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Sexual violence is a human rights violation that predominantly affects women and girls as a consequence of systemic and structural inequality. Over a lifetime, one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence — regardless of their age, background or country.

Overview

Sexual violence is a human rights violation that predominantly affects women and girls as a consequence of systemic and structural inequality.

Across the world, governments are failing to fulfill their obligations to protect women and girls, make criminal justice systems victim-friendly and accessible, and prosecute and punish perpetrators, including through: 

  • Definitions of rape that are based on use of force, rather than a lack of active, willing consent  
  • Laws that allow the perpetrator to walk free on reaching some form of “settlement”, including by marrying the victim 
  • Laws framed in terms of morality rather than bodily integrity
  • Laws that explicitly permit rape in marriage, even of children 
  • Laws permitting judicial discretion to reduce charges or define evidence based on stereotyped assessment of the complainants behaviours 

They are also failing to address sex discriminatory laws and policies that reinforce sex discrimination and social norms and attitudes that render sexual violence ‘acceptable’ and blame and stigmatize the victims.

Equality Now’s work to end sexual violence

Ensuring the law frames sexual violence in line with human rights standards. Since the release of our 2017 report, The World’s Shame: The Global Rape Epidemic, we’ve continued to analyze gaps in laws regionally and engaged in international and regional mechanisms to hold governments accountable.

Holding governments accountable for failing to protect and promote the rights of women and girls. In 2019, together with Women Against Violence Exploitation in Society (WAVES), Child Welfare Society, and the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa, we won a case in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice against Sierra Leone’s ban on pregnant girls attending school. The government finally lifted the ban in 2020.

Amplifying the voices of marginalized women and girls. We strive to ensure all women and girls have their voices heard, for example following our 2020 report, Justice Denied, we’ve continued to amplify the urgent conversation on caste-based sexual violence in India at national and international levels.

Our work to advance gender equality around the world supports our efforts to get justice for survivors and victims of sexual violence – with the ultimate goal of preventing such violence altogether. We use the law to end violence against women and girls by:

  • Advocating for strong laws and policies in line with international human rights standards to protect and ensure that women and girls can access justice
  • Making sure that laws and policies are implemented in a non-discriminatory manner, including proper investigation, prosecution, and punishment of offenders
  • Pushing for legal procedures that support survivors and prevent re-victimization
  • Working with partners to bring specific cases to national, regional and international judicial bodies to underscore the global nature of this human rights violation

We recognize that adolescent girls, women with disabilities, and women from marginalized communities, including LGBTQ+ people, face additional vulnerabilities and intersecting barriers when attempting to access justice. 

Our work

Learn more

Key resources

A Culture of Shame: Sexual Violence and Access to Justice in Uzbekistan

Around the world, rape and sexual abuse are everyday violent occurrences. Rape is always an act of violence and an expression of power and control. However, the way laws are framed in many countries …

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Joint submissions to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) 69th Session 2021

Equality Now submitted the following statements to the 69th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. The joint statement was …

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Bolivia CAT Submission 2021

This joint submission details our concerns with regard to laws related to rape and other forms of sexual violence and procedures and practices which effectively deny access to justice for survivors of sexual violence. Bolivia’s legal system continues to provide …

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     Explore the Full Resource Library     

Stories

Hear from some of the incredible survivors and activists committed to raising their voices to end sexual violence around the world.

Mariam – Armenia

Equality Now has the privilege to partner with women’s rights activists from around the world. We’re sharing their unique perspectives and challenges advocating for change in their communities. We spoke to Mariam Torosyan, CEO & Founder at Safe YOU / Impact …

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Baia – Georgia

Equality Now has the privilege to partner with women’s rights activists from around the world. We’re sharing their unique perspectives and challenges advocating for change in their communities. We spoke to, Baia Pataria from Union Sapari in Georgia as …

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Nadezhda – Russia

Equality Now has the privilege to partner with women’s rights activists from around the world. We’re sharing their unique perspectives and challenges advocating for change in their communities. We spoke to Nadezhda Zamotaeva, Psychologist and Head of the Sexual …

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Nina – Ukraine

Equality Now has the privilege to partner with women’s rights activists from around the world. We’re sharing their unique perspectives and challenges advocating for change in their communities. We spoke to Nina Potarska, WILPF National Coordinator for Ukraine and …

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Join

None of us can afford to sit back and wait for equality to arrive – we need to act now. Only by working together will we achieve the legal and systemic change needed to address violence and discrimination against women and girls.

Get involved

Social change begins with legal change and people like you — raising your voice against injustice — play a vital role in our collective success.


Take action to end sexual violence

Justice over honor: Kuwait should amend its Penal Code to protect women and girls from sexual violence

Kuwait’s Penal Code defines rape as a crime against honor, positioning women and girls as ‘vessels of honor’ rather than recognizing their human right to bodily …

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Help stop child sexual abuse in Bolivia!

Bolivia has the highest rate of sexual violence in Latin America. Sexual violence against children is especially common in Bolivia, with 1 in 3 girls experiencing sexual violence before age 18. The country also has the highest adolescent pregnancy …

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India: Haryana Government must act to end caste-based sexual violence

Dalit survivors of sexual violence in Haryana, India are facing severe obstacles to accessing justice as well as intersectional caste and gender discrimination. The Haryana government needs to take immediate …

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Equality Now does not provide direct support for those experiencing sexual violence. If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual violence there are secure, confidential and free resources available. 

If you are in Lebanon:

If you are in the US:

If you are in the UK: 

If you are in Europe, you may find this directory of organizations useful.