The Unreported War: Tackling Denialism and Social Stigma towards Victims of Armed Conflict-Related Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Author: Ropafadzo Maphosa

ISSN: 1996-2193
Affiliations: LLB LLM (cum laude), Researcher at the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law, a centre of the University of Johannesburg
Source: Stellenbosch Law Review, Volume 32 Issue 1, 2021, p. 155 – 168


In addressing the United Nations Security Council at its 7938th meeting, the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, said that the social stigma attached to sexual violence is integral to the logic of using sexual violence as a tactic, a method of war or even torture. The perpetrators of sexual crimes understand that sexual violence attacks one’s individual and collective identity and ostracises survivors, thus untying the strings of family and kinship that hold the very fabric of communities together. As a result, survivors of gender-based and sexual violence often find it difficult to cope with its social repercussions. This article will pursue a detailed discussion pertaining to the severe stigma suffered by survivors of conflict-related sexual violence and how this issue is not adequately addressed in international law. The risk faced by survivors is threefold: first by the action of the perpetrator, then by the reaction of society through stereotypical and patriarchal attitudes, and finally by the courts, which often are not only unresponsive but also perpetuate negative social norms and rape myths leading to double persecution. Due to a lack of evidence and other factors, such as patriarchy and social inequalities, the stigma associated with conflict-related sexual violence is manifested in court rooms through various rape myths about its survivors. Sexual violence is a gendered phenomenon, in that it is often linked to, and stems from, harmful social and traditional practices relating to perceptions of gender and power dynamics surrounding them. In times of conflict, prevalent power dynamics, and the practices linked to them, can be further exacerbated leading to a higher prevalence of sexual violence. Therefore, the core argument advanced in this article is the necessity of combatting stigma and rape myths, and to promote the reporting of sexual crimes by and access to justice for survivors.