Rape is an egregious crime with devastating consequences for victims. However, until relatively recently it has not been the subject of serious attention within the international human rights law framework. Rape – at both the domestic and international level – was traditionally largely invisible, or trivialised as a "private matter", an unfortunate incident, the result of a woman's careless conduct, or the inevitable result of war.1 As such, it was not cast as the responsibility of states, was rarely addressed in international human rights discourse, and was not to be found explicitly within the human rights violations prohibited by the core international conventions adopted during the course of the twentieth century.
The past two decades have seen a significant normative change in this area. It is now clearly established at the international level that rape is a crime of the highest order, that states do have the responsibility to prevent and respond to it, whoever commits it, and that survivors of rape are entitled to the same level of protection and response as any other victim of violence. This normative change has started to have an impact in achieving accountability in some high profile individual cases, has increased scrutiny by international human rights bodies on the practices of states, and may have helped to improve responses of authorities in some jurisdictions. However the reality is that rape continues on a massive scale, and the majority of victims of rape around the world – both women and men – face almost insurmountable barriers to justice.
This report hopes to provide a useful resource for those seeking to build upon these developments, helping to translate them into change for individuals and communities. It does so by focusing on one strategy which has been fruitfully used both to bring rape within the international legal framework, and to seek justice in individual cases: making the link between rape and torture and other prohibited ill-treatment.