UN official presses for action on sexual violence in Ukraine before it is ‘too late’

A United Nations (U.N.) official appeared before the Security Council on Monday to discuss the worsening and ongoing problem of sexual violence amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Pramila Patten, the special representative for sexual violence in armed conflict, spoke to the council about her recent trip to Ukraine, saying that “the needs of women and girls in conflict settings” are often “side-lined and treated as an afterthought.”

The U.N., citing reports from a national domestic violence hotline, said that there have been many reports of family members forced to watch their partners or children undergo sexual violence.

“An active battle-ground is never conducive to accurate ‘book-keeping’ … [but] if we wait for hard data and statistics, it will always be too late,” Patten said, pushing for more immediate action.

“It is crucial to ensure that the level of political focus, as well as the allocation of resources for a comprehensive response, is commensurate with the scale and complexity of the problem,” she added.

Last month, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said victims of sex crimes committed by Russian troops feared speaking about their experiences, making investigations into the crimes all the more difficult.

“They are under huge stress,” Venediktova said. “I just want [to] tell you their words. ‘We are scared because maybe Russians come back and they kill all of us.’”

Even before that, the United Nations had warned of an increase in crimes against women and children in Ukraine in April, saying the reports were raising “red flags.”

“The combination of mass displacement with the large pressure of conscripts and mercenaries and the brutality displayed against Ukrainian civilians has raised all red flags,” said Sima Bahous, executive director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

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