Shocking new evidence of rape and sexual violence among refugee women - Refugee Council
February 5, 2009

Shocking new evidence of rape and sexual violence among refugee women

Two reports launched at a one day conference on Thursday 5 February

At a conference in London today, Thursday 5 February, the Refugee Council publishes the interim findings of its project working with vulnerable women who have claimed asylum in the UK. The work has revealed some shocking facts about what it is to be a refugee woman in the UK, and why women flee and claim asylum here.

The Refugee Council’s Vulnerable Women’s Project is a three year scheme funded by Comic Relief working with women who have been the victims of rape and sexual violence, or other extreme trauma, both in their countries of origin and here in the UK. In the 21 month period between 1 December 2006, and 31 August 2008, the project supported 153 women. Of these women:

  • 76% had been raped, either in their country of origin or the UK
  • 76% were experiencing trauma-related psychological distress
  • 35% had suffered some form of violence
  • 27% had physical injuries
  • 22% had been sexually abused
  • 20% had gynaecological problems as a result of their experiences.
  • 15% had become pregnant as a result of being raped
  • 9% had been threatened with rape or sexual abuse while in detention in their country of origin
  • 5 % had had a child as a result of being raped

The average age of these women is 34, although some are under 18. The main countries of origin are Sri Lanka, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast and Somalia.

Rape is recognised under international law as a weapon of war, and is outlawed in all countries, yet is still hugely prevalent in many areas of conflict that produce refugees. When women manage to escape and seek asylum in the UK, they are often faced with further hardships, such as destitution, and a system that often doesn’t recognise their needs. Many women who have experienced severe forms of sexual violence have had their asylum claims refused.

As a result of being refused asylum and living in destitution, many of the women who have come through the Project have become even more vulnerable, resulting in some experiencing further sexual violence in the UK, whether through prostitution or simply lacking a place of safety .

Evidence of this is documented in a literature review which accompanies the Good Practice Guide that has been written to help people working with refugee women. The two reports are being launched at a conference being held at the Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre in London on Thursday 5 February.

Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:

“We are all aware that rape and sexual violence are commonplace in conflict situations, and our project confirms this. However, what is truly shocking is that women continue to suffer when they come to the UK. They struggle to tell their stories, many have their claims for asylum rejected, and many end up sleeping rough or forced to rely on others. As a result, some women end up experiencing sexual violence here, the place they thought they would be safe, either by selling themselves to get food and shelter or by ending up in such precarious situations that they are acutely vulnerable to rape and sexual assault.

“This is to our shame. We should be doing all we can to protect these women, offer them help and support, and above all a place of safety where they can rebuild their lives. We hope that through our project we will be able to address some of these issues and help others working with vulnerable women to do the same.”

Find out more information and download the reports