Women’s Rights Leaders Urge Full Investigation and Justice for Israeli Rape Victims and Survivors

Families of the hostages and their supporters gather for a candle lighting ceremony on the first night of Hanukkah, where 138 candles were also lit, one for each person still being held hostage, on Dec. 7, 2023 in Tel Aviv, Israel. The night marked two months since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas. (Alexi J. Rosenfeld / Getty Images)

At a United Nations conference on Monday, Israeli officials shared harrowing accounts of sexual violence, rape, mutilation and torture of women at the hands of Hamas during the terrorist group’s Oct. 7 attack. Now, women’s rights leaders and elected officials are sending a strong message to the United Nations about the need for action. 

A letter signed by Ms. founding editors Gloria Steinem and Letty Pogrebin, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), Mariska Hargitay, Ashley Judd, New York Attorney General Letitia James and hundreds of others urges Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres to investigate the rape, torture and other war crimes perpetrated on Oct. 7 at the hands of the terrorist group Hamas.

The letter reads:

As women’s rights activists and leaders, we stand for the right of every woman and girl, of every nationality, religion, and community, to live free of all forms of violence, including rape and sexual assault.

In the weeks since October 7th, overwhelming evidence has emerged that widespread, horrific acts of rape and sexual violence were systematically perpetrated by Hamas attackers against Israeli women and girls during the October 7th assault. The evidence includes forensic examinations of Israeli victims’ bodies bearing signs of rape and torture; eyewitness testimony by survivors of the Oct. 7th attacks who saw women being raped and mutilated; the testimony of first responders who found the bodies of Israeli women and girls in their bedrooms amid unmistakable and virtually unspeakable evidence of having been raped; video footage filmed by Hamas attackers and recovered from their devices, which recorded evidence of sexual assault, and which has been viewed and attested to by American journalists and elected officials; videos which have been made public showing a young Israeli woman with bloodied pants, being dragged by her hair in and out of a vehicle by Hamas abductors, and another young woman stripped to her underwear with Hamas abductors on top of her; and testimony being compiled by an independent, nongovernmental commission investigating war crimes perpetrated against women and children by Hamas on October 7th. …

We denounce the use of rape as a weapon of war, which is a crime against humanity.  

We call for a thorough, skillful, and unbiased investigation by international human rights investigators of acts of rape and sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas and other terrorist groups against Israeli women and girls on and after October 7th; we call for perpetrators of war crimes to be held accountable by all relevant authorities including the International Criminal Court.  

We demand the immediate, unconditional release of all remaining hostages so that they can receive desperately needed treatment for trauma and other serious medical conditions; we affirm that continuing to hold these kidnapped hostages captive is an ongoing violation of international law; and we say to these hostages and their loved ones: you are not alone.

…. To denounce rape as a weapon of war is not to express approval or alignment with the governing coalition in Israel, nor does it signal support for the bombings in Gaza. But as feminists we are committed to the universal principle that rape must always be condemned; we bear witness to the mountain of evidence that Hamas and other terrorist groups used rape as a weapon of war against Israeli women and girls; and we demand accountability for crimes that must never be tolerated by the world community. Most of all, we stand with the victims of gender-based atrocities, with the survivors and with those who did not survive, and we raise our voices in solidarity with them.

Read the full letter here.

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