revealed best practices around the world, from community-based police reforms initiated in Nicaragua in the 1990s to innovative prosecutorial approaches recently instituted in the DRC.
It’s possible, therefore, to drive down sexual violence in conflict—and evidence suggests that doing so matters to security and stability.
Maura Turcotte is an editorial intern at Ms.