UN Poster for the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Art by Octavio Roth.
by Matilda Branson
(trigger warning for discussion of sexual violence)
June 26, International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, commemorating the day the Convention against Torture came into force 11 years ago, prompted me to have a bit of a think on torture – more specifically on sexual violence as torture and how this impacts women in conflict zones. Pretty light stuff. If it’s morning where you are and you’re sitting there with your coffee, maybe postpone reading this until the afternoon. I write this, though, because despite it being a bit of a conversation killer, I realised I’ve put rape and sexual violence at the back of my mind of late, because actually it’s easier not to think about it, to pretend that wide-scale atrocities are not occurring, now, as I write, across the world. So if I’ve forgotten, maybe you have too. Read on.
The main elements of torture are:
- Severe pain or suffering
- It is inflicted intentionally and for a purpose
- The pain or suffering of someone is inflicted by, at the instigation of, with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or any person acting in an official capacity
Within these definitions, sexual violence comes under the umbrella of torture. As perpetrators, armed groups fall under this definition too; it’s not always your average Government Joe in a fancy uniform. I think what bugs me is that this sexual violence, this torture occurs, and we do nothing. We hear of atrocities and we do nothing. We draft a few fancy regulations and Conventions but practically, on the ground, little is achieved. No justice is served.
Not long ago I did some work on resiliency strategies of victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). And we are talking resilience on a massive scale, on a whole new level that is almost impossible to contemplate. In one region of northern DRC, a favourite tactic of terror of soldiers was to force fathers at gunpoint to rape their own daughters, with the whole family watching. To refuse meant death to the entire family. The resiliency strategy employed by locals? As sexual violence committed by armed groups was seen as inevitable in that region, neighbours would swap daughters, so that at least when the fathers were forced to rape, they would not be raping their own daughters, but someone else’s. Read more