What is CRSV?
Conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) is any form of sexual violence that is carried out systematically and is deployed as a war tactic or as a strategic tool in armed and violent conflict situations to achieve particular ends. Conflict in itself paves the way for a breakdown of social, political, economic, and security sector machinery, which creates a backdrop for the opportunistic commission of sexual violence. In combination with a strategic campaign, CRSV is often unreported, and as a result, unchecked. Perpetrators often go without being brought to justice. Impunity, miscarriage of justice, and offerings of amnesty in compromises for peace over justice culminate in the dispensation of accountability for the crime.
Women, girls, and non-binary persons are inherently more vulnerable to conflict-related violence in general. Conflict paves the way for gendered vulnerabilities - ranging from an increased burden of care-work and breadwinning, to facing increased domestic violence as a result of the breakdown of the economy and security sector. The CRSV Observatory acknowledges this inherently as a universal, gendered experience of armed conflict. In addition to this, however, sexual violence is enabled by conflict conditions. This violence may be systemic and planned or opportunistic.
The systematic use of CRSV in armed conflict contexts is often in furtherance of particular agendas, war crimes, and large-scale violence. Some of these agendas and war crimes include:
Genocide: Genocide refers to the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group. Sexual violence is deployed in order to carry out a campaign of genocide by targeting the reproductive capacity of women. It has been used to further genocide during the East Timor Genocide, the Nanjing Massacre, the Armenian Genocide, the Yazidi Genocide, the Rwandan Genocide, the Tamil Genocide in Sri Lanka, the Bosnian Genocide, and the Holocaust, as well as in Myanmar, Darfur, and Tigray.
Ethnic Erasure: Ethnic erasure refers to the mass expulsion or killing of members of one ethnic or religious group in an area by those of another. Sexual violence is deployed in order to drive out or kill members of particular religious or ethnic groups. It has been used to further ethnic erasure in the Deir Yassin Massacre, the Yazidi Genocide, the Rwandan Genocide, the Tamil Genocide in Sri Lanka, the Bosnian Genocide, and the Holocaust, and in Myanmar, North Korea, Darfur, Guatemala, Tigray, during the Partition of India, and against the Uyghur Muslims in China. (NB: We use the term "Ethnic Erasure" rather than "Ethnic Cleansing." Read our post explaining this choice of words.)
Crimes against Humanity: Crimes against Humanity are deliberate acts, typically as part of a systematic campaign committed by the state or on behalf of the state, that cause human suffering or death on a large scale. Sexual violence is committed as a crime against humanity when it is intended to target particular communities to control, intimidate, threaten, humiliate, or torture individuals. Sexual violence has been used as a crime against humanity in the Deir Yassin Massacre, Kunan Poshpora, Russo-Ukraine conflict, Cabo Delgado, Cameroon, South Africa during Apartheid, Colombia, Vietnam, Marochinate, East Timor, Yemen, Nanjing, Armenia, East Timor, Syria, in the Yazidi and Rwandan Genocide, Tigray, Sri Lanka, DR Congo, Sierra Leone, Myanmar, Nepal, Darfur, Libya, Liberia, Bosnia, Bangladesh, and Egypt during the Arab Spring.
Settler colonialism, occupation of territories, and control of resources: Sexual violence is used against the populations of territories that states strive to occupy, control, or colonize. In pursuit of intimidation of the local population into compliance with the occupying power, or to control resources over a particular territory, sexual violence is used as a means of intimidation, humiliation, and even to drive people out of the territorial space or to bar them from accessing a particular resource. Sexual violence has been used in furtherance of settler colonialism, occupation, and resource and/or territorial control during the Deir Yassin Massacre, Kunan Poshpora incident, the Russo-Ukraine war, and in Cameroon, Colombia, DR Congo, and Afghanistan.
To intimidate, humiliate, and punish: Sexual violence is used to intimidate individuals for their actual or perceived positionality with respect to the different "sides" in a conflict. It is often used to humiliate the "enemy" and to punish those who take a vociferous stance against the party deploying such violence. Women and non-binary folks are targeted with sexual violence for their activism, in many contexts, and even for just being individuals of their particular gender associated in one way or another with the side targeted. Sexual violence has been used to intimidate, humiliate, and punish in Deir Yassin Massacre, Kunan Poshpora, Russo-Ukraine conflict, Cabo Delgado, Cameroon, South Africa during Apartheid, Colombia, Vietnam, Marochinate, East Timor, Yemen, Nanjing, Armenia, East Timor, Syria, in the Yazidi and Rwandan Genocide, Tigray, Sri Lanka, DR Congo, Sierra Leone, Myanmar, Nepal, Darfur, Libya, Liberia, Bosnia, Bangladesh, and Egypt during the Arab Spring.
To reproduce and aggravate existing gendered hierarchies: Most societies are arranged into hierarchies drawn based on gendered lines. In several conflict contexts, sexual violence is perpetrated indirectly, where the party deploying it forces an individual from the community targeted to commit the act of sexual violence against women, men, and non-binary people, including children. In some conflict contexts, men are forced to rape their daughters and mothers, and sometimes children are forced to watch. Further, the fear of looming sexual violence forces families to marry off their daughters forcibly, or even when they are just children. Such forms of violence re-entrench gendered hierarchies in the targeted societies with an added layer of stigmatization.
In all conflict contexts, given the breakdown of social, political, judicial, and security sector machinery, there is precious little impunity for those who commit sexual violence. As sexual violence prevails across the peacetime-wartime continuum, and given that armed conflict contexts also provide room for the free flow of weapons and ammunition, women and non-binary individuals face the risk of sexual violence across the personal-political continuum. Where there is mass, systemic, large-scale sexual violence on the one hand, women are equally vulnerable to opportunistic sexual violence as well as sexual violence in their own homes, as well. Neither of these is necessary "strategic" within the terms explained above, but are definitely causes for concern. As is the case during peacetime, these crimes go unreported during conflict, too. The difference between this form of sexual violence and sexual violence in furtherance of the motives listed above is the fact that the former is systematically planned and carried out at a large scale, and the perpetrators do not typically share a nexus to the target. In the latter, the crimes are carried out within personal spaces and personal relationships, and often involve a nexus between the perpetrator and target.