The message to perpetrators of sexual violence as a tactic of war must be clear: They will be punished, Zainab Bangura, a special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, said in a talk on campus Wednesday.
Bangura addressed the struggles of female sexual violence victims, highlighting the racial, ethnic, cultural and religious differences between individuals in a Distinguished Lecture Series event.
Scott Straus, a University of Wisconsin political science and international studies professor who introduced Bangura, said he believes sexual violence is getting more attention in recent years, but not enough.
“This is a topic that extends not only on contemporary topics, which can be quite vicious, but in historical ones as well,” Straus said.
Elected to be a special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict in 2012, Bangura said her message was to share the lasting impacts of sexual violence and conflict with the new generation of leaders.
“In this room I sat as a voice and global advocate for women and men affected by sexual violence,” Bangura said. “I worked to mobilize political leadership to address the issue because this is not just a United Nations’ issue. It is an issue that belongs to people everywhere. It is the legal responsibility of the government to protect their citizens.”
Bangura outlined the agenda her office and organization are working toward. Their goals include seeking justice for victims of rape, protecting and empowering citizens who experience violence in conflicts and mobilizing political leadership to address the issue of violence in their countries, she said. Bangura said she is also working to strengthen the coordination and responsiveness of the United Nations, increase the recognition of rape as a tactic of war and recognize national leadership in the fight to put an end to this cause.
Bangura said her greatest challenge in dealing with other countries is getting their governments to recognize that rape and violence in war is a major issue.
“At a local, national and international level we must make sure that the message to perpetrators is clear: This is a crime, and if you commit it we will find you, we will prosecute you and we will punish you,” Bangura said.
Since she has been elected, Bangura said she has secured the support of 134 countries that have declared they will work to end sexual assault in areas of conflict. Referring to the countries as a “circle of champions,” Bangura said their commitment will help drive an end to sexual violence across their spheres of influence.
UW sophomore Meghan Sovey, a gender and women’s studies major, attended the lecture for her global feminism class and said she thinks the issue of violence toward women is an important one that is not being given enough attention.
Students may not see violence toward women as the big issue it actually is because they live in such a privileged society, she said.
Bangura said she is confident change and awareness of sexual violence will spread rapidly because of her ability to stand before a group and talk about the issues.
“I know what it’s like to be vulnerable and to be written off for being a girl,” Bangura said. “I am looking forward to the day when the only place it will be discussed is in the history books.”