Analysis & Opinions - United States Institute of Peace

Going Beyond Accountability to Deter Conflict-Related Sexual Violence

| Mar. 14, 2023

Prosecutions are important, but not as the main policy lever for deterrence.

In a historic move, President Biden signed a memorandum last November that bolstered the U.S. response to conflict-related sexual violence, including rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization and other forms of wartime sexual harm. The new directive was timed to coincide with an international conference in London that marked the 10-year anniversary of the U.K.'s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative and sought to build on the initiative’s 2014 global summit as well as the "declaration of commitment" to end sexual violence in conflict that was signed by more than 150 countries in 2013.

The twin measures of the presidential memorandum and the conference are notable because they move beyond merely drawing more attention to the problem. Although wartime rape has been described in the past as the "greatest silence," and more recently as a "hidden crime," conflict-related sexual violence is now understood as a persistent and ongoing global problem due to the extraordinary efforts of advocates and activists. Prominent reports of sexual violence in Ukraine and Ethiopia are only the most recent examples — sexual violence has been reported in numerous other on-going conflicts, such as Myanmar, as well.

While political will has waxed and waned since the first global summit in 2014, what to do about conflict-related sexual violence remains a vexing challenge. The effectiveness of the response partly lies in how conflict-related sexual violence is defined as a policy problem. For the most part, conflict-related sexual violence has been viewed by governments and practitioners as a crime requiring legal accountability. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that accountability alone has serious limitations as a tool for deterrence of conflict-related sexual violence and may do little to address the root causes....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Cohen, Dara Kay."Going Beyond Accountability to Deter Conflict-Related Sexual Violence." United States Institute of Peace, March 14, 2023.

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