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Preventing Sexual Violence As A Weapon Of War

British Foreign Secretary William Hague listens at right as Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the State Department in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, during a discussion on ending sexual violence and conflict in war.

“It is time for every citizen in every nation to stand up against sexual violence."

Rape is often used as a tactic of war, intentionally terrorizing and brutalizing entire communities. And although women and girls are by far the most common victims, men and boys are also frequently assaulted. Given that the legacy of sexual violence in conflict can cause long term instability, addressing impunity is part of the process for restoring peace.

Rape and sexual violence are not inevitable by-products of armed conflict. In recognition of this, Last September, 140 countries, including the United States, pledged to do more to support prevention of sexual violence in conflict when they signed a Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. “By signing, we made a solemn pledge: to prevent and respond to sexual violence anywhere and everywhere,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and William Hague, British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs state in a recent opinion article they co-wrote for the Huffington Post.

That’s a start. Now it is time to begin taking steps to eliminate this scourge. First, every government, every country, must hold those responsible for crimes of sexual violence accountable for their actions. And this must happen at all levels of responsibility. We must end impunity not only for those who directly perpetrate such acts but also for those in positions of power who order or are otherwise responsible for such crimes.

But too often, such crimes are not reported – and thus cannot be investigated – due to stigma felt by survivors. Ending impunity therefore begins with shifting the stigma and shame from survivors to perpetrators. This means an enormous education effort. It requires a great deal of political will. And it can only succeed with the full participation of men and women working together.

And women should be a part of the dialogue on human security issues such as these at the highest levels, to help bring a level of personal experience, credibility and reality to the debate, said Secretary of State Kerry.

“Our goal must be to end this cycle of violence once and for all,” wrote Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hague.

“It is time for every citizen in every nation to stand up against sexual violence. . . . Now is the time to act.”