What is sexual violence?

Sexual violence designates any acts of a sexual nature imposed by force or threats of force (physical violence, but also psychological oppression, detention, abuse of power, etc.) While women and girls are often the most affected, many men and boys are also subject to sexual violence. These acts encompass:

  • Sexual slavery
  • Rape
  • Forced prostitution
  • Forced pregnancy
  • Forces sterilization
  • Any other forms of sexual violence of comparable gravity
  • Forced marriage, conjugation, abortion or nudity

These crimes often go underreported, as victims fear stigmatization and social, economic and legal repercussions. By remaining silent, they expose themselves to further psychological and medical complications.

In conflict or post-conflict contexts, sexual violence is commonly perpetrated in addition to other forms of violence or to war crimes, including killing, the recruitment of child soldiers, destruction of property and looting.

Sexual violence may be used as a weapon of war, intended to terrorise populations, destroy community and family bonds and influence demographics. It is sometimes an integral part of armed groups’ military strategies.

Sexual violence under international law

Under certain circumstances, sexual violence may constitute an international crime (war crime, crime against humanity and/or an act of genocide). As such, these acts can – and should – be prosecuted both at the national or international level.

International courts and tribunals have, for the past 20 years, developed a vast jurisprudence on sexual violence under international law, seeking greater accountability for these crimes. Unfortunately, this has had little deterring effect and sexual violence remain alarmingly widespread worldwide.

While sexual violence may be perpetrated against anyone, the International Committee o the Red Cross has identified particularly vulnerable groups:

  • Women and girls, especially female heads of households and widows
  • Migrants and refugees
  • Detainees
  • Those belonging to a particular ethnic group
  • Those associated with armed forces or armed groups
in Kathmandu, Nepal, Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)
in Kathmandu, Nepal, Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

TRIAL International acts against sexual violence

TRIAL actively fights against impunity for sexual violence, notably in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, the DRC and Nepal.

Helping the victims

TRIAL International represents survivors of sexual violence before various human rights bodies and submits reports to international human rights mechanisms to raise awareness on impunity for sexual crimes.

Prosecuting the perpetrators

TRIAL International has brought numerous cases of sexual violence before national and international jurisdictions, most substantively for crimes occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Training human rights defenders

TRIAL International also conducts capacity-building sessions for human rights defenders, training them to collect evidence of sexual violence efficiently but without further traumatizing the victims. This in turn ensures better documentation and investigation for cases of sexual violence.