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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Study Challenges Assumptions On Wartime Sexual Violence

A new study by the Simon Fraser University-based Human Security Report Project (HSRP), released today at the United Nations headquarters in New York, finds that there is no compelling evidence to support a host of widely held beliefs regarding wartime sexual violence.



The study, presented by HSRP director Andrew Mack, disputes the common assumption that conflict-related sexual violence is on the rise, and argues that the experience of a small number of countries afflicted by extreme levels of sexual violence is not the norm for all war-affected countries.



Key findings include:

In more than half of the years in which countries around the world experienced conflict between 2000-2009, levels of reported conflict-related sexual violence were low to negligible.
There is no evidence to support frequent claims that rape as a “weapon of war” is widespread, nor that its incidence has been growing.

Domestic sexual violence victimizes far more women in war-affected countries than does the conflict-related sexual violence that is perpetrated by combatants.

Recent studies show that male victims and female perpetrators may be more numerous than generally believed.

The study also finds that the mainstream view of the impact of war on children’s education as highly damaging is incorrect, and that educational outcomes in war-affected countries improve over time despite fighting, even in regions most affected by war.

The complete study is available online at www.hsrgroup.org and will soon be available in print.

The HSRP has received funding from the Department for International Development (United Kingdom); the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation; the Norwegian Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency; the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs; and the UBS Optimus Foundation.

Simon Fraser University is Canada's top-ranked comprehensive university and one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 120,000 alumni in 130 countries.



Part I: Sexual Violence, Education, and War first reviews the fragmentary data on sexual violence against adults and children in wartime. It finds, among other things, that the mainstream narrative exaggerates the prevalence of combatant-perpetrated sexual violence, while largely ignoring the far more pervasive domestic sexual violence perpetrated in wartime by family members and acquaintances. This bias has unfortunate implications for policy.

Turning to the impact of war on education, the Report shows that—surprisingly—education outcomes actually improve on average during wartime. It confirms that conflict-affected countries generally have substantially lower educational outcomes than nonconflict countries, but it challenges the widely held notion that this is because of war. It points out that educational outcomes were also low—or lower— during the prior periods of peace. They could not, therefore, have been caused by warfare. The Report offers the first explanation for the apparent paradox of education outcomes that improve in wartime.

Part II of the Report reviews global and regional trends in the incidence and severity of organized violence. It highlights new research on the deadliness of external military intervention in civil wars, challenges the notion that conflicts are becoming more persistent, and shows that even “failed” peace agreements save lives.
 
The 2012 Human Security Report sheds new light on the human costs of war. It argues that widely held beliefs about wartime sexual violence and the impact of war on education are one-sided and sometimes flat-out wrong.

The study, produced by a research team at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, critically appraises the mainstream narrative on wartime sexual violence. This narrative assumes that conflict-related sexual violence is on the rise, and that rape is increasingly being deployed as a “weapon of war.” It suggests that the experience of the small number of countries afflicted by extreme levels of sexual violence is the norm for all war-affected countries. There is no compelling evidence to support any of these assumptions.

This is not all. The mainstream narrative ignores domestic sexual violence in wartime, which is far more pervasive than that perpetrated by combatants—and which victimizes a far greater number of women.

The narrative also largely ignores the impact of wartime sexual violence against males, even though it is substantially greater than generally believed. Finally, it fails completely to acknowledge female perpetration of sexual violence.

The mainstream view on the impact of conflict on children’s education is similarly bleak and one-sided. War is seen as having a highly damaging, even “devastating,” “disastrous” effect on educational outcomes, causing the destruction of educational opportunities on “an epic scale.”

But the Report finds—counter-intuitively—that more often than not educational outcomes in war-affected countries improve over time despite the fighting, even in the regions worst affected by the war.

Finally, the Report examines recent global and regional trends in the incidence and severity of organized violence. It presents new research on the deadliness of external military interventions, refutes the notion that conflicts are becoming more persistent, and shows that even “failed” peace agreements save lives.

Contacts and sources:
Andrew Mack
Simon Fraser University

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