"Patterns of violence against women in conflict do not arise "naturally" and are not collateral damage of war. They are ordered, condoned, or tolerated by those in power. They persist because those who commit them know they can get away unpunished." -Irene Khan, Amnesty International

In conflict situations, whether they are inter-state wars, civil wars, or conflicts born out of deeply divided societies, women are specifically targeted in large numbers for acts of sexual and gender-based violence. The torture they face, the extent they are subject to rape, and the outrages upon their personal dignity are different than those men endure in times of war.

Iraq is no exception. New war, same very old stories. Women are being forced into prostitution and sexual slavery, and are sexually abused by insurgents, Iraqi soldiers and police, and (in several highly publicized and grisly cases) American soldiers as well.

IRIN has the story of Luana Martiri, a brave 22-year-old literature student at a Baghdad university who was raped by Iraqi soldiers and decided to speak out about her ordeal.

"I thought very hard before agreeing to tell my story. But I cannot allow other girls to suffer the same violence I suffered. in addition to being discriminated against and lacking support.

"With the exception of my older brother, Khalil, all my family had left for Amman, Jordan and then for Sweden. I was waiting to finish my last year at university before joining them. Only I and Khalil stayed behind. One day, while he was at university, a group of Iraqi soldiers raided our home saying that they had information that there were insurgents in the area.

[…] "I was alone again in the house and I heard a sound coming from the living room. First, I thought Khalil had come home earlier and then I realised it was one of the Iraqi soldiers who had raided our home two days previously.

[…] "I was surprised and was about to ask him if he was conducting another raid when he put his hand directly over my mouth and told me that if I made any sound, he would wait for my brother and kill him.

[…] "I tried to free myself from his arms and run but he was much stronger than me. He forced me into a bedroom and made me do what I had never done before in my life. He raped me while I cried and tried to bite his hand but each time I did this he hit my face with his other hand.

"When he finished he told me that if I told the police about it he would return and do it again with me and kill my brother so the house would be just for me and him.

[…] "When my brother came home I told him everything. He got so upset that he forced me to go to the police with him. There we met a sergeant who asked for proof that it was an Iraqi soldier who raped me, saying that maybe it was not a soldier but only someone dressed like one.

"After two hours of humiliation, being looked at by the police officers as the latest girl who lost her virginity in Iraq, we went home. Khalil cried more than me because he couldn’t believe that his sister had suffered such abuse while he was away and the rapist would not be charged.

[…] "Two weeks ago, I discovered that I was made pregnant by the rapist.

From a paper I wrote a few months ago:

It is the hope of all engaged in the young field of international criminal law that the prosecution of individuals who engage in gross human rights abuses may deter such acts by others in the future. For far too long, sexual and gender-based violence in wartime were treated as incidental to conflict, but that has changed, due in large part to the commitment of women involved in international law to reverse millennia of shameful and destructive impunity. There is still much work to be done. Acts of sexual and gender-based violence continue to be committed widely in conflicts around the globe, and it remains the obligation of individual states, as well as the international community as a whole, to ensure that these crimes do not go uninvestigated, unprosecuted, or unpunished.

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