UN report finds 'clear' evidence Israeli hostages experienced sexual violence in Gaza

Editor's note: This report contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence.

There is "clear and convincing" evidence that Israeli hostages being held in Gaza have been subjected to sexual violence, including rape, since Hamas' unprecedented surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, a new United Nations report has found, adding that sexual violence against hostages may be ongoing.

The report's findings followed a two-and-a-half-week visit to Israel and the West Bank by Pramila Patten, the U.N. special representative to the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict, from Jan. 29 to Feb. 14. Patten was supported by a technical team of analysts and sexual violence response specialists.

"We found clear and convincing information that sexual violence -- including rape, sexualized torture, cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment has been committed against captives," Patten said Monday during a press conference about the report. "We also have reasonable grounds to believe such violence may still be ongoing against those still held in captivity."

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The U.N. report's conclusions were made based on individual assessments, verifying sources, cross-referencing relevant information and the establishment of credible facts, Patten said.

PHOTO: A Jordanian military aircraft drops humanitarian aid over Rafah and Khan Yunis in the skies of the southern Gaza Strip, Feb. 27, 2024. (Said Khatib/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: A Jordanian military aircraft drops humanitarian aid over Rafah and Khan Yunis in the skies of the southern Gaza Strip, Feb. 27, 2024. (Said Khatib/AFP via Getty Images)

Teams conducted confidential interviews with 34 people -- including survivors, witnesses, hostages who have been released and family members of hostages held by the Hamas terrorist group. Analysts also reviewed more than 5,000 images and over 50 hours of footage, Patten said.

"I am of the strong opinion that this finding does not in any way legitimize further violence, but actually reinforces the need for an urgent cease-fire," Patten said. "The end goal of this mandate is not a war without rape, but a world without war."

Patten and specialists did not meet with any survivors of sexual violence of the Oct. 7 attacks, despite efforts. Calls were made for survivors to come forward, but Patten said she received information that a "handful" were receiving specialized trauma treatment and were not ready to come forward.

There are reasonable grounds to believe conflict-related sexual violence, including rape and gang rape, occurred across three locations during the Oct. 7 attacks, Patten said.

PHOTO: Israel tanks roll along the border with the Gaza Strip, Feb. 23, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.  (Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Israel tanks roll along the border with the Gaza Strip, Feb. 23, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images)

"We made a finding of clear and convincing information -- which is higher than reasonable grounds to believe, but lower than standard of beyond the reasonable doubt -- like for a criminal case," Patten said. "In many instances, one has to rely on circumstantial evidence and witness testimony."

The report includes a recommendation encouraging the Israeli government to sign a cooperation with her U.N. office, which would include support to survivors of sexual violence, Patten said.

"Victims take time," Patten said. "They will come forward in their own time, on their own terms."

ANALYSIS: Is Israel winning the war against Hamas?

Regarding a proper course of action from the secretary-general and U.N. Security Council, Patten said she hopes that her recommendation regarding a full-fledged investigation is reinforced with "competent" U.N. bodies, paired with an echo for calls for a humanitarian cease-fire.

"I think more than ever a cease-fire should be a priority," Patten said. "That's what can protect the hostages still in captivity. A cease-fire."

The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel found evidence of "systematic and intentional" rape and sexual abuse during Hamas' attack, it said earlier this month, The Associated Press reported.

More than 1,200 people have been killed in Israel since Oct. 7, according to the Israeli Prime Minister's Office. Since Hamas' attack, more than 30,500 people have been killed in Gaza and more than 71,900 others have been injured, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. Israeli officials say 576 IDF soldiers have been killed, including 237 since the ground operations in Gaza began.

Reacting to the report, Israel's Ambassador to the U.N. called for a condemnation of Hamas.

"It took the United Nations five months to finally recognize the sexual crimes committed on Oct. 7 during Hamas’ massacre," Gilad Erdan, Israel's Ambassador to the U.N., told ABC News in a statement. "I call on the Secretary-General and the Security Council to immediately condemn Hamas for their crimes, and apply unrelenting pressure on the terrorists to ensure that their sexual abuse ends and that the hostages are released."

ABC News has reached out to the Israeli prime minister's office and the IDF for comment.

UN report finds 'clear' evidence Israeli hostages experienced sexual violence in Gaza originally appeared on abcnews.go.com