A United Nations official said Russia is using rape as a strategy in its war against Ukraine, according to the international French news agency Agence France-Presse.
Pramila Patten, the U.N.’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, told AFP in an interview that Russian forces have been carrying out sexual assault as a “deliberate tactic to dehumanize the victims,” part of its military strategy.
“When you hear women testify about Russian soldiers equipped with Viagra, it’s clearly a military strategy,” she said.
Patten said the U.N. has verified more than a hundred cases of rape or sexual assault since the war began in February, and the first cases were reported just three days after Russia launched its full-scale invasion.
She said the victims are mostly women and girls, but some men and boys are included too. She said the victims range in age from 4 to 82 years old.
Patten said the reported cases are “only the tip of the iceberg,” and maintaining reliable statistics is difficult during an active conflict. She added that the reported numbers will not reflect reality because sexual violence is a “silent crime.”
Russia has faced accusations of war crimes throughout much of the conflict from Ukrainian officials, as well as the international community.
The U.N. released a report last month on instances of rape, torture and unlawful confinement occurring in Ukraine. It found that some Russian soldiers have committed sexual- and gender-based violence during the war.
Russian forces have also forced family members to witness crimes committed against their loved ones, the report states.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pushed for the international community to hold Russia accountable for war crimes it has committed during the conflict.
Russia has attacked numerous civilian targets, most recently through hundreds of missile strikes it conducted throughout the country, the Pentagon said Friday.
Ukrainian soldiers have also found and begun to exhume mass graves in territories they have reclaimed from Russia.
Russia, for its part, has denied allegations of war crimes.