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Thursday Marks International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Thursday is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

There’s been a great deal of news about the rapes in the eastern DRC, where rape is used as a weapon of war. Many thousands of women, and many men and children as well, have been sexually assaulted in the Congo. But rape often occurs in non-conflict areas as well.

Miriam Reventlow, senior legal advisor for the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, in Copenhagen, says, “Rape is still a widespread but often overlooked method of torture around the world.”

Congo and elsewhere

The council says in certain parts of the world rape is “systemic.”

“We hear in the news on a regular basis about the horrendous torture that takes place and the rapes that take place in the DRC. And we are appalled by that. We’ve highlighted this on many occasions and we are calling on all parties to stop the rape and to protect the victims,” she says.

Reventlow adds, “We must also recognize that rape does not only take place in situations of war…but also on a day-to-day basis in peace situations, where we have incidences of rape and sexual torture in detention settings around the world.”

The council has centers in 73 countries lending support to rape victims. But it’s calling for more international support for them.

It’s not about sex

“Rape is not only devastating to the individual in the physical sense, but has a particular severe impact on the psychological level. It is really aimed to humiliate the individual…. It causes depression, anxiety and the inability to trust. So therefore it goes much beyond the one person that it concerns. It creates fear and division also in the family. It breaks down relationships. Entire communities are affected,” she says.

Rape is used as a means of controlling populations.

“Plus,” she says, “it can be carried out very easily and in any kind of setting. That’s why it’s sort of particularly devastating and particularly dangerous.”

International vs. national

International law recognizes rape as a form of torture. But the council says “protection and support for victims often falls short on the national level.”

Reventlow explains, “International law has banned torture for the past 60 years in all major human rights protection treaties. And it has been recognized by courts around the world that rape is a method of torture.”

“However,” she says, “we can see that rape is taking place today and very often it goes on unrecognized because the victims don’t dare to speak out or because proper investigations and documentations don’t get carried out. And the perpetrators are not held accountable.”

She says often support systems for rape victims are not in place on the national level in many countries.

“We call on all states to show the political will and to allocate the resources to really hold the perpetrators accountable, investigate allegations of rape, but also support the victims on this.”

The International rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims is an independent, non-profit organization operating in 73 countries.