Despite clear legal prohibitions, sexual violence remains widespread and prevalent during armed conflicts and other situations of violence, as well as in detention. It occurs in various contexts and has grave humanitarian consequences. Sexual violence is often utilized as a tactical or strategic means of overwhelming and weakening the adversary, whether directly or indirectly, by targeting the civilian population.
Sexual violence is rarely an isolated issue. It is usually part of a pattern of violence linked to other violations of international humanitarian law, such as torture, killings, looting, child recruitment or destruction of property. When linked to situations of conflict, it can exacerbate existing sexual and gender-based violence – such as marital rape and child marriage – among civilians.
These factors may also lead to the emergence of new trends or patterns, such as transactional or survival sex and trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation or abuse.
Disproportionately, survivors of sexual violence are often women, girls and sexual and gender minorities, but it can affect anyone. Given the destructive and wide-ranging consequences that sexual and gender-based violence has on individuals, a survivor-centred response (encompassing comprehensive health, mental health and psycho-social care, legal aid, and protection services) to support those affected, is essential.
The ICRC offers services and referrals to coordinated networks of specialists to implement this response. Furthermore, the ICRC ensures that the risks of sexual and gender-based violence are mitigated in its programming, and aids survivors such as through community-based livelihood programming — including a discussion with ICRC mental and psychosocial health delegate to address the prevention of sexual violence.
Sexual violence tends to be a sensitive issue, and despite clear legal and humanitarian imperatives to respond to it, it is often characterised as too 'taboo' to deal with. The ICRC launched its annual Special Appeal on Sexual Violence in 2013 to break the taboo, to support authorities in tackling the issue, and to ensure the provision of care to survivors of sexual violence.
You can read more on our commitments to tackling sexual violence and sexual and gender-based violence in the ICRC Institutional Strategy 2019-2022.
Inclusive programming during pandemic response
In emergencies, already marginalized people are often rendered even more vulnerable. COVID-19 is no different; it will have disproportionate effects on various groups in society, in communities and even within households, including people at risk of sexual and gender-based violence.
The ICRC has produced guidance that provides advice on programming during the initial phases of the response, including contingency planning, adapting and possibly scaling back current activities and strengthening and establishing new activities and partnerships to respond to the coronavirus in the humanitarian contexts in which it works.
Download PDF: Inclusive programming during COVID-19