Foreign Policy Blogs

War's Sexual Violence Towards Girls


Unidentified Victim of Sexual Violence

“I was naked; the men had forced me to take my clothes off. Four of them were holding me down, one on each leg and one on each arm, while the other raped me. I was weeping so much. I couldn't stop thinking…These men will give me diseases. I thought of HIV. The men said nothing at all, the five of them raped me one after the other. I had terrible pain in my abdomen and vagina; I was bleeding. I just lay there ‚ I couldn't move.” – “Pewa" was raped at only 9 years old, in her own home, in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In times of war everyone becomes a victim, however children suffer more than anyone, and girls face an even graver fate than their male counter parts. Sexual Violence against girls is heightened in times of war, the degree of violence deepened. No child should ever face violence whether, physical, sexual or mental, the scars of violence never heal, but it is the scars of sexual violence that run deeper than one can imagine. When one thinks of rape, and other forms of sexual violence, they often think only of the mental scars, yet in armed conflict girls are disproportionately abused sexually, mentally and physically, repeatedly year after year. The physical violence that accompanies the rape in much of armed conflict today, is extreme and of a sexual nature.

Earlier this year, "The Shame of War: sexual violence against women and girls in conflict', was published by IRIN, the book is a was composed to be a reference tool. The use of a portraits and testimonies from women and girls who have been victims of the sexual violence of war. This is the second publication on gender-based violence, IRIN, as "Broken Bodies, Broken Dreams: violence against women exposed' was published in 2005. It was this book that lead to 'the Shame of War’, as the issue was covered as one chapter in the book, and therefore the issue received much concern, that it was felt more attention to the subject must be taken. The Report concluded that the key to ending sexual violence is to first of all address the crisis at hand.

“Addressing this crisis requires a response that includes immediate support measures for victims; access to legal services; and global, national and local advocacy to tackle embedded belief systems and social structures that discriminate against women and girls and allow sexual violence to continue unabated…Governments, donors and humanitarian agencies urgently need to harness the necessary resources …to eliminate gender-based violence in all its forms and ensure that women and children can live in safety and dignity….When states persistently violate human rights and when the international community fails to respond, it is a collective responsibility we have all failed to meet.”


THEY FIND US BY THE RIVER as we fetch water.
THEY FIND US IN THE FOREST as we collect wood .

They are the nameless, faceless bandits-rebels-military
They abuse our bodies, take our souls, empty our guts
Then throw us away

We are the trash they leave behind in their wars

We are the silent ones you see by the side of the road
The ones once called mother, sister, wife, daughter
We are the ones discarded by husbands

We are used up, defiled by other men, dirty
Unwanted, unseen, unheard, UNDONE

We are the battleground – the ammunition
in a war never seen, never heard
Felt only by us

(Our Bodies…their battleground: Gender-based Violence during Conflict)

Sexual violence in war, is unfortunately not a new concept, however todays rates, and forms of abuse are alarming. Sexual slavery and violence, in all forms, has become a modern plague, as it scourges across the globe. The use of sexual violence as a form of warfare has become an epidemic, in many of the conflicts 50% or more of the female population is raped. The World Health Organization (WHO), claims that violence against females is the cause of more death or disability, for girls and women aged 15 to 44, than that of cancer, malaria, traffic injuries and general warfare combined. However while in some conflicts all women, young and old, are essentially up for grabs as war booty, in others the younger girls receive the brunt of the violence, with repeated violence, increased gang rapes, and are kept often for years as ‘wives’. Many girls never try to escape, for fear of increased abuse, victimization of a family member, or death.

Recovery and rehabilitation is not easy for any victim of sexual abuse, but for victims of sexual violence due to armed conflict, the process often seems completely out of reach. There is often little to no infrastructure in place to deal with such abuses, safe havens are few and far between. Girls are often impregnated by one of their attackers, thus a new generation of victims is born, girls are given a life of sexual abuse and boys are abused as child soldiers. While if a girl does find refuge, it is often short lived, due to over crowding, long waiting lists, or lack of funding. This lack of care for victims of sexual violence, often leaves girls open to recapture, in many cases the ‘husband’/soldier will come looking for the ‘wives’ who escape.


Sudanese child draws image of rape

'the Conflict in Darfur Through Children's Eyes’

– Human Rights Watch

Everyday young girls bodies are used as weapons of war, claimed as the rights of a soldier, abused, enslaved, mutilated, and killed. These girls are only children, and their bodies and minds have been taken from them for the sake of war. No longer can these young girls live in peace, even when the war ends they will suffer the turmoils of conflict. We must work to end this horrid and sadistic practice of violence, and give the girls of war hope for the future.

"Safety and security don't just happen: they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children , the most vulnerable citizens in any society , a life free from violence and fear. In order to ensure this, we must become tireless in our efforts not only to attain peace, justice and prosperity for countries but also for communities and members of the same family. We must address the roots of violence. Only then will we transform the past century's legacy from a crushing burden into a cautionary lesson." -Nelson Mandela, World Report on Violence and Health 2002.

"The Shame of War: sexual violence against women and girls in conflict' – A full downloadable copy, the book is also available for purchase.
Broken bodies ‚ broken dreams: violence against women exposed
Our Bodies…their battleground: Gender-based Violence during Conflict
Razor's Edge: The Controversy of Female Genital Mutilation
The Crushing Burden of Rape: Sexual Violence in Darfur
Liberia's child rape victims
Democratic Republic of the Congo: Local NGO works to heal victims of gender-based violence
Sexual violence, an ‘invisible war crime’



Cassandra Clifford

Cassandra Clifford is the Founder and Executive Director of Bridge to Freedom Foundation, which works to enhance and improve the services and opportunities available to survivors of modern slavery. She holds an M.A., International Relations from Dublin City University in Ireland, as well as a B.A., Marketing and A.S., Fashion Merchandise/Marketing from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Cassandra has previously worked in both the corporate and charity sector for various industries and causes, including; Child Trafficking, Learning Disabilities, Publishing, Marketing, Public Relations and Fashion. Currently Cassandra is conducting independent research on the use of rape as a weapon of war, as well as America’s Pimp Culture and its Impact on Modern Slavery. In addition to her many purists Cassandra is also working to develop a series of children’s books.

Cassandra currently resides in the Washington, D.C. metro area, where she also writes for the Examiner, as the DC Human Rights Examiner, and serves as an active leadership member of DC Stop Modern Slavery.

Areas of Focus:
Children's Rights; Human Rights; Conflict