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WMC’s Women Under Siege disputes new, controversial findings on rape in war

October 11, 2012

New York—No, wartime rape is not decreasing, and no, it is not suddenly a figment of our imagination.

On Wednesday, the Human Security Report Project, an independent research center affiliated with Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, published a report that says among other things that rape is not as widespread in war as popularly thought. The report itself is nuanced; the media reception it has received is not, however, with faulty headlines like “Wartime sexual violence declines.”

WMC’s Women Under Siege project is clearing up common misconceptions about rape in war and getting to the heart of what this report is—and isn’t—saying. In “Rape in war: Are we getting it wrong?” Director Lauren Wolfe argues that the media must tread very carefully when covering these findings.

“By refuting claims that rape in war is increasing and stating that the media is focusing too much on extreme cases, the authors run the risk of appearing to downplay the problem,” Wolfe says. “With up to 500,000 women raped in Rwanda’s conflict alone, we’re not in a position to undercut what happens to women in war. This is a call to arms for us to recognize that we must look closely at what is happening to women on the ground so we can better understand it.”

Experts like Dara Kay Cohen, an assistant professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University who focuses on civil conflict, gender and international relations, and wartime sexualized violence, tell WMC’s Women Under Siege that the Human Security report may be jumping ahead when it says that rape in war is on the decline, while at the same time the media and researchers do women a disservice by overblowing numbers.

“I worry that victims in future conflicts will not attract the resources they need if there is an expectation that nearly every woman in a country must be raped before policymakers will focus their attention there,” Cohen says.

Both WMC’s Women Under Siege and the report authors agree that is crucial to pay attention to whatever brutality there actually is. “The important point to remember here is that while sexualized violence in conflict may not be on the rise, it is still happening too often,” says Wolfe. As Gloria Steinem said, “We do not need a competition of tears” when it comes to who is suffering most in war.

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WMC’s Women Under Siege was originated by Gloria Steinem, a co-founder of The Women’s Media Center, with the inspiration of the many brave disclosures and prosecutions from Bosnia and Rwanda, as well as important historical works on the Holocaust and the American civil rights movement. The project breaks down how sexualized violence is used as a tool of war, with the belief that understanding what happened from the Holocaust onward might help prevent other mass sexual assaults in conflict.

The Women’s Media Center was founded in 2005 by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Steinem. It works to make women and girls visible and powerful in the media through media advocacy campaigns, media monitoring for sexism, creating original content, training women and girls to participate in media, and connecting women experts with the media.

For more information, contact Cristal Williams Chancellor, media relations manager, or 202-587-1636 or Lauren Wolfe, director, WMC’s Women Under Siege,