Rape and other forms of sexual violence are not an inevitable consequence of war, and are perpetrated only by some armed actors. Understanding this variation has important implications for designing policy for sexual violence prevention and prosecution efforts, as well as peacekeeping, peacebuilding and transitional justice.

Armed conflict survey sexual violence graphic. Credit: IISSThere are significant documented differences in the perpetration of sexual violence by armed groups during conflict. In the ongoing war in South Sudan, sexual violence is common, widespread and perpetrated by almost all conflict actors. By contrast, more than half of the armed actors in the civil wars that took place in 20 African countries between 2000 and 2009 were not reported to have engaged in rape or other forms of sexual violence.

State actors are more likely than rebel groups to be reported to engage in numerous or widespread levels of rape during civil wars. In their essay for Armed Conflict Survey 2017, Elisabeth Jean Wood and Julia Bleckner explain that state actors are especially likely to engage in conflict-related sexual violence against detained enemy combatants and/or political prisoners, as well as in the context of interrogations. Among rebel groups, sexual violence is committed most commonly by those that rely exclusively on forced recruitment. They may use such violence as part of a strategy designed to build cohesion among their members.

This article is part of our content to accompany the launch of the Armed Conflict Survey 2017, which provides in-depth analysis of the key political, military and humanitarian developments and trends in all active armed conflicts, as well as data on fatalities, refugees and internally displaced persons.

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Armed Conflict Database

A regularly updated IISS online resource providing detailed information on more than 70 conflicts worldwide.