Sexual violence is a global problem...
Around half of the world’s 26 million refugees are women and girls. These intersecting identities - of gender and status - make this population particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence. Not only is sexual violence more prevalent in unstable settings, such as conflict or natural disasters, but the journeys that people are forced to undertake to reach safety put them at risk. Indeed, even when people reach the shores of Europe, many are still not safe.
A recent study found that more than 46% of women living in Greek camps do not feel safe and 69% live in housing that does not have a secure lock. In Samos refugee camp in Greece, post-rape emergency care is not always available to those who have been sexually assaulted and shortages of HIV tests mean that people lack access to prevention or early detection of the virus. Many women do not even feel safe enough to go to the toilet at night.
“During the night we don’t have access to the toilets because many men...bother us if we cross their ways. They would come to talk to us, saying come with me etc., they would touch us. So we give up and don’t go to the toilets during the night anymore. In the container, I have a bottle to pee in if I need to go to the toilet during the night.” - Woman in Samos camp.
Local charity Highlands Support Refugees states that, “it’s horrifying that we are often asked to send incontinence products because many women are too afraid to leave their tents at night for fear of assault. We are often asked to supply as much of the modest clothing as possible so that women feel less vulnerable to attack when they do go out during the day.”
The precarious situations that many refugees are forced into, with limited access to food, secure shelter, or work/money, increases their vulnerability and is further exacerbated by gender inequality, loss of and/or separation from family members, and impunity for perpetrators. Sexual violence is also an issue that affects men. On the Greek island of Lesvos, 28% of Médecins Sans Frontières’ sexual violence patients in the camp were male.
To many of us living in the Highlands and Islands, these issues may seem like a distant problem. However, it is important to be aware of how power - whether in terms of rights, protection, or resources - plays a role in sexual violence everywhere. It is no coincidence that the majority of victim-survivors of sexual violence are women, because gender inequality is still a global problem.
While the scale or severity of sexual violence in the Highlands and Islands is not comparable to insecure contexts, sexual violence does happen here too and, as elsewhere, it often happens to those in our communities who are most vulnerable. Last year, 13,547 sexual crimes were recorded in Scotland. Of these, the majority of offences were committed against women and children.
If you are reading this and want to do something to address sexual violence, at home or abroad, you can. You can donate to organisations that provide vital support to refugees or to survivors in your local area. You can use your vote and actions to welcome those in need of asylum. You can read more about gender-based violence to better understand its prevalence and effects. And you can show, through words and actions, that you reject harmful attitudes that normalise gender-based violence and silence or blame survivors.
The Highlands Support Refugees is a Highland based charity who collect, sort and send donations of aid to refugee camps throughout Europe and the Middle East. We liaise with NGO’s who distribute our donations to ensure we only send the most in-demand items. For more information on who we are and what we do, please find us on Facebook.