‘Survival Sex’: How NGOs and Peacekeepers Exploit Women in War
By Vibeke Brask Thomsen/Guest Blogger — July 29, 2013
It’s easy to associate rape with the Democratic Republic of Congo, a region torn by conflict since 1996. Dubbed the “rape capital of the world,” the country sees four women raped every five minutes, according to a 2011 study published by the American Journal of Public Health. The consequences of rape—HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancy, genital damage, and even rejection by communities—have ripped women and families apart.
But several women in DRC also suffer from a less recognized form of sexualized violence: “survival sex,” the exchange of sexual favors for food or other necessary goods with everyone from NGO workers to UN peacekeepers to local men who have goods that are otherwise scarce. This is not prostitution. It is neither voluntary nor equal.
“Survival sex is one in which women have no choice, where they believe that the only way they are going to make any money, where they’ll be able to keep their job or get a job, is through engaging in sex or in relationships with individuals,” according to Anneke Van Woudenberg, a DRC expert who is featured in “To Serve With Pride,” a video issued in 2006 by the United Nations Task Force for the Protection of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN and Related Personnel. “It is by no means a relationship of equals.”
This kind of violence occurs around the world in warzones and refugee areas in which women are inherently made vulnerable.