Russian troops raped women as old as 83 while their families were forced to listen

Russian troops raped women as old as 83 while their families were forced to listen
  • A new UN report found that women in Ukraine experience systematic sexual violence by Russian troops.

  • Women as old as 83 have been raped while their families were forced to listen to the brutal attacks.

  • International criminal law considers rape and sexual violence war crimes and crimes against humanity.

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine drags into its 19th month, international watchdogs say they have found continued evidence of systemic sexual violence against women in regions occupied by invading troops.

The United Nations' Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine released an update on Monday, detailing the findings of investigators who verified reports of war crimes after multiple evidence-gathering trips to occupied Ukraine.

A spokesperson for the UN Commission told Insider that, though the number of victims remains widely under-reported, investigators have documented widespread cases of sexual violence across the occupied regions of Ukraine involving women, men, and girls ranging in age from 4 to 83. The sexual violence is often committed as a form of torture and in conjunction with other human rights violations against Ukrainian civilians, detainees, and prisoners of war, the spokesperson said.

"Frequently, family members were kept in an adjacent room, thereby forced to hear the violations taking place," according to the latest UN update.

Representatives for Ukraine's Ministry of Defense, and the Government of the Russian Federation did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Insider.

Insider previously reported on the case of a woman who recounted being raped by Russian soldiers who killed her husband. The woman ushered her crying 4-year-old son to the next room before the attack, but his cries so angered her attackers that they threatened, with a gun to her head, to "show him his mother's brains spread around the house," she said in an interview with The Times of London.

"We have reports of women being gang-raped. These women are usually the ones who are unable to get out. We are talking about senior citizens," Lesia Vasylenko, a member of Ukraine's parliament, said early last year, not long after the invasion began. "Most of these women have either been executed after the crime of rape or they have taken their own lives."

A line of women wearing black plastic bags over their heads stand with their hands tied behind their backs in protest of sexual violence against women in Ukraine committed by Russian troops. One woman holds a sign which reads "Putin is a rapist."
Ukrainian and Polish women attend 'Rape Is a War Crime' protest in front of the Consulate General of Russia in Krakow, Poland.Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Since Vasylenko's comments last March, reports of widespread sexual violence perpetrated by Russian troops, at times encouraged by commanding officers, have increased, prompting international investigations into the incidents. Major protests have occurred in England and Poland against the atrocities, which have targeted civilians in occupied regions, including Kherson and Bucha.

Though women of all ages are the most frequent targets of sexual violence, Russians use rape as a "deliberate tactic" to dehumanize victims regardless of sex, Insider previously reported.

"When women are held for days and raped, when you start to rape little boys and men, when you see a series of genital mutilations, when you hear women testify about Russian soldiers equipped with Viagra, it's clearly a military strategy," Pramila Patten, the UN's special representative on sexual violence in conflict, told AFP, per France 24.

Rape as a weapon of war

While the reports of the rapes are no doubt troubling, sexual violence is frequently documented during wartime. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court classifies rape and sexual violence, including sexual slavery, forced prostitution, and sterilization, as a type of war crime and a crime against humanity, depending on the context under which the crimes are committed.

"Rape committed during war is often intended to terrorize the population, break up families, destroy communities, and, in some instances, change the ethnic make-up of the next generation," reads a 2014 UN report on sexual violence during war, which highlighted sexual violence during the Rwandan genocide.

Between 100,000 and 250,000 women were raped over three months in 1994, according to the report. At least 200,000 women were raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1998, and hundreds of thousands more during wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the former Yugoslavia, it said.

"Sometimes it is also used to deliberately infect women with HIV or render women from the targeted community incapable of bearing children," the 2014 report adds.

Although international law provides protections against rape and sexual violence, enforcement of the provisions is weak, according to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank. The International Crime Court has launched an investigation into alleged war crimes in Ukraine, though legal action is unlikely to come for many years — if it comes at all.

"International law is largely ineffective at preventing rape and sexual violence in conflict," according to the Council on Foreign Relations, which advocates for a pragmatic approach to helping survivors, rather than focusing on the near-impossible task of ending sexual violence during wartime. "Survivor-centered training and aid is the best way to support victims of sexual violence and to help them cope with the trauma, stigma, and the health consequences stemming from conflict-related sexual violence."

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