05/11/2014 10:36 GMT | Updated 04/01/2015 05:59 GMT

Sexual Violence Against Women - Understanding Sexual Violence (Part One)

Part One: Understanding Sexual Violence

On Anti-Slavery Day (October 18th 2014), I decided to write this two-part article series on sexual violence against women specifically. Sexual violence has, fortunately, been brought to light publicly and more evidently, although it has been perceived by many as a 'hush-hush' topic in the past. Since both the 'Modern Slavery Bill' and the 'International Protocol to end impunity' were launched recently, I felt that this would be an appropriate time to further highlight the issue of sexual violence against women. Since awareness is necessary but insufficient to combatting the issue, I will also be discussing concrete solutions in Part Two. In Part One, I will be providing insight into this heated topic.

What is sexual violence, and what does it consist of?

Sexual violence is a specifically reprehensible form of violence, and includes rape and any other attack of a sexual nature perpetuated against both males and females. Its repercussions can be iniquitous, and may include acute and physical repercussions for survivors and witnesses. Human trafficking can also lead to sexual violence, and I will be discussing the issue of 'modern slavery' in this article. I will also highlight the brutal effects of sexual violence in conflict.

Under particular circumstances, sexual violence is a crime under international law: a war crime against humanity and/or an act of genocide, where the components of those categories of crimes are satisfied, and can be investigated and prosecuted as such at both the national and international levels. Sexual violence crimes can also be prosecuted as torture, cruel treatment and persecution in accordance with well-established jurisprudence (first in accordance of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and subsequently further codified in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and advanced yet again by the Special Court for Sierra Leone).

Why are women the centre of this issue?

Although it is important to note that women, men, girls and boys can all be victims of sexual violence, the historical and structural inequalities that exist between men and women, as well as the different forms of gender-based discrimination that women are subjected to all over the world, are primary factors that contribute to women and girls being disproportionally affected by sexual violence.

Sexual violence against women in conflict

In conflict settings, sexual violence is often committed by members of armed groups against individuals (including civilians). It can be used to punish or destroy a particular group, instil terror in them, retaliate against them or cause them to flee from a location. Perpetrators may take advantage of the insecurity and atmosphere of impunity to commit sexual violence.

Human trafficking

Human trafficking, a subset of modern slavery, is a means of forcing or deceiving individuals into a life of being victims of exploitation (including sexual exploitation and forced labour). There are approximately over 27 million slaves worldwide, which is more than at any point in human history.

Next step

Now, hopefully, you may be more aware and informed of the on-going sexual violence towards women. The next step would be to understand the importance of addressing the issue of sexual violence against women, which you can read in Part Two (the link to Part Two can be found on my blog page: