The systematic and widespread use of rape as a weapon of war was one of the brutal legacies of the Bosnian conflict. We at Rape Crisis England and Wales know very well the devastation that sexual violence causes to individuals, families and communities. As in Bosnia, all too often the perpetrators are walking free and the survivors do not get the support they deserve. We work with survivors who often struggle to talk about their experiences due to shame, stigma, being blamed and not believed.
Whilst there are important differences to recognise between sexual violence as part of a strategic policy of “ethnic cleansing” and the ongoing prevalence experienced by women and girls in so called peacetime, the root causes are the same – attitudes of stereotyping, discrimination and dehumanisation. The case of Bosnia, where women and girls were targeted both because of their religion and their sex shows that gender-based violence often does not exist in isolation – it intersects with other forms of hatred. This absolutely resonates with our work here in England and Wales where 27% of our clients are from BME backgrounds and 23% are Disabled women and girls.
We commend Remembering Srebrenica’s important work, and agree that we cannot truly stand up to hatred unless we stand up to misogyny in our society. Violence against women and girls is a serious problem here in the UK. Last year, our member Rape Crisis Centres answered 171,000 helpline calls. 1 in 5 women between 16 and 59 have experienced some form of sexual violence since turning 16. A recent government report showed the shocking extent of sexual harassment and sexual violence in our school system. We must address these issues – by speaking out, by understanding the consequences if any form of hatred is left unchecked, and by working together as a community to challenge the attitudes that contribute to sexual violence. We look forward to working with Remembering Srebrenica this year and welcome the 2017 theme “Breaking the Silence: Gender and Genocide”.