Colombia: Sexual violence
This prohibited practice is preventable; it is not an inevitable aspect of armed conflict. The main problems facing victims are difficulties in accessing health care and not having any guarantee of their safety and protection.
Sexual violence causes deep, often irreparable, harm to the women, girls, men and boys who suffer it, including sexually transmitted infections, damage to sexual and reproductive health, unwanted pregnancy and severe psychological consequences which have a devastating effect on the lives and futures of victims and their families.
This prohibited practice is preventable; it is not an inevitable aspect of armed conflict. It is a serious violation of the rules of international humanitarian law, a crime under the Rome Statute of 1998 (articles 7 and 8), a punishable offence under the Colombian Penal Code and prohibited conduct under Law 1257 of 2008.
Sexual violence takes many forms. In addition to forced sexual intercourse and violent sexual assault, it also includes other serious offences, such as forced prostitution and nudity, sexual slavery, forced impregnation, sterilization and abortion, sexual relations with people under fourteen years of age and abusive sexual acts. Attempted rape and threats of rape are also prohibited.
In armed conflict, sexual violence is not an isolated event and, in many cases, is linked to other phenomena of humanitarian concern, such as displacement, physical abuse, intimidation, the recruitment of minors, the seizure of land, social control and forced disappearance. It involves multiple victimizations and accumulative related consequences (see p. 43).
The main problems facing victims are difficulties in accessing health care and not having any guarantee of their safety and protection. They also have trouble pursuing justice and reparation.
Cases of sexual violence must be treated, in all circumstances, as medical emergencies. Victims must on no account be required to report the crime in order to receive medical or psychological care. Rape victims must have access to health services within 72 hours of the incident to control the risk of unwanted pregnancy, prevent the transmission of HIV and initiate treatment for any sexually transmitted infections. However, many victims and health workers are unaware of this vitally important fact which can help to prevent irreversible damage.
Even when they do know the procedure, victims are sometimes unable to access health services, owing to the lack of medical facilities and personnel where they live or because the facilities they go to do not have the resources to deal with emergencies of this kind, although by law victims are entitled to such services and the State has a duty to provide them.
In 2012 the regions most seriously affected by this problem were Nariño (Tumaco in particular), Chocó, Arauca, Antioquia and Cauca. The ICRC also registered a worrying increase in cases in Buenaventura.
The ICRC’s humanitarian response
In 2012 117 new victims of sexual violence received medical assistance, with 102 of them also benefitting from psychological care, under an agreement between the ICRC and Profamilia. Follow-up assistance was provided to 74 previous victims, and 58 received guidance about the health services available to them. Only four of the victims treated under the agreement were seen within 72 hours of the rape. Unfortunately, the average time that elapses between the occurrence of the incident and the victim seeking medical attention is six to eight weeks.
In many cases, people who suffer sexual violence flee their homes. To help them cope, 64 such victims, mostly women heading households, received assistance, including food, personal hygiene kits and household items.
Although cases of sexual violence are under-reported, because many victims fear for their safety if they speak up, the ICRC recorded 27 voluntarily reported cases. The ICRC engages in confidential dialogue on this subject with parties to the conflict and other armed actors to try to persuade them not to commit acts of sexual violence and raises specific cases with them when victims give their permission to do so.
Ángela’s heartache, three times a victim
Ángela has seven children and three heartaches. The first was caused by the “disappearance” of her husband. The second came that same night, after an armed group had taken her husband away from their farm in Córdoba and she had to flee her home with her children. The third heartache, the most recent, was her rape by a member of an armed group... Read more