Sexual violence as an international health issue

by on July 21, 2008  •  In Health

Following are excerpts from a speech arguing that sexual violence is an international health crisis. Follow the link for the full speech.  It is grim reading, but a compelling argument. HT to Mary Reed of the Association of Nutrition Services Agencies and Chai Feldblum.

AIDS-Free World – Sexual Violence: An Issue of Health

By Stephen Lewis   
Monday, 21 July 2008

[Speech to the Tides Foundation "Momentum" conference]

… Early last week, as everyone knows, charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes were laid against President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan by the International Criminal Court. Imbedded in the charges were grotesque crimes of sexual violence. If the phrase “the killing fields” of Cambodia has entered the language, then “the raping fields” of Darfur cannot be far behind.

Later in the week the President of Indonesia was forced to express extreme regret for murder and rape committed by the Indonesian army when it was attempting to subdue East Timor.

And at the end of the week, the Uganda Law Reform Commission reported to parliament that of 6,000 people interviewed in a formal survey, 92% reported that some form of domestic violence was taking place in their communities. The report cites sexual violence, psychological torture, physical and bodily harm and marital rape. The highest levels of violence were recorded in Northern Uganda where a bitter civil war has raged for more than a decade.

It can safely be said that not a day goes by without some authoritative report from some country of hideous sexual violence directed at women. It has become a world-wide contagion. And it is a huge issue of public health: the health of the women, psychological, emotional and physical is torn asunder. That’s the objective.

There’s not a region of the world that’s exempt. It’s happening in Iraq; it’s happening in Afghanistan … and before anyone becomes too smug about it, it’s worth recalling the astonishing article in the LA Times, written by Jane Harman, chair of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on Intelligence. She wrote that women serving in the US military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq. And then, at a visit to the VA Healthcare Centre in Los Angeles, the doctors told her “that 41% of female veterans say they were victims of sexual assault while in the military, and 29% reported being raped during their military service”. She also employs figures from the Department of Defense showing a 73% increase in sexual assaults within the military, 2006 over 2004 (we’re talking of almost three thousand assaults). …


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