Violence Against Women
Women’s Freedom Forum Written Statement
Commission on the Status of Women 59/Beijing + 20 (2015)
Women all over the world are subjected to forms of violence. Acts of violence against women are not limited to any particular group. Women of all ages, nationalities, ethnicities, races, cultures, religions, or economic groups can be and are victims of violence. No group is free of the threat or act of violence.
Although there is a long historic record of violence against women, there have been an increase in acts of types of violence against in women in connection with technology and ideologies that include misogynist views of women.
Sex Trafficking and the Internet
Over the past twenty years, the use of digital communication technologies, particularly the Internet, have greatly expanded criminals’ capacity to traffic women and girls for sexual exploitation. As new technologies have been developed, criminals have quickly adopted them to assist with their criminal enterprises.
Trafficking in human beings, particularly trafficking for sexual exploitation, is recognized as a serious criminal enterprise in the European Union. It has been called one of the “most prevalent” types of organized crime activities in the European Union by Steve Harvey, then Acting Head of Europol’s Operational Department. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates the market for sexual exploitation in Europe in 2010 to be 2.5 billion € annually.
In 2013, the European Commission issued the first European Union statistical report on the trafficking in human beings in the member states and affiliated countries. The quantitative report on the trafficking victims in member states of the European Union from 2008 to 2010 reported 23,632 identified or presumed victims of human trafficking in the reporting member states.
The European Union data found a majority of victims were women or girls. Of the total number of identified or presumed victims, 80 percent were female (68 percent women, 12 percent girls) and 20 percent were male (17 percent men, 3 percent boys). Children were 15 percent of the total number of victims of trafficking in the European Union.
There is “gender-specific” trafficking and the women and men are often trafficked for different reasons. The total number of victims, 62 percent were trafficked for sexual exploitation and 25 percent were trafficked for forced labor. Over the three year period, from 2008-2010, the percentage of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation increased each year. The statistics indicate that trafficking for sexual exploitation is the dominant type of trafficking in the European Union.
Of the victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, 96 percent of them are women and girls in 2010.
The findings from the first European Union-wide collection of data on trafficking in human beings reveals that trafficking is a gendered phenomenon. The majority of victims are women and girls (the predominant type of trafficking is for sexual exploitation, and the majority of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation are women and girls). In addition, UNODC found that the European region ranked the highest of all regions in the world for trafficking for sexual exploitation in the world (62 percent).
There are many documented cases of the use of digital communication technologies for trafficking for sexual exploitation. In a recent report, Europol emphasized the “key role that the Internet was playing in recruiting victims [of sexual exploitation] and advertising their services.” Mobile devices and technologies create a more fluid environment for traffickers, victims and sex buyers. There are many documented cases of human traffickers using social networking media. Digital technology assisted sexual exploitation is widespread in the European Union, particularly in countries where prostitution is legal or tolerated.
Technologies are used for every aspect of sexual exploitation, from recruitment of victims, advertising the victims to sex buyers, coercing them with digital images, to monitoring their behavior. In addition, the financial management of the criminal business is often done online.
Trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation facilitated by digital technologies has contributed to making Europe into the world region with the largest amount of trafficking for sexual exploitation.
The imposition of Sharia law in countries, cities and territories around the world over the last few decades has increased acts of violence against women. Sharia law is “Islamic law” based on extremists’ interpretation of the Quran. Discrimination against women and girls, or gender apartheid, is the result of the most extremist interpretation and rule by Islamic extremism.
A vicious form of violence that has arisen in the last decades is throwing acid in the face of a woman. Strong acid burns the victim causing blindness, disfigurement, and sometimes death.
Acid attacks have occurred in many countries around the word in South America, Central and North America, the Middle East and Central Asia, but the most widespread attacks are in South Asian countries.
The perpetrators are frequently men who claim the women have “dishonored” their families or young men who have been rejected by the women. Most recently, there has been a surge of acid attacks in cities in Iran. The attackers claim they are punishing women for violating the country’s dress code. In recent weeks, there have been acid attacks against women in at least 25 cities in Iran. In late October, 25 women and girls were attacked with acid in Isfahan.
The recent increase in acid attacks follows the proposal of a law to allow citizens to “correct” women who do not adhere to strict Sharia laws that dictate gender segregation. Conservative religious leaders in Iran claim that “improper veiling has gone beyond limits and can no longer be corrected by cautioning. It should be dealt with by force.” The result is criminal gangs, often on motorcycles, patrolling the streets looking for women or girls in cars or on the streets who are not veiled “properly.”
The misogynist character of much of Sharia law has led to the politicization of women’s bodies and dress. Punishment of women who violate these laws results in acts of violence against women.
Sexual Slavery, Ethnic Cleansing and Sharia Law
With the growth of Islamic extremism and misogynist interpretations of the Quran, there has been an increase in sexual slavery. The extremists claim that their interpretation of the Quran justifies the sexual enslavement and exploitation of non-Muslim women and girls. The extremists openly acknowledge their violence and claim it is legitimate according to their extremist theology.
In Nigeria, 300 school girls were abducted by an Islamic extremist group. There are claims that the girls have been sold across Africa and to the Middle East and Europe. Some are used at their destinations for commercial sex acts. The captive women and girls are also used for forced labor to serve their captors.
In Iraq, women and girl captives are subjected to detention, physical assaults, rape, forced conversions and slavery. Some of the women and girls are sold. The violence against ethnic and religious minorities is part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Attacks on Education for Girls
An essential right for girls to achieve equality is education. The right of girls to attain an education has been under attack in recent years. According to Human Rights Watch, in the last five years there have been attacks on schools in 30 countries. Schools have been bombed and burned. Students and teachers have been murdered, raped, and forced into slavery.
The most famous case of violence against a girl for going to school and advocating for education for girls is the shooting of Malala Yousafzai, a 15 year Pakistani girl, who recently was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
As a result of attacks and threats against education for girls, many schools have been closed or parents are not sending their children, especially girls, to school. For example, following the abduction of school girls in Nigeria, more than 15,000 students in the northern region of Nigeria stopped attending school.
Threats of abducting more girls are used by extremists to prevent intervention or military action against the extremists.
Acts of violence still threaten, injure, enslave, and kill women and girls each year. In democracies where there is peace, women and girls are still trafficked and enslaved with the use of technology. In other countries, women and girls are trafficked and enslaved by extremist ideology. One of the essential needs for girls — education — is under fundamental attack.
Education is one of the most important components to ending violence, not only against women and girls, but all of humanity.
Donna M. Hughes
Professor & Eleanor M. and Oscar M. Carlson Endowed Chair
Gender & Women’s Studies Program, University of Rhode Island
Advisory Board, Women’s Freedom Forum