Part of Foreign Affairs Report: Global Public Health

Rape Reporting During War

Why the Numbers Don't Mean What You Think They Do

Reports of sexual violence during the ongoing unrest in Libya have captured headlines across the world. Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces, some have alleged, were given Viagra to facilitate their rape of hundreds, if not thousands, of victims. Recently, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both expressed outrage at what was apparently a purposeful campaign. Yet recent reports by the U.N. and by advocacy groups shed doubt on these claims. Amnesty International, for example, has been unable to locate a single rape victim, or even anyone who knows a victim.

As the veracity of stories about sexual violence in Libya came into question, the American Journal of Public Health published a study estimating that the prevalence of rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was far worse than previously documented. The article estimated that between 2006 and 2007 more than 400,000 women between the ages of 15 and 49 were raped during the war there -- 26 times the U.N.'s official count.


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