Perpetrators of sexual violence in the DRC must be held to account

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Historically, we know that conviction rates for these crimes are shockingly low. How can we expect or encourage survivors to come forward when so few cases ever succeed, Nadine Tunasi writes.


Sexual violence is a crime against humanity. It is brutal, deliberate and intended to punish and humiliate people and their communities. 

And more and more, we’re seeing sexual violence being used as tactics of war, torture and terrorism in conflicts across the globe. 

The recent reports coming out of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), my home, are deeply alarming. The DRC has become a very dangerous place to be a woman, let alone a little girl.

Victims of conflict-related sexual violence suffer from physical and psychological trauma, long-term injuries, and HIV infection, and some have died. 

Women are forced to deal with unwanted pregnancies, mothers bear the brunt of being excluded by their own families and communities, and men and boys face health and legal barriers because of stigma.

The impact of sexual violence is pervasive and destructive. And the sheer number of people affected by sexual violence shows just how many families and communities are impacted and destroyed.

The repetition of sexual violence keeps survivors living in constant fear and feeling vulnerable to further attacks. 

No faith in the system, no trust in the authorities

When you live in a country where there is no rule of law, and where those who perpetrate serious crimes get away with impunity, you can only worry. It’s impossible to feel safe.

The available statistics on survivors of global conflict-related sexual violence are unhelpful because we know that, where they have been done, studies in national contexts show that in peacetime around 90% of rape survivors never report what’s happened to them. In conflict settings the barriers to reporting only increase. 

There’s a multitude of reasons why survivors don’t go to the police — because they have no faith in the justice system or little trust in the authorities, or they might have grave concerns about how they could be treated, and they fear for their safety. 

Historically, we know that conviction rate for these crimes is shockingly low. How can we expect, or encourage, survivors to come forward when so few cases ever succeed?

Currently, it’s civil society and survivor-led organisations who are leading the charge when it comes to raising awareness of conflict-related sexual violence. 

And although many survivors are grateful for the ongoing conversation on this issue, we face a real challenge now of converting global awareness into tangible support that gives those affected the chance to rebuild their lives. 

Right now, not enough survivors are being given the assistance they need.

All survivors deserve the same compassion and care

Many survivors want to see their own countries taking concrete steps towards preventing, stopping, and responding appropriately to conflict-related sexual violence.

We need to see those in charge taking control so that we can all feel safe and enjoy our fundamental human rights. 

Laws need to be promoted that condemn stigma in all its forms and treat survivors with dignity and care. And importantly, all survivors must be treated with the same compassion and care regardless of their gender, ethnicity, age, or sexual orientation.

Survivor participation is essential in this fight. It’s such an important tool for how we can strengthen support, services and justice pathways in a survivor-centred way. 


When I became Survivor Champion, along with my colleague Kolbassia Hauossou, I knew that part of my role was to make space and create a platform so that more survivors can take part in the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative. 

Through my work, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many survivors from different countries and I am always inspired by their determination and resilience.

Human rights are ‘all or nothing’

But it’s not just up to survivors. 

The international community has an imperative part to play in the response to conflict related to sexual violence. But it urgently needs to overcome a shameful history of double standards. 

All too often we see the international community quickly condemn some aggressors but turn a blind eye to others. 


All perpetrators must be condemned and held to account no matter what their geographical positioning or political importance may be. No matter where they come from, survivors suffer greatly, and they should not be left to suffer in silence just because of the country they are in. 

The response we saw following the invasion of Ukraine was impressive, but there are many more survivors in other countries, like Iran, Sudan, Guatemala, and the DRC who have been effectively ignored. 

It’s so important that there is a consistent international response — there cannot be avenues for accountability for international crimes in some countries and a total absence in others. We either all have human rights, or none of us do.

The DRC government must be called to account

I now live in the UK and have been able to rebuild my life, but what is happening in my home country is devastating. 

The international community must call on the DRC government to take a stand on what’s been going on. 


They have a responsibility to start a national conversation, about conflict-related sexual violence, and to take concrete steps to prevent it.

The aggressors are getting away with appalling sexual crimes, while their international allies appear content to look the other way. 

I’m calling on the international community to stop the double standards and respond effectively to what is happening. 

My people are suffering, and the war has been going on far too long. It’s time for the perpetrators of sexual violence to be condemned and held to account, and for survivors to be given support, care and access to justice.

Nadine Tunasi is a member of Survivors Speak OUT, a torture survivor-led activist network at Freedom from Torture.


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A heinous rape in Italy sparked calls to introduce chemical castration

The treatment is already allowed on a voluntary basis in several EU countries, but only in Poland is it currently compulsory for rapists and child sex abusers.

Following a horrifying gang rape that shocked the country, Italy’s far-right politician Matteo Salvini suggested a drastic, controversial solution: the introduction of forced chemical castration for rapists.


Seven men, all between the age of 18 and 22, have been accused of raping a 19-year-old woman in the city of Palermo, Sicily, in early July and filming the attack. 

The case, which emerged last week when the trial against the young woman’s alleged abusers began, has taken over the public debate in Italy, with details of the attack – including the chats between the seven men – shared by local media sparking fury and disgust.

The argument around the case has seen some declaring that “not all men” should be blamed, while others have pointed at Italy’s grim track record of femicides and rampant violence against women to show that the problem is systemic.

Salvini, the leader of the far-right, populist party League and currently Italy’s minister of infrastructure and transport within Meloni’s coalition government, pushed himself into the public debate suggesting rapists should be chemically castrated as punishment for their actions.

“If you rape a woman or a child, you clearly have a problem. A prison sentence is not enough,” he said.

Six of the seven men involved in the rape of the woman in Palermo have already been arrested, while one – who was a minor at the time of the attack – was allowed to walk free after confessing. According to reports from the men’s families and their lawyers, the six are having a hard time in prison, where they’re being threatened by other inmates.

Salvini suggested bringing his proposal to introduce forced chemical castration for rapists to Parliament. Under his plan, the medical treatment could be imposed by a judge sentencing a child molester or rapist and would be automatic in case of repeated offending.

The idea has been criticised by many, including lawmaker Laura Boldrini of the left-centre party Partito Democratico (PD), who said that while the proposal might get Salvini some “political consensus,” what’s needed to fix the problem is a “cultural change” that should start from Italy’s schools. 

Salvini is not the first to call for forced chemical castration for sex offenders – something that has already been embraced by countries like Pakistan (which had introduced it for repeat offenders but dropped it in 2021) and Indonesia (in the case of child molesters only), and which Russia is reportedly considering to introduce for paedophiles at the end of their prison sentence.

But does it work? Euronews asked an expert what’s the impact of chemical castration on sex offenders, and whether the procedure is even proper from a human rights perspective.

What is chemical castration – and does it work?

Castration can be obtained by either physically removing a man’s testicles – what’s known as surgical castration – or, as suggested by Salvini, by administering drugs through injections and pills that lower a man’s testosterone levels.


While this practice has previously been found to reduce libido and seminal fluid in men and has been linked to lower recidivism rates, experts say it has little to no impact on a person’s capacity to harm another – including assaulting them or raping them. It doesn’t address the role that power dynamics plays in these types of aggression, or try to solve the societal and psychological problems at their roots.

“People do not become sex offenders solely because of certain hormones or hormonal imbalance,” Dirk Baier, a criminologist at the ZHAW Institute of Delinquency at Zurich University in Switzerland, told Euronews.

“The development into a sexual offender takes place in a longer-term socialisation process. The personality that is formed through this process cannot then simply be changed through drug treatment,” he continued.

“According to these thoughts, the causes of sexual offences cannot be singularly attributed to an overproduction of the hormone testosterone. Drug treatment of sex offenders is therefore overestimated as an intervention measure; there is no scientific, experimentally validated evidence that this measure is effective.”

On top of this, chemical castration is only effective while under treatment, and can be reversed with time after discontinuing the procedure – meaning that the sexual urge that led an offender to abuse another person can resurface. 


‘Inhuman and degrading’

There are also ethical and medical reasons to be wary of chemical castration: the treatment is known to have several collateral effects, including depression, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, hot flashes, infertility, and anaemia.

While the health of sex offenders might not gather much sympathy among the public, their well-being while under the custody of the state is a matter of justice that’s at the heart of the democratic system.

“Amnesty opposes forced chemical castration because it amounts to a violation of the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” Elisa de Pieri, a researcher at Amnesty International, told Euronews.

“It also poses issues in terms of applicability from the point of view of doctors who would be forced to perform something that is against the prohibition of torture. And in this sense, we obviously cannot support any legislative proposals in this direction,” she added.

“But the other aspect that we are keen to underline is that this is an alleged solution that only addresses the perpetrators, whereas we know from a lot of countries where we’ve monitored trends about rape, that rape comes from a much more complex cultural situation in society.”


In the end, there are no conclusive studies about the effectiveness of chemical castration in preventing the repetition of sex crimes. “For me, chemical castration doesn’t work because resocialising offenders requires more than just administering a drug,” said Baier.

“Such ‘technocratic views’ never worked in the past,” he added. “Resocialising offenders is just as lengthy and intensive a process as socialising them into becoming criminals. It requires specialised professionals – psychologists, social workers – as well as a broad social network and intensive work with the offender.”

The reason why some politicians keep calling for the introduction of forced chemical castration is because “it promises safety,” said Baier.

“It is a measure that enjoys high approval in certain population groups and contributes to a higher sense of security. The majority of the population thinks: If someone is castrated, he can no longer show sexual behaviour and therefore can no longer be sexually assaultive; but that is not correct as a general rule,” he continued.

“Chemical castration, like the repeated calls for harsher punishments in politics, is a narrative that promises security, because it marks a strong state that is able to act against crime and violence.”

What’s the situation in Europe?

A number of EU member states offer the use of chemical castration on a voluntary basis, as in most countries the treatment cannot be made compulsory for sex offenders.

In countries like Germany and the UK, chemical castration is available to dangerous or mentally ill sex offenders on a voluntary basis, with the treatment often linked to a reduction of their prison sentence.

Poland is the only EU country which has made possible, since 2009, to sentence sexual offenders to compulsory chemical castration. 

In October 2011, Russia approved a law allowing court-requested forensic psychiatrists to prescribe chemical castration for convicted child sex offenders.

Moldova, which is not a member of the EU, voted in 2012 to make chemical castration compulsory for those convicted of violently abusing children under the age of 15 and rapists, though in the case of the latter that’s decided on a case by case basis.

In 2019, the Ukrainian parliament voted to adopt a law allowing the compulsory chemical castration of convicted paedophiles older than 18 and not above the age of 65,

In Europe, the Czech Republic is the only country which allows for surgical castration – an option made available on a voluntary basis. Germany used to offer it until 2012, when the country abolished the procedure in response to criticism from the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhumane or Degrading Punishment.

What’s an effective alternative?

Instead of chemical castration – a practice which has been condemned by human rights activists groups like Amnesty – Baier said we should be thinking of more effective methods to fight rape and sex offences.

“What is really helpful are learning programs and therapies that help sex offenders reflect on their behaviour, take responsibility, and develop and practice alternative strategies for action,” he said.

“This is a long, resource-intensive process and therefore less welcome among politicians. But we need to be very clear: There is no shortcut in treating sex offenders by giving them a pill; it takes a whole lot more to change people.”

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Morning Digest | Four held in Manipur sexual assault case; Justice B.R. Gavai to head Bench hearing Rahul Gandhi defamation case today, and more

Manipul sexual assault case main accused Huirem Herodas Meitei of Pechi Awang Leikai in police custody on July 20, 2023.
| Photo Credit: ANI

Four held in Manipur sexual assault case

Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh said on Thursday that none of the guilty in the May 4 sexual violence case will be spared adding that he got to know about the incident only after a video went viral on Wednesday. He said that the government will seek capital punishment for the accused even as police confirmed that four persons have been arrested in the case.

First day of Monsoon Session a washout

The Parliament failed to function on the first day of the monsoon session, with the Opposition remaining adamant that the first order of business should be a debate on the violence in Manipur with a statement from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Though the government said it was willing to hold a discussion on the Manipur situation, the PM was only briefly present in the Lok Sabha, and both Houses were adjourned for most of the day, due to Opposition protests.

B.R. Gavai to head Bench hearing Rahul Gandhi defamation case today

A Supreme Court Bench of Justices B.R. Gavai and P.K. Mishra is scheduled to hear a petition filed by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to suspend his conviction in a criminal defamation case on Friday.

Focus on joint projects during Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s India visit 

Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe on July 20 arrived in India for an official visit, a year after he became President of the Island nation that witnessed its worst economic crisis last year. Mr. Wickremesinghe is scheduled to call on Indian President Droupadi Murmu and meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 21, according to a press statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

RS Chairman nominates four women parliamentarians to panel of vice-chairpersons

Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar nominated four women parliamentarians to the panel of vice-chairpersons, giving women equal representation in the panel, for the first time in the history of the Rajya Sabha, even as the women’s reservation Bill, that was first introduced in 1996, remains pending.

NHRC takes up Manipur abduction, gang-rape case, issues notice

Two and a half months after the ethnic conflict in Manipur began on May 3, the National Human Rights Commission of India issued its first public statement about human rights violations in the State on Thursday. In its statement, the NHRC said that it had taken cognisance of the May 4 incident in B. Phainom village of Kangpokpi district, where a mob of 1,000 Meitei people had abducted five members of a Kuki-Zo family while they were being escorted to safety by the Manipur Police.

Nine dead, 13 injured as speeding car ploughs into crowd in Ahmedabad

In a horrific incident, nine people were killed and over a dozen grievously injured when a speeding luxury car mowed down a crowd gathered at an accident site in Ahmedabad’s SG highway flyover On July 20, 2023.

Supreme Court urges Centre to transfer cheetahs to another location

The Supreme Court on Thursday told the Union Government that the deaths of 40% of the 20 cheetahs brought from South Africa and Namibia to the Kuno National Park (KNP) in under a year is does not present a good picture.

SC proposes to nominate pro tem DERC chairperson, takes time till August 4 to scout for suitable candidate

The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday indicated that it may appoint a pro tem chairperson to discharge the functions of a Delhi Electricity Regulatory (DERC) Commission chairperson for “a little while” after the Delhi government and Lieutenant-Governor failed to reach a consensus on a name.

16 dead after landslip triggered by heavy rains buries village in Maharashtra’s Raigad

At least 16 persons were killed and 21 injured after a landslip induced by incessant rainfall buried the hamlet of Irshalwadi in Raigad district, 65 km from Mumbai, said authorities on Thursday.

Two Nobel winning U.S. economists among 304 write to President against Visva-Bharati Vice-Chancellor

As many as 304 people related to the world of education, including two Nobel winning American economists, have written to President Draupadi Murmu, criticising Visva-Bharati Vice-Chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty for targeting Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who has a house near the university in Santiniketan.

Centre bans export of non-basmati white rice to check price rise

The Centre banned the export of non-basmati white rice on Thursday. The Directorate General of Foreign Trade under the Union Commerce Ministry announced in a notification that the ban would come into effect immediately and exemptions would be given only if the loading of non-basmati rice on the ship had commenced before the notification or the shipping bill was filed and vessels had already berthed or arrived and anchored in Indian ports.

Fresh consultation needed on Uniform Civil Code, Law Minister tells Rajya Sabha

The Law Commission has started fresh consultations on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) due to the “relevance and importance” of the subject and various court orders on the matter, Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal informed the Rajya Sabha on Thursday.

China doesn’t want a trade war with the US but will retaliate against further curbs, ambassador says

China does not want a trade war with the United States but will retaliate against any further U.S. restrictions on technology and trade, the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. said. Ambassador Xie Feng criticized U.S. curbs on the sale of microchips and chipmaking equipment to China that were imposed last year by the Biden administration. Beijing has described the measure as part of an effort to “contain” China.

India vs West Indies, Test 2 of 2 | West Indies show some fight before Kohli puts India ahead on day one

irat Kohli reached close to a memorable hundred in his 500th International game after the West Indies put up a much needed fight to limit India to 288 for four at stumps on day one of the second Test in Port of Spain on July 20

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What’s Behind Rise in Girls’ Report of Sadness, Sexual Violence?

Feb. 14, 2023 – The recent discovery of a dramatic spike in the number of teen girls saying they’ve been victims of sexual assault could have a now-familiar cause: the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The CDC reported Monday that teenage girls are experiencing record high levels of sexual violence, and nearly 3 in 5 girls report feeling persistently sad or hopeless. 

The numbers were even worse for students who identify as LGBTQ+, nearly 70% of whom report experiencing feelings of persistent sadness and hopeless, and nearly 1 in 4 (22%) LGBTQ+ teens had attempted suicide in 2021, according to the report. 

Protective factors, such as being in school and participating in various activities, were largely nonexistent for many teens during the pandemic, which could explain the spike in sexual violence cases, says Carlos A. Cuevas, PhD, clinical psychologist and Center on Crime Race and Injustice co-director at Northeastern University in Boston.

That — on top of other mental, emotional, and physical stressors amid the COVID-19 crisis — created an unsafe and unhealthy environment for some girls.

“Once people started to kind of come out of the pandemic and we started to see the mental health impact of the pandemic, there were waiting lists everywhere. So being able to access those resources became more difficult because we just had a boom in demand for a need for mental health services,” says Cuevas.

Teen girls are also more likely to be victims of sexual assault than teen boys, which could explain the why they are overrepresented in the data, Cuevas says. 

If your child experiences sexual assault, there are a few things parents should keep in mind. For one, it’s important that your child knows that they are the victims in the situation, Cuevas says.

“I think sometimes you still get kind of a victim blaming sort of attitude, even unintentionally,” he says. “Really be clear about the message that it’s not their fault and they are not responsible in any way.”

Parents should also look out for resources their child might need to work through any trauma they may have experienced. For some, that could be medical attention due to a physical act of assault. For others, it could be mental health services or even legal remedies, such as pressing charges.

“You want to give those options but the person who was the victim really is the one who determines when and how those things happen,” Cuevas says. “So really to be able to be there and ask them what they need and try to facilitate that for them.”

One more thing: Your teen sharing their sexual assault experiences on social media could result in several outcomes. 

“Some teens will talk about this [sexual assault] and post on TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram, and that means that they may get people giving feedback that’s supportive or giving feedback that’s hurtful,” says Cuevas. “Remember that we’re talking about kids; they’re not sort of developmentally able to plan and think, ‘Oh, I may not get all the support that I think I’m going to get when I post this.’”

Goldie Taylor, an Atlanta-based journalist, political analyst and human rights activist, has her own history with sexual assault as a young girl. She experienced it as a 11-year-old, a story she shares in her memoir, The Love You Save. 

When Taylor saw the news of the CDC study, she hurried to read it herself. She, too, see signs of the pandemic’s work in the report. 

“While notably mental health continues to be a post-pandemic story given the issues surrounding quarantine, I also believe it fueled a renewed interest in seeking care— and measuring impacts on children,” Taylor says. “What was most startling, even for me, were the statistics around sexual violence involving young girls. We know from other studies that the vast majority of pregnancies among girls as young as 11 involve late teen and adult males.”

Unfortunately, Taylor says little has changed since her own traumatic experience as a child. There was little support available then. And now, she says, “there are far too few providers in this country to deal effectively with what can only be called a pandemic of sexual violence.”

The study’s findings are indeed a stark reminder of the needs of our children, says Debra Houry, MD, MPH, the CDC’s acting principal deputy director, in a press release about the findings.

“High school should be a time for trailblazing, not trauma. These data show our kids need far more support to cope, hope, and thrive,” she says. 

The new analysis looked at data from 2011 to 2021 from the CDC’s Youth Risk and Behavior Survey, a semiannual analysis of the health behaviors of students in grades 9-12. The 2021 survey is the first conducted since the COVID-19 pandemic began and included 17,232 respondents.  

Although the researchers saw signs of improvement in risky sexual behaviors and substance abuse, as well as fewer experiences of bullying, the analysis found youth mental health worsened over the past 10 years. This trend was particularly troubling for teenage girls: 57% said they felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021, a 60% increase from a decade ago. By comparison, 29% of teenage boys reported feeling persistently sad or hopeless, compared to 21% in 2011. 

Nearly one-third of girls (30%) reported seriously considering suicide, up from 19% in 2011. In teenage boys, serious thoughts of suicide increased from 13% to 14% from 2011 to 2021. The percentage of teenage girls who had attempted suicide in 2021 was 13%, nearly twice that of teenage boys (7%). 

More than half of students with a same-sex partner (58%) reported seriously considering suicide, and 45% of LGBTQ+ teens reported the same thoughts. One-third of students with a same-sex partner reported attempting suicide in the past year. 

The report did not have trend data on LGBTQ+ students because of changes in survey methods. The 2021 survey did not have a question about gender identity, but this will be incorporated into future surveys, researchers say. 

Hispanic and multiracial students were more likely to experience persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness compared with their peers, with 46% and 49%, respectively, reporting these feelings. From 2011 to 2021, the percentage of students reporting feelings of hopelessness increased in each racial and ethnic group. The percentage of Black, Hispanic, and white teens who seriously considered suicide also increased over the decade. (A different CDC report released last week found that the rate of suicide among Black people in the United States aged 10-24 jumped 36.6% between 2018 and 2021, the largest increase for any racial or ethnic group.)

The survey also found an alarming spike in sexual violence toward teenage girls. Nearly 1 in 5 females (18%) experienced sexual violence in the past year, a 20% increase from 2017. More than 1 in 10 teen girls (14%) said they had been forced to have sex, according to the researchers.

Rates of sexual violence was even higher in lesbian, bisexual, gay, or questioning teens. Nearly 2 in 5 teens with a partner of the same sex (39%) experienced sexual violence, and 37% reported being sexually assaulted. More than 1 in 5 LGBTQ+ teens (22%) had experienced sexual violence, and 20% said they had been forced to have sex, the report found.

Among racial and ethnic groups, American Indian and Alaskan Native and multiracial students were more likely to experience sexual violence. The percentage of white students reporting sexual violence increased from 2017 to 2021, but that trend was not observed in other racial and ethnic groups. 

Delaney Ruston, MD, an internal medicine specialist in Seattle and creator of Screenagers, a 2016 documentary about how technology affects youth, says excessive exposure to social media can compound feelings of depression in teens — particularly, but not only, girls. 

“They can scroll and consume media for hours, and rather than do activities and have interactions that would help heal from depression symptoms, they stay stuck,” Ruston says in an interview. “As a primary care physician working with teens, this is an extremely common problem I see in my clinic.”

One approach that can help, Ruston says, is behavioral activation. “This is a strategy where you get them, usually with the support of other people, to do small activities that help to reset brain reward pathways so they start to experience doses of well-being and hope that eventually reverses the depression. Being stuck on screens prevents these healing actions from happening.” 

The report also emphasized the importance of school-based services to support students and combat these troubling trends in worsening mental health. “Schools are the gateway to needed services for many young people,” the report says. “Schools can provide health, behavioral, and mental health services directly or establish referral systems to connect to community sources of care.”

“Young people are experiencing a level of distress that calls on us to act with urgency and compassion,” Kathleen Ethier, PhD, director of the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, says in a statement. “With the right programs and services in place, schools have the unique ability to help our youth flourish.”

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