The Zoryan Institute Releases Statement by MAHG Director Dr. Elisa von Joeden-Forgey on the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict

News Article
Published: June 19, 2017


Elisa von Joeden-Forgey: “On the third annual International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, the world community is asked to focus its attention on an entrenched problem that continues to grow. Similar to the problem of rape in peacetime, sexual violence in conflict, though now recognized as an international crime, remains disturbingly resistant to programs and policies designed to stop it. While the growing awareness of the problem will be helpful in the long-term, the continued widespread use of sexualized violence in conflict by various armed groups as well as by peacekeepers means that the world still must do much more to stop this crime.

The types of sexual violence that people experience during conflict are wide-ranging and go beyond rape to include sexual humiliation, forced nudity, forced marriage, forced maternity, forced abortion, sexual torture, sexual mutilation, sex trafficking, and sex slavery. These crimes occur everywhere — on battlefields, in detention facilities, in people’s own homes, in religious institutions, in cities, in rural areas, in front of family members, in public, in the homes of combatants, and in Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) and refugee camps. What makes these crimes ‘sexual’ is that they are associated with expressions of human sexuality, which is why many experts use the term ‘sexualized violence.’
Wherever these crimes are committed, they leave deep personal and social scars that can take generations to heal. When an entire community has been targeted by mass sexualized violence, the damage often takes on genocidal proportions, meaning that it can cause deep and complex trauma and erode social cohesion for decades.
Humanitarian intervention is still very far behind when it comes to recognizing and creating programming for individuals and communities that have been the targets of sexualized violence. In IDP and refugee camps, psycho-social services are rare. Rarer still are programs that address the secondary violence experienced by the victims’ loved ones. Even programs that could indirectly contribute to the healing of survivors of sexualized violence, such as education and work programs, usually do not take into consideration the effects of sexualized violence. For example, school services in many IDP camps in Iraqi Kurdistan housing Ezidi (Yezidi) refugees do not make accommodations for girls rescued from ISIS who feel they will be stigmatized by their peers. These girls instead choose to stay alone at home with nothing to take their minds off of what has happened to them.
One of the reasons we do not have better programming for sexual violence crimes committed during conflict is that sexualized violence in general is still considered to be a women’s issue alone. This ensures that it will continue to be seen as a niche interest. But we know that sexual violence can happen to anyone in conflict: to combatants as well as civilians; to men as well as women; to the elderly and to children. While the majority of victims of sexual violence during conflict are civilian women and girls, civilian men and boys are also victimized, sometimes in high numbers, as is often the case in genocide. Sexualized violence is also known to cause secondary and even tertiary trauma to family and community members who witnessed or have heard about such crimes committed against their loved ones, their spouses, daughters and sons.
The abiding association of sexualized violence in conflict almost exclusively with female victimization has stood in the way of its prioritization in international humanitarian law and practice. As we come to understand that sexual violence in conflict can happen to men and boys as well as women and girls, the historical callousness and immunity of men in leadership positions regarding this crime is beginning to erode. Furthermore, the rise of women to positions of power in the international community, international courts, peacekeeping forces and domestic militaries has been critical to the strides that have been made over the past 25 years to treat this phenomenon as a major breach of international law. Loosening the historically gendered assumptions about sexualized violence means we can better grasp its status as a form of torture and its use as a form of terrorization.
We must, however, recognize the causal importance of peacetime structures of gender oppression to the existence of sexualized violence during conflict against both women and men, girls and boys. Sexualized violence is enabled by peacetime power inequalities between men and women as well as to traditions of violence against women, which, in times of insecurity and crisis, can quickly and easily become a more generalized type of torture used to achieve political, economic and military aims. Clearly the world must continue to build its capacity to significantly reduce sexual and gender-based violence specifically in conflict. But we must begin to tie these efforts more closely to peacetime efforts to address the conditions and structures that enable it. This effort must involve widespread, grassroots mobilization to promote gender equality and equity while reducing gender-based violence at home and in public and dismantling structures and beliefs that devalue both female and male life.

At the top of the agenda, must be the promotion of LGBTQIA+ rights around the world, for this community is often subjected to eliminationist and/or licensed violence, including sexualized violence, in ways that make peacetime and conflict virtually indistinguishable.

This year the United Nations has chosen the theme “Preventing Sexual Violence Crimes through Justice and Deterrence.” Countering impunity is indeed one of the most important things the world community can do when faced with sexual violence in conflict. Accountability for perpetrators recognizes and dignifies the experiences of victims and survivors and is necessary to the establishment of any post-conflict peace and security.

In terms of prevention, there is little evidence that punishment alone can work as a deterrent. If we are to prevent sexualized violence in conflict, what is needed now more than ever are justice mechanisms that are engaged in transforming societies towards greater gender equity and social peace. Social justice programs that address the roots of conflict-related sexualized violence alongside the roots of conflict itself can help deepen the impact of post-conflict trials against perpetrators. Since domestic violence, political instability, poverty, climate change, shifting gender roles, and definitions of masculinity and femininity can be seen as contributing jointly to the choices leaders make to undertake violent conflict and to the conditions under which sexualized violence will spread, we hope to see more grassroots gender equality programs in nations threatened by conflict. Bringing together men, women, families and communities to begin to reflect on how the treatment of women may feed conflict is one of our greatest hopes for dismantling the social conditions that can result in catastrophe for entire communities and nations.”

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MAHG Director Elisa von Joeden-Forgey and GPC faculty member Irene Massimino met with Pope Francis

Elisa von Joeden-Forgey, Dr. Marsha Raticoff Grossman Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Stockton University, right, and her colleague, Irene Victoria Massimino, an Argentine human rights lawyer, met with Pope Francis at the Vatican May 5 to discuss genocide prevention. 

For Immediate Release; 

Contact:         Maryjane Briant
                        News and Media Relations Director
                        Galloway, N.J. 08205
                        (609) 652-4593

Galloway, N.J. – Elisa von Joeden-Forgey, Dr. Marsha Raticoff Grossman Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Stockton University, and her colleague, Irene Victoria Massimino, an Argentine human rights lawyer, met privately with Pope Francis at the Vatican on May 5 to discuss the situation of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq threatened with genocide by ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

Von Joeden-Forgy and Massimino were in Iraq just before their meeting with the pope. They met with students in the TeenSpirit Iraq English School, which von Joeden-Forgey started after her first trip to Iraq in January 2016, and members of persecuted groups such as the Yezidi religious group.

“The pope was gracious, generous, kind and brilliant,” said von Joeden-Forgey.  “He had very interesting things to say about genocide prevention and the suffering of unwanted people in today’s world. He spoke with us for about 40 minutes and is clearly committed to the work of long-term genocide prevention. It was an indescribable honor to meet with him and to share a common concern for the people of Iraq specifically and the poor and dispossessed of the world more generally.

“Pope Francis invited us to meet with his new office of refugees on Monday,” she continued. “There we were able to speak further about the challenges to peace in Iraq and the effects of global inequality on nurturing genocidal conditions around the world. We look forward to working more closely with Catholic organizations on peace and justice initiatives.

“The Catholic Church has a very important role to play in long-term genocide prevention,” she added.

The professors’ main concerns, and the focal points of their work, are the short- and long-term safety of minority communities, their ability to return safely to their historical lands in the Nineveh Plain and Sinjar Province, the free exercise of religion and cultural identity in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, and the sustainable security of all the people of the region.

“Dr. von Joeden-Forgey’s work in Iraq and around the world illustrates her personal courage and her deep commitment to genocide prevention, which Stockton is proud to support,” said President Harvey Kesselman.

These meetings are part of a larger initiative, the Iraq Project for Genocide Prevention, which von Joeden-Forgey and Massimino launched in the past year in collaboration with the Genocide Prevention Certificate Program at Stockton University. The online genocide certificate program, the first of its kind in the world, was founded by von Joeden-Forgey in 2015. Massimino teaches as a consortium faculty member in the program.      

Photo provided by Elisa von Joeden-Forgey

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MAHG is going to Rwanda! See how you can join us

In collaboration with Weber State University (WSU) and Never Again Rwanda (NAR), the MAHG Program is offering students the opportunity to attend a two-week Peacebuilding Institute in Kigali during most summers in early June.

For more details and to access an informative video, please click here!

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