Report: Sexual Violence as a Weapon of Conflict, Vigilanteism on the Rise Globally
The threat of political violence, sexual and otherwise, toward women has grown from the beginning of 2018 until now, confirms the latest data collated by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) in partnership with the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law at The University of Texas at Austin.
In 2018, India ranked fourth in the list of regions where women are most vulnerable to attack. In 2019, India has moved up to the second position, behind the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). South Sudan, Burundi, and Mozambique tied with Zimbabwe round out the dubious top five.
The report analyzed 400 incidents of politically motivated sexual violence, recorded between January 2018 and June 2019, in conflict-ridden areas across the world. It found that in 95% of the cases, the offender specifically targeted women and girls; only 5% of the victims in these incidents were male. Additionally, in the first three months of 2019, the number of sexual violence cases reported globally doubled from the same period a year earlier due to “an upward trend in violence in the DRC, which consistently registers high levels of reported sexual violence.”
Interestingly, while countries like DRC and South Sudan are embroiled in full-blown “attempted genocides” and civil wars, the report finds politically motivated sexual violence against women in India is driven by the “mob violence” of “vigilante groups.” These groups target women for a host of reasons “ranging from alleged illicit affairs to accusations of child lifting, to allegations of witchcraft.” While a comparably smaller take away from the larger international emergency of violence against women, the fact that India’s everyday reality finds mention on the same list as countries embroiled in widespread armed conflict goes to show the extent of normalization and scale of such violence against women in the country.
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The ACLED study also identified the primary perpetrators of “public, political sexual attacks” as regional political militias, followed by state forces — which in India’s context comes down to people affiliated to “political parties or religious groups”.
Globally, ACLED recorded more than 100 government-perpetrated sexual violence incidents between 2018-19, accounting for more than 25% of all such incidents in this time period, which is “most common in India, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, South Sudan, Burundi, and Sudan.”
Out of all incidents of violence against women that were recorded, only 33% were cases in which women were targeted during organized political violence. “However, even where they identified that organized violence was not the primary objective, women often still face high levels of targeting outside of conventional conflict: for example, attempts by a state to enforce order through repression, or a mob targeting a woman accused of indecency,” the study says.
Ultimately, sexual violence with political motivations is no different from sexual violence with other motivations. The perpetrators of these acts are the sons of the world and products of an environment that has nurtured rape culture and consistently normalized violence against women. To understand this specific kind of violence — and why India finds shameful mention despite touting itself as a high-functioning, pluralistic democracy — we need to understand the very social norms that facilitate it.