Infographic: Rape in war, by the numbers

By — January 9, 2015

We know there’s a problem but we don’t know how big it is. That’s what governments, scholars, and others argue when trying to figure out how to allot funds toward this problem of sexualized violence in conflict. If we don’t know the numbers, they ask, how can we help properly? How can we mount prosecutions? Offer reparations? Put in place proper advocacy? So the thinking goes.

In years of documenting sexualized violence in the Syria conflict, I’ve long maintained that we can’t know in a hot war exactly how many women and men are being violated—but we know it is happening. There have been too many reports, many credible and confirmed, to say it is not. Which means that every dollar not spent to help these survivors, many of whom appear to have made it out of the war zone, is another survivor left suffering without psychological, medical, or other supportive care. (And there is next to no money being spent on these issues in the Syria context, according to my sources in the region who treat survivors of torture and rape. They say that women who are escaping abduction from ISIS are returning severely traumatized and sit languishing in temporary centers with zero psychological treatment.)

The problem is that it is nearly impossible to know exact—or often even ballpark—numbers of women raped in conflict. There’s too much in the way: the murder of victims after rape (aka the destruction of evidence), deep stigma that prevents reporting, fear of retribution by either the perpetrators or the survivor’s family. Women have no reason to come forward.

But over time, some have. Much of the work to count them has been done forensically, however, through costly research efforts. Here then are some of the numbers painstakingly gathered by researchers. Beneath the numbers, I’ve written just a few specific reasons why we shouldn’t trust them—why all numbers counting a problem based in trauma and fear are certainly higher than estimated.

Numbers are crucial to quantifying any problem. But numbers can also be a smokescreen preventing us from seeing the pain happening around us every day. Share them with a grain of salt. Let others know that behind each number is a human who has suffered deeply, and that she too deserves to be counted.


Full ranges of estimates in the chart above, with links to sources:

Bosnia, 1992-95 50,000-60,000
Colombia, 2001-09


Democratic Republic of Congo, 2006-07


Nanking, 1937 20,000-80,000
Rwanda, 1994 250,000-500,000
Sierra Leone, 1991-2002 215,000-257,000
WWII, 1944-45



“According to a 2013 global study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, only 7% of survivors of gender-based violence formally reported the violence to police, medical, or social services.” This study was carried out by Stony Brook University Professor Tia Palermo, Jennifer Bleck of the University of South Florida, and Amber Peterman of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

Stanford alum joins Reid Hoffman in fight to Recall Persky


Harriet —

Recently, Co-founder and Executive Chairman of LinkedIn Reid Hoffman donated $25,000 to the Crowdpac campaign to Recall Judge Persky. Now, Stanford alum Joe McCarthy has joined the fight by donating $5,000 on behalf of his daughter, a sexual assault survivor, to call attention to the serious problem of sexual assault on Stanford’s campus and across the country. He states:

“Brock Turner’s actions were inexcusable. Yet he insists on hiding behind excuses rather than accepting responsibility for his actions. His assault, victim blaming, and lack of personal accountability were all wrong. But he’s part of a larger issue.

Judge Persky is certainly mistaken in his view that privileged individuals (e.g. fellow Stanford athletes) should not be held fully accountable for their acts. While I believe that judges should have leeway in their decisions, I also believe there should be consequences for misuse of that power. A recall is the most appropriate consequence. The lenient sentence, and his attempts to justify it, was wrong. But he’s part of a larger issue.

This case itself was the symptom of a larger and systemic problem that exists at Stanford, at other campuses, and throughout society. I sincerely hope that my alma mater addresses head-on the attitude of sexual assault rather than being misled into treating it as an alcohol consumption issue. Athletes, fraternity members, and all students must understand what consent is and is not. Right now, Stanford is part of the larger issue.

Whether privileged or not, drunk or sober, we need to understand: Only an informed and enthusiastic “yes” is consent. Fear, inebriation, or unconsciousness are not. Sexual assault should be punished, with no excuses and no leniency, so that the consequences associated with it pave the way to justice for survivors and would-be perpetrators are put on notice.

If we make excuses like Brock, if we accept lenient sentences like Judge Persky’s, if we don’t hold people accountable for their actions, if we don’t discard the idea that sexual assault and rape are the survivor’s fault or alcohol’s fault or simply a by-product of modern society, if we don’t follow the example of the Swedish grad students and intervene, if we don’t teach our sons about consent and respect, if we don’t speak out loud and clear against sexual assault… then we, too, are part of the larger issue.

We owe it to the survivor in this case and survivors everywhere: We must step up and be part of the larger solution.”

I urge you to please join Joe McCarthy, Reid Hoffman, and others in supporting the Recall Judge Persky campaign on Crowdpac.

Thank you,
Michele Dauber
Chair, Committee to Recall Judge Persky

Michele Dauber is a Stanford law professor and a sociologist, Michele Landis Dauber has written highly original historical and sociological studies focusing on the history of social provision and the US welfare state. Her first book, The Sympathetic State (2013 University of Chicago Press) received numerous distinguished book awards and prizes including from the American Historical Association, the American Sociological Association, the American Political Science Association, the American Society for Legal History, and the Law and Society Association.