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Ethnic sexual violence and the importance of no-harm attention to the victims (Gender-Based Violence)

A victim overshadowed by perpetrator
Gender-Based Violence

Gender-based violence (GBV) is an umbrella term for harmful acts of abuse perpetrated against a person’s will and rooted in a system of unequal power between women and men. This is true for both conflict-affected and non-conflict settings. The UN defines violence against women as ‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” What is Gender-Based Violence and how to prevent it? by the International Rescue Committee

Although GBV encompasses many forms of violence, in this article you will be able to read about ethnic sexual violence. Since, despite its importance, it is a term that has been little explored and/or researched.

Ethnical Sexual Violence (ESV)

Sexual violence is observed in different conflicts, contexts, countries, and continents of the planet, where entire communities have suffered its consequences, and women and girls have always been and are the most affected due to their socioeconomic and gender conditions. It is a global problem that is perpetuated within the family or among relatives, in religious or civic institutions, and also as a way to impose terror and demonstrate power over an individual, or as a strategy of war and torture.

Some of the most common effects victims of sexual violence (in general) suffer are the following:

Physical Health

Mental Health

Psychosocial Health

Physical injury and the spread of sexually transmitted infections (including HIV/AIDS).

Serious psychological traumas that are projected in the long term in different phases of the victims' lives.

Revictimization through social rejection and stigmatization by affected communities and families.

Unintended pregnancies (girls after their first menstrual cycles, adolescents) and various secondary gynecologic problems.

The affectation of self-esteem, security, affective life, and the healthy exercise of their sexuality.

There is widespread fear in the regions where the acts are committed, often limiting the mobility and exercise of the rights of women, adolescents, and girls.

Problems in the physical development of children and adolescents.

Depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sexualized violence is a direct cause of the forced displacement of survivors, their families, and communities.

However, in this scenario, it is women who self-identify as black and/or Afro-descendant, as well as women from indigenous communities, who suffer a disproportionate and differentiated impact due to structural racism and historical marginalization, as well as systematic and continuous discrimination against this population. As an example, we should name the view of black women and girls as hypersexual, which is deeply rooted in racism and colonization.

Underreporting of ESV

Given the sensitive nature of these contexts, it is important to name the problem of their underreporting, which is to be seen as a collective and structural problem. ESV is fueled by the high level of distrust on the part of the victimized persons, not only in their family members (or the person they trust), but also in state agents purportedly intending to help. As a research has shown: “black girls and adolescent girls are viewed through a hyper-sexualized gaze, and as a result, are less likely to be believed when they report sexual assault.“ El origen de la hipersexualización de las mujeres negras

As a result, it is often difficult for victims to articulate what happened due to fear, the feeling of shame, a lack of confidence, and/or the impossibility of reporting (among other reasons). These factors contribute to systemic underreporting that makes it difficult to fully assess the breadth and scope of ESV in modern society and to engage victims in a way that is meaningful and non-harmful.


The importance of no-harm attention to the victims

Keeping this in mind, whether you are an academic researcher, feminist NGO, social worker, medical professional, government agency, or other professional who works with people victimized by sexual violence or ethnical sexual violence, you should ensure that your work is conducted in a manner that is meaningful, ethical, and respectful of the rights and well-being of all participants involved. 

In careful consideration of these factors, at the moment of attention, when accompanying the victims of those violations or researching these topics, we need to make sure our methodology reflects and follows the following approaches in order to generate no-harm action:

  • Ethical approval: Obtain ethical approval from relevant institutions, stakeholders, and organizations, and establish mechanisms for ongoing ethical oversight throughout the process.

  • Informed consent: Ensure that all participants provide voluntary and informed consent, taking into account their age, capacity, and understanding.

  • Trauma-informed approaches: Implement trauma-informed practices to create safe and supportive environments for survivors and focus on trauma-sensitive research methods.

  • Confidentiality and anonymity: Implement strict protocols for data collection, storage, and dissemination to protect the privacy and confidentiality of participants, such as using pseudonyms or securely storing sensitive information. Especially while using storage such as Google Drive, OneDrive, etc.

  • .Community engagement: involve community stakeholders and representatives in the research process (in-depth interviews, focus groups, narrative production, co-creation, etc.) to ensure cultural relevance, sensitivity, and inclusivity.

  • Continuous reflection and reflexivity: foster ongoing reflection and reflexivity among researchers to critically examine their own biases, assumptions, and power dynamics, and to adapt research methods and working approaches accordingly.


These methodological approaches are not only important for ensuring the ethical conduct of research and action, but also for enhancing the quality and validity of the findings and outcomes. By engaging with survivors and communities in respectful and meaningful ways, we can better understand the complexities and nuances of ethnical sexual violence (ESV), as well as the needs and perspectives of those affected by it. Moreover, by taking a trauma-informed and reflexive stance, we can avoid re-traumatizing or harming participants, and instead empower them to share their stories and experiences in safe and supportive spaces. Therefore, ESV matters not only as a topic of inquiry and intervention, but also as a lens through which we approach our work with sensitivity, empathy, and respect.


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