Warfare's Cruel Tool: Violence Against Women and Girls, Including Human Trafficking

Violence against women and girls, including human trafficking, is a harrowing reality in many conflict zones around the world. Shockingly, these acts are not merely byproducts of war but are often employed as deliberate tactics to achieve strategic objectives. This article explores why sexual violence is deliberately used in conflicts, why armed groups traffic women for sexual exploitation, who the perpetrators and victims are, and the devastating impacts this violence has on individuals and communities.

perpetrators in conflict zones

1. Why is Sexual Violence Deliberately Used in Conflicts?

Sexual violence in conflict is a barbaric strategy designed to terrorize, humiliate, and control populations. It includes acts such as:

  • Rape
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Forced marriage
  • Forced abortion
  • Enforced sterilization

These heinous acts are intended to:

  • Assert control over territory
  • Punish ethnic, political, cultural, or religious groups
  • Terrorize civilians into submission

These crimes can qualify as war crimes or crimes against humanity when part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilian populations. Many instances also fall under the category of human trafficking.

2. Why Do Armed Groups Traffic Women for Sexual Exploitation?

Conflict zones provide fertile ground for human trafficking due to the chaos and breakdown of law and order. Armed groups traffic women for multiple reasons:

  • Demand for Labor and Sexual Services: Large numbers of troops create a demand for sexual services and forced labor.
  • Weak Rule of Law: The absence of strong legal institutions facilitates exploitation.
  • Recruitment Strategy: Groups like ISIL/Da’esh use trafficking to attract new recruits.

For example, in August 2014, ISIL/Da’esh fighters enslaved over 6,000 Yazidis in Iraq, profiting from the sale and exploitation of these individuals. Similarly, Boko Haram in Nigeria has abducted and exploited thousands of women and girls since 2009.

3. Who are the Perpetrators?

Perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict zones include:

  • State Armed Forces: National military and police forces have been known to commit these crimes.
  • Non-State Armed Groups: Terrorist groups, local militias, and insurgents frequently engage in sexual violence.
  • Criminal Organizations: Wars displace populations, making refugees easy targets for traffickers both within conflict zones and abroad.

4. Who are the Victims?

The victims of conflict-related sexual violence are predominantly civilian women and girls. According to a recent UN report:

  • Over 3,600 cases of sexual violence were verified in conflict settings in 2023.
  • 95% of these cases involved women and girls.
  • Children were targeted in 32% of the incidents.

Most detected trafficking victims from conflict-affected countries are African nationals, often found in Africa and the Middle East. These victims face severe health problems, unwanted pregnancies, social isolation, and stigmatization, leading to lifelong consequences.


impact of sexual violence

5. The Impacts and Consequences of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence

Sexual violence in conflict has long-lasting and devastating effects on victims and communities:

  • Physical and Mental Health: Victims suffer from severe physical injuries, psychological trauma, and reproductive health issues.
  • Social Fabric: The social fabric of communities is torn apart, leading to displacement and further instability.
  • Access to Services: Armed groups often control access to essential medical services, exacerbating the suffering of victims.

For instance, the recent conflict in Sudan has seen hundreds of documented cases of sexual violence, including trafficking for sexual exploitation, sexual slavery, and forced marriage. These acts are not isolated incidents but part of a deliberate strategy to terrorize and control populations.

Who Else Wants to Take a Stand Against Human Trafficking?

Sexual violence and human trafficking in conflict zones are grievous tactics used to achieve strategic objectives. Understanding the extent and impact of these crimes is crucial in developing effective interventions and support systems for victims.

If you are moved by this cause, consider supporting organizations working to combat violence against women and girls and provide aid to victims. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those affected by these heinous crimes.

Source: UNODC


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