Sexual violence against women in war should be classified as terrorist acts

by Jamie Manson

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On the PBS Newshour earlier this week, anchor Gwen Ifill hosted a discussion of a disturbingly under-reported fact about the Islamic State’s ongoing terror campaign: its brutal treatment of women.

Though news segments regularly focus on beheadings and executions, far less is said about the group’s systematic, sexualized violence against women. Last week, the United Nations reported on the abduction of thousands of women by the Islamic State. Some of these women will be used as “rewards” for soldiers, others as a way to generate income through human trafficking.

David Jacobsen of the University of South Florida told Ifill that the women most vulnerable to rape are religious minorities, like the Yazidi and Christians, whereas Sunni women are more likely to be executed as religious apostates.

The Newshour report opens with the interview of a 15 year-old Yazidi girl who was captured by the Islamic State, but managed to escape. Her stories are harrowing.

Obviously, the rape and brutalization of women is not unique to the Islamic State. It is a war tactic that has been used for millennia by men of many cultures and religious traditions. However, Manal Omar of the United States Institute of Peace says that by creating a “reward system” for sexualized violence, the Islamic State has taken the strategy to an even more brutal level.

“What’s actually frightening is that they’re very strategic in targeting women,” she told Ifill, explaining that is a crucial tool for “forcing communities into submission.”

Omar goes on to explain that while U.N. Resolution 1325 (written in 2000) admitted that women bear the brunt of war, the use of sexualized violence has been especially exploited as a way to target families and entire communities.

How can this situation be addressed? Omar says the key is to convince the international community that the use of sexual violence against women as a tool of war must be identified as a terrorist attack

“These are attacks that are used to cause terror,” she says, “to cause submission of communities.”

Beheadings and bombings are seen as terrorist acts, but the systematic rape, abduction, and trafficking of women as a war tactic is still viewed only as a women’s or humanitarian issue. Until we recognize these acts of sexual violence as acts of terrorism and not simply as a humanitarian concern it will be difficult to combat these ongoing, catastrophic attacks on women.

Watch the full interview or read the transcript by clicking here.

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