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Sexual violence and abuse

Sexual violence occurs everywhere in society – in the home, in communities, in schools and work places, in public spheres and in institutions.

Sexual violence is commonly understood as one or several of the following actions: rape, incest, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and abuse, forced prostitution, female genital mutilation (FGM), sexual slavery, child abuse images, grooming for sexual purposes and trafficking for sexual exploitation. Also child marriage goes under this definition. Sexual violence is a form of gender-based violence which refers to violence that targets individuals or groups on the basis of their gender. It has been widely acknowledged that the majority of persons affected by gender-based violence are women and girls.   

Sexual violence and gender-based violence has also become very common in conflicts and emergencies like natural disasters and their aftermath. It is perpetrated against girls and boys when there is no rule of law and is exacerbated by a culture of impunity. In some cases, sexual violence has been used as a tactic of war designed to humiliate and exterminate a whole population or ethnic group, force them to displace or simply to destroy their social fabric. Unfortunately, sexual violence and abuse is also quite common after the major crisis is finished. When in relief camps it is easy for people to abuse their power and ask for sexual favours in exchange for basic necessities.

The effects of sexual abuse are devastating. Survivors are vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies, psychological trauma, to the spread of HIV and AIDS, and other diseases. It can tear families and communities apart and increase maternal and child mortality rates. Girls and boys who report sexual violence are often not listened to or are even blamed for the violence they experience. Though the majority of children affected are girls, boys are also sexually abused and exploited. Girls and boys are more vulnerable to sexual violence due to gender discrimination, traditional cultural practices, perceptions of masculinity, and unequal power relations between adults and children.

Children face sexual exploitation by people who have an emotional or professional relationship with the child and who exploit their position of trust and power. Children are also sexually exploited by abusers or third parties with commercial or other exploitative interests.

In ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child, states have committed themselves to protecting all children under the age of 18 from all forms of sexual violence.

Save the Children’s work to end sexual violence includes provision of age and gender-sensitive response services for girls and boys, advocacy work addressing national laws and policies, promoting online safety and prevent child marriages and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM). Since gender norms perpetuates sexual and gender based violence it is important to challenge these, and to work separately with boys and men, alongside girls and women.

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