Sexual assault must be addressed regardless of circumstances

Turns out, you can pick your family

Turns out, you can pick your family

By Arabella Breck

Cases of sexual assault and gender-based violence in South Sudan increased by 64 percent in 2016 compared with 2015, said Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan Eugene Owusu in an April 19 U.N. News Centre article. 

While some may see this statistic and suggest that the overall violence and unrest in South Sudan must be quelled in order to stop this increase, that suggestion unfortunately ignores the severity of sexual assault as its own issue. It must be emphasized that sexual assault and gender-based violence can occur separately or as part of overall violence and must be addressed in either scenario. 

Fortunately, it seems the U.N. has recognized the seriousness of this issue with its recent creation of a special task force to be led by Jane Holl Lute, former U.S. deputy secretary of Homeland Security, according to an April 6 article from the U.N. News Centre. 

The task force will be working with peacekeeping missions in several countries, including South Sudan, to take a new approach to combating sexual assault and gender-based violence, according to the same article. 

The new approach that the U.N. task force is taking will include a “four-fold strategy,” Lute said in the article, which will be “focusing on the rights and dignity of victims, ending impunity for those guilty of crimes and abuses, reaching broadly to external experts and those affected [and] raising awareness and sharing best practices.”

What Lute presented as her overall strategy for the task force may not seem like the most groundbreaking plan. The goals mentioned all seem like obvious ones when it comes to effectively dealing with sexual abuse and assault. However, her plans to address them with this task force are still beneficial because it is apparent in places like South Sudan and around the world that sexual assault is being improperly addressed at the most basic level.

Moving forward with this task force’s goals, Lute and the people with whom she will work should keep several things in mind. 

Assault perpetrated by military personnel and even government officials is a situation that is extremely common in countries experiencing violent upheaval or turmoil.

Government and rebel troops in South Sudan have faced accusations of sexual assault, including gang rape allegations, since the civil war broke out in 2013.

With these situations, the U.N. and other advocacy groups must not provide help for victims only after the fact. If disenfranchised people are at risk of being victims of violence, they must have protection and resources available. 

But, not all sexual assault or abuses occurring in a country like South Sudan are related to overall violence or instability. There are still cases of women being raped or assaulted by people they know. There are still cases of women being date-raped or raped by their spouses and partners, and these situations cannot be ignored by the task force and other advocacy groups. 

Gender-based violence and sexual assault against South Sudanese people and people around the world should not be overlooked simply because the countries are unstable or at war. No matter the condition of a country, people deserve to be protected and treated with respect.