Rape is the non-consensual penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth with a penis or other body part – or non-consensual penetration of the vagina or anus with an object.
Sexual assault is any form of non-consensual sexual contact that does not result in or include penetration. Examples include: attempted rape, as well as unwanted kissing, fondling, or touching of genitalia and buttocks.2
The World Health Organisation estimates that 150 million girls are sexually assaulted every year.3
One in 10
One in 10 girls under 20 (120 million) have been subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives.4
An estimated 10 million children are involved in child prostitution around the world.5
Survivors of child sexual abuse
UNICEF estimates that around 120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives.6
Boys experience sexual violence too, but to a far lesser extent than girls, UNICEF studies show.7
By far the most common perpetrators of sexual violence against girls are intimate partners. In many countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, this is normalised and legitimised by child marriage – a socially accepted form of sexual violence, exploitation and abuse against girls. If the perpetrator had had sex with the girl prior to the ‘marriage’ taking place, it would be regarded as rape.
Experiences of sexual violence in childhood hinder all aspects of development: physical, psychological/emotional and social.
Apart from the physical injuries that can result, sexual abuse of children is associated with a wide array of mental health consequences and adverse behavioural outcomes in adulthood.8 The psychological impact can be severe due to the intense shame, secrecy and stigma that tend to accompany it.
Rape and sexual assault of women and girls by non-intimate partners is also rife – such as by an uncle, neighbour, or stranger. In some areas where ActionAid works in Kenya, for example, girls as young as two years old have been raped, often by family members, with devastating consequences.
ActionAid supports local community groups to raise awareness about rape and sexual violence and prepare family members to know what to do.
- 6. UNICEF (2014), Hidden in Plain Sight, A statistical analysis of violence against children, p.4. ↩
- 7. UNICEF (2014), Hidden in Plain Sight, A statistical analysis of violence against children, p.4. ↩
- 8. Brown, J., et al., ‘Child Abuse and Neglect: Specificity of effects on adolescent and young adult depression and suicidality’, Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, vol. 38, no. 12, 1999, pp. 190–196; ↩
- 9. Krahe, B., et al., ‘Childhood Sexual Abuse and Revictimization in Adolescence’, Child Abuse & Neglect, vol. 23, no. 4, 1999, pp. 383–394; Daigneaulta, I., et al., ‘Men’s and Women’s Childhood Sexual Abuse and Victimization in Adult Partner Relationships: A study of risk factors’, Child Abuse & Neglect, vol. 33, no. 9, 2009, pp. 638–647. ↩
Janet was raped by a neighbour
Janet was just 11 years old when she was brutally raped by a neighbour in their village in Ghana.
Her family reacted swiftly to report the incident to the police, as a result of the awareness work done by ActionAid COMBAT squads – Community-Based Anti-violence Teams.
“It happened one evening,” Janet described. “We often went to watch a movie at this neighbours’ house. Usually we went together, but that night I was alone.”
“He locked the door and turned the TV set up loudly. Then he started to rape me.”
“I shouted and shouted but nobody heard me because the TV was so loud. He hurt me so badly. There was much blood running out. Since it happened my friends mock me, they don’t want to associate with me. It sometimes makes me feel sad and lonely.”
Janet’s father rushed her to the police station and then to hospital. Her wounds got infected and took three months to heal.
Ankomi, Janet’s father, said: “All this time the COMBAT squad supported our family. I heard of COMBAT last year. I saw a video on domestic violence in the street and learnt what to do. It gave me courage to take my daughter’s case to the police. Before COMBAT started working in this village there was a lot more violence. It is definitely reducing.”
Janet said: “I’m glad to be back at school. I’m doing well. Maybe I’ll become a COMBAT member in the future. I want to be an example.”
Coerced into sex in exchange for rice
Rainar, 18, lives in a village in Upper West state, in Northern Ghana, one of the poorest areas of the country.
She was made pregnant by a local boy who coerced her into sex after offering her a meal of rice.
She now has a five month old son and the boy, who is thought to be around 18 years old too, has not continued his relationship with her.
She occasionally gets 50 Ghanian cedis from him or some greens from his parents.
ActionAid has sponsored children in this village. We also works closely with the local chief and community leaders to raise awareness about girls’ rights and reduce rape, sexual violence, and teenage pregnancy.
Sexual violence in humanitarian crises
Violence against women and girls increases during all emergencies. Throughout all humanitarian crises, whether an earthquake, a drought or a conflict, many forms of violence against women and girls take place at an increased rate.
Displacement causes disruption and movement, and former systems which would have protected women may have broken down.
In the early phases of an emergency, sexual violence is the most common form of violence recorded. As the crises moves on, other forms of violence – such as domestic violence and child marriage – may also increase.
Rape as a weapon of war
In 2008, General Patrick Cammaert, a former deputy Force Commander of the United Nations Organisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) stated that:
“It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in contemporary conflicts.”11
He said that the sexual violence he witnessed in Eastern Congo was among the worst atrocities he had ever seen in over thirty years of military service. Since 2008, humanitarian practitioners have started to understand that these human rights atrocities go beyond women – and affect the entire population.
Throughout history, women and girls have been targeted with rape and sexual violence at the hands of military and rebel forces as a weapon of war – from the 1994 Rwandan genocide where between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped12 to the current Rohingya refugee crisis where widespread rape of women and girls, and other atrocities, have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee Myanmar.
Rape is used as a weapon of war to either wipe out, disperse or forcibly relocate people from a particular community or ethnic group. When used to forcibly impregnate women, it is akin to ethnic cleansing.
ActionAid helps survivors of sexual violence through setting up women’s safe spaces where women can share their experiences and access vital information, psychosocial support, and medical referrals if needed.
We train women in leadership skills so that they are better equipped to lead their communities — in times of crisis and beyond, and support them in their vital role in peace movements at grassroots levels.
- 11. Kvarving, Lena Lt Col (Ed.) Sexual Violence, The Armed Forces and Military Operations, Norwegian Defence University: Volume 1: Issue 3, p. 35. ↩
- 12. United Nations (2008). Unite to End Violence Against Women and Girls, Fact Sheet, p.1. ↩
Rape of Rohingya women and girls in Myanmar
Amina, 33, fled Rakhine state in Myanmar in fear of her life whilst heavily pregnant. She told us she knows of women who had been raped in the violence in Myanmar.
Now living as a refugee in Mainnerghona camp, Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh, she still fears for the safety of her young daughters, as her home is flimsy meaning young men could easily break in.
More than 655,000 people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance after fleeing violence in Myanmar to seek safety in Bangladesh – the majority are women and children.
ActionAid has built a number of Women’s Safe Spaces in Cox’s Bazar – centres where women like Amina can breastfeed in private, receive hygiene kits, emotional support, and, where needed, access medical referrals.
We are working with women-led committees of refugees in the camps, to ensure the aid we provide is appropriate, meets the needs of women and girls and gets to the people who need it most.
You may also be interested in…
Donate to our Not This Girl appeal to keep girls safe from sexual abuse.
Learn more about our work supporting women and girls in times of conflict.
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