This week, a UN report said there has been an increase in violence in Sudan?s Darfur region, including the killing of civilians and rape. Victims of rape in Darfur have had little or no opportunity to bring their attackers to justice. And very often the victims themselves are charged with adultery. However, in South Darfur, one of three Darfur states, a new decree has been issued on sexual and gender-based violence. TEXT: The decree issued this week by the Wali, or administrators, in South Darfur outlines steps that can be taken regarding rape survivors.

The first gives rape survivors the right to receive medical treatment before they file what?s known as Form 8 to make an official rape complaint. That?s a major improvement, according to Sidiga Washi.

?Now at least the government has allowed that women can be treated and then later can go and fill that Form 8. And then in this case, the doctor will be able really to reinforce her claim in telling them that there?s really a rape,? she says.

Ms. Washi is the dean of the School of Family Sciences at Afhad University for Women in Omdurman. She is also president of Babiker Badri Scientific Association for Women Studies in Sudan. It?s an NGO that has received a UNICEF grant to study violence against women in Darfur. Ms. Washi says before the decree women faced a big risk by saying they?d been raped.

?To claim that she was raped, then she has to have at least people who are witnessing the rape. So, they can say, yes, she was raped. Otherwise, she might be also questionable (sic) about why is it rape, why is it not adultery?,? she says.

She and her staff have been documenting cases of rape in South Darfur and elsewhere, but it?s been difficult. Few women feel free to talk.

She says, ?Whenever we go to talk to them we are always accompanied by some security people. So, they find it difficult to talk in front of other people. So that is why it took us so long to get those women alone, to have them alone to talk. But again also for cultural reasons this subject is very sensitive to women, the subject of rape. And especially for women who are not married. It is difficult to claim that they were raped because this will minimize their chances for getting married.?

The South Darfur decree also says police are not to force their way into a medical facility to interview or transfer a woman. It says police must wait for a doctor to call them in.

The decree also says authorities will not force doctors to disclose confidential information without a woman?s consent. Also, after treatment, the doctor or medical provider will write a report that holds equal legal weight to the official Form 8. The decree also makes clear that women or girls who become pregnant due to rape should not be accused of adultery.

Sidiga Washi says while the decree in South Darfur is a major improvement, it needs to go further.

?We want it to be a law. We want actually to have a law in regards to that. So it?s not just that the news is temporary and then after that they go back to what they used to do,? she says.

So far, there?s no word on similar decrees regarding rape victims in either North or West Darfur States.