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.
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 …
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 …
Explore the Full Resource Library
Hear from some of the incredible survivors and activists committed to raising their voices to end sexual violence around the world.
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.
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 …
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 …
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:
- Call the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network(RAINN) at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or click here to chat live online.
If you are in the UK:
- Call Rape Crisis England & Wales on 0808 802 9999 (12:00 – 14:30 and 19:00 – 21:30 daily)
- Call Rape Crisis Scotland on 08088 01 03 02
- Call Women’s Aid Northern Ireland on 0808 802 1414, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are in Europe, you may find this directory of organizations useful.