Rape:  Rape can occur anywhere, even in the family, where it can take the form of marital rape or incest.  It occurs in the community, where a woman can fall prey to any abuser.  It also occurs in situations of armed conflict and in refugee camps. 

In the United States, national statistics indicate that a woman is raped every six minutes.  In 1995, the case of a Brazilian jogger raped and murdered in New York City's Central Park drew international attention once again to the problem.  The incident occurred only a few years after an earlier sensational jogger-assault case in which the victim - an American assaulted in the same general area of the park - barely survived after her assailants left her for dead. 

Relations between residents of the Japanese island of Okinawa and American GIs were thrown into turmoil in 1995 after two marines and a sailor allegedly kidnapped and raped a 12-year-old-girl. 

The Special Rapporteur's report underlines the importance of education to sensitise the public about the special horrors of rape and of sensitivity training for the police and hospital staff who work with victims. 

Sexual assault within marriage: In many countries sexual assault by a husband on his wife is not considered to be a crime: a wife is expected to submit.  It is thus very difficult in practice for a woman to prove that sexual assault has occurred unless she can demonstrate serious injury. 

The report of the Special Rapporteur noted that light sentences in sexual assault cases send the wrong message to perpetrators and to the public at large: that female sexual victimisation if unimportant. 

Sexual harassment: Sexual harassment in the workplace is a growing concern for women.  Employers abuse their authority to seek sexual favours from their female co-workers or subordinates, sometimes promising promotions or other forms of career advancement or simply creating an untenable and hostile work environment.  Women who refuse to give in to such unwanted sexual advances often run the risk of anything from demotion to dismissal. 

But in recent years more women have been coming forward to report such practices -some taking their cases to court.

In her report, the Special Rapporteur stressed that sexual harassment constitutes a form of sex discrimination.  "It not only degrades the woman", the report noted,  "but re-inforces and reflects the idea of non-professionalism on the part of women workers, who are consequently regarded as less able to perform their duties than their male colleagues." 

Prostitution and trafficking:  Many women are forced into prostitution, either by their parents, husbands or boyfriends or as a result of the difficult economic and social conditions in which they find themselves.  They also may be lured into prostitution, sometimes by "mail-order bride" agencies that promise to find them a husband or a job in a foreign country.  As a result, they very often find themselves illegally confined in brothels in slavery-like conditions where they are physically abused and their passports withheld. 

Most women initially victimised by sexual traffickers have little inkling of what awaits them.  They generally get a very small percentage of what the customer pays to the pimp or the brothel owner.  Once they are caught up in the system there is practically no way out, and they find themselves in a very vulnerable situation.  Since prostitution is illegal in many countries, it is difficult for prostitutes to come forward and ask for protection if they become victims of rape or want to escape from brothels.  Customers, on the other hand, are rarely the object of penal laws.  In Thailand, prostitutes who complain to the police are often arrested and sent back to the brothels upon payment of a fine.   

The extent of trafficking in women and girl-children has reached alarming proportions, especially in Asian countries.  Many women and girl-children are trafficked across borders, often with the complicity of border guards.  In one incident, five young prostitutes burned to death in a brothel fire because they had been chained to their beds.  At the same time, sex tours of developing countries are a well-organised industry in several European and other industrialised countries. 

The Special Rapporteur has called on Governments to take action to protect young girls from being recruited as prostitutes and to closely monitor recruiting agencies. 


Female migrant workers typically leave their countries for better conditions and better pay - but the real benefits accrue to both the host countries and the countries or origin.  For home countries, money sent home by migrant workers is an important source of hard currency, while receiving countries are able to find workers for low-paying jobs that might otherwise go unfilled.  But migrant workers themselves fare badly, and sometimes tragically.  Many become virtual slaves, subject to abuse and rape by their employers. 

In the Middle East and Persian Gulf regions, there are an estimated 1.2 million women, mainly Asian, who are employed as domestic servants.  According to the independent human rights group Middle East Watch, female migrant workers in Kuwait often suffer beatings and sexual assaults at the hands of their employers.  The police are often of little help.  In many cases, women who report being raped by their employers are sent back to the employer - or are even assaulted at the police station. 

Working conditions are often appalling, and employers prevent women from escaping by seizing their passports or identity papers.  The report of the Special Rapporteur draws attention to the fact that there are many international instruments that can be used to prevent abuse against migrant women and suggests some measures to protect the human rights of migrant women. 

Pornography: Another concern highlighted in the Special Rapporteur's report is pornography, which represents a form of violence against women that "glamorises the degradation and maltreatment of women and asserts their subordinate function as mere receptacles for male lust". 


Custodial violence against women: Violence against women by the very people who are supposed to protect them - members of the law enforcement and criminal justice systems - is widespread.  Women are physically or verbally abused; they also suffer sexual and physical torture.  According to Amnesty International, thousands of women held in custody are routinely raped in police detention centres world-wide.  The report of the Special Rapporteur underlines the necessity for States to prosecute those accused of abusing women while in detention and to hold them accountable for their actions. 

Violence against women in situations of armed conflict:  

Rape has been widely used as a weapon of war whenever armed conflicts arise between different parties.  It has been used all over the world in Chiapas, Mexico, in Rwanda, in Kuwait, in Haiti, in Colombia.  Women and girl-children are frequently victims of gang rape committed by soldiers from all sides of a conflict.  Such acts are done mainly to trample the dignity of the victims.  Rape has been used to reinforce the policy of ethnic cleansing in the war that has been tearing apart the former Yugoslavia. 

The so-called "comfort women" - young girls of colonised or occupied countries who became sexual slaves to Japanese soldiers during the Second World War - have dramatised the problem in a historical context.  Many of these women are now coming forward and demanding compensation for their suffering from Japanese authorities. 

"Such rape is the symbolic rape of the community, the destruction of the fundamental elements of a society and culture - the ultimate humiliation of the male enemy," the report by the Special Rapporteur noted.  It stressed the need to hold the perpetrators of such crimes fully accountable. 

Violence against refugee and displaced women:

Women and children form the great majority of refugee populations all over the world and are especially vulnerable to violence and exploitation.  In refugee camps, they are raped and abused by military and immigration personnel, bandit groups, male refugees and rival ethnic groups.  They are also forced into prostitution.  In her report, the Special Rapporteur proposes the following measures to be taken for the protection of women and girls in refugee camps: improvement of security, deployment of trained female officers at all points of the refugees' journey, participation of women in organisational structures of the camps and prosecution of government and military personnel responsible for abuse against refugee women.