During war and times of crises—whether they are natural disasters, conflicts, or economic downturns—the risks of sexual assault and trafficking increase manifold for these groups. There is often a breakdown of law and order, making it difficult to protect vulnerable populations. Displacement, poverty, and the breakdown of social systems can increase the likelihood of sexual exploitation.
Understanding these dangers and taking proactive steps to mitigate them is essential. And putting politics and personal opinions aside to focus on the safety of human life is paramount.
Sexual Violence is Used as a Weapon of War
In various conflicts, sexual violence has been used strategically as a tactic of war to terrorize and humiliate the enemy population. It is a deliberate strategy to break the will of opposing communities.
Incidents of Human Trafficking Skyrocket
Crises, especially those that lead to large-scale displacements, create environments where human trafficking can thrive. Vulnerable populations, including women and children, are often trafficked for sexual exploitation, forced labor, and other forms of abuse.
Why are women and children more at risk?
- Breakdown of Social Structures: Crises often lead to the disintegration of societal structures and norms. Law enforcement agencies may be overwhelmed, underfunded, or redirected towards other emergent issues, leaving a vacuum in which criminal elements thrive.
- Increased Vulnerability: Displacement is common in times of crisis, and displaced populations—particularly women and children—often lack access to secure shelters or safe zones. In refugee and internally displaced person (IDP) camps, overcrowded conditions and insufficient resources can exacerbate vulnerabilities.
- Economic Desperation: Crises can lead to job losses, and economic strain may push individuals or families to resort to desperate measures for survival. In some cases, this could mean being forced into exploitative labor or sex work.
- Lack of Awareness and Underreporting: Displaced or affected populations may not be aware of their rights or of the avenues for help available to them, making them easier targets for traffickers. It’s also important to remember that sexual violence and trafficking are often underreported due to stigma, fear of retaliation, and lack of appropriate reporting mechanisms. As a result, available statistics might not fully capture the extent of the problem.
Steps to safeguard women and children
There have been global efforts, including those by the United Nations, to combat sexual violence in conflict and hold perpetrators accountable. The UN’s Security Council Resolution 1820, adopted in 2008, explicitly acknowledges rape and other forms of sexual violence as a war crime and a threat to international peace and security. Some decided strategies include:
- Preventing War and Displacement. Period.
- Community Vigilance: Empowering communities to be vigilant and to watch out for signs of trafficking is crucial. Local community groups can play an active role in spreading awareness and offering protection.
- Strengthen Legal Frameworks: Even amidst crises, the enforcement of anti-trafficking laws and the prosecution of offenders should be a priority. A strong legal deterrent can serve as a significant obstacle for potential traffickers.
- Safe Zones: Setting up designated safe zones, especially in refugee and IDP camps, where women and children can find shelter and protection is essential.
- Raise Awareness: Disseminating information about the risks of trafficking and sexual assault, and informing communities about their rights and available resources can help potential victims safeguard themselves.
- Supportive Infrastructure: Mental health services, counseling, and rehabilitation must be available for survivors of sexual assault and trafficking. Such support systems can help them reintegrate into society and rebuild their lives.
While crises are inherently challenging and multifaceted, the safety and dignity of every individual—especially the most vulnerable among us—must be upheld. It’s upon governments, non-governmental organizations, and civil society to act decisively and collaboratively. By understanding the increased dangers that women and children face during such times, and by taking targeted, informed action, we can make strides toward a world where safety is a given, not a luxury.
Specific numbers and rates change over time and can vary based on the conflict or region. It’s essential to refer to the latest research, reports from organizations like the United Nations, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, and local NGOs to get the most recent and specific statistics.