update deskU.S. News

‘We cannot look away, and we will not be silent,’ Kamala Harris says of Hamas’s sexual violence

Speaking an event marking International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, the U.S. vice president emphasized rape victims of Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the White House at an event marking International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict on June 17, 2024. Credit: YouTube/Associated Press.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the White House at an event marking International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict on June 17, 2024. Credit: YouTube/Associated Press.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris condemned the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and called for accountability in remarks made at the White House on Monday marking International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict.

“I especially thank the survivors and advocates that are with us today,” Harris said. “You are fearless advocates in the fight for justice, and you remind us of the resilience of survivors.”

The vice president said that “sexual violence has been a tactic of war since ancient times,” used to “humiliate and terrorize and subdue entire populations.” 

She cited Russian troops fighting in Ukraine who had “raped women in occupied territories” as her first example.

Harris listed countries around the world where conflicts had seen sexual violence, including Sudan, Haiti, Ethiopia, Central African Republic and Congo. She said that experts estimate that for every rape documented during wars, 10 to 20 more occur.

“My heart breaks for the trauma and pain inflicted in each of these conflicts,” she said.

Turning to the conflict in the Gaza Strip, Harris said “Hamas committed horrific acts of sexual violence.” 

She recounted seeing photos of bloodied Israelis abducted and that “women’s bodies were found naked to the waist down, hands tied behind their back and shot in the head.”

Harris said that released hostages have begun revealing stories of the sexual violence they endured in captivity.

“These testimonies, I fear, will only increase as more hostages are released,” she said. “We cannot look away, and we will not be silent. My heart breaks for all these survivors and their families.”

Harris repeated the Biden administration’s demand that Hamas “needs to accept the deal that is on the table for the ceasefire.”

“Globally, our system of accountability remains inadequate,” Harris said. “It is the responsibility of all of us—governments, international organizations, civil society and individual citizens—to actively confront combat-related sexual violence and work to rid our world of this heinous crime.”

“It starts, of course, with awareness and acknowledgement,” she said.

Harris concluded that “the bottom line is the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war is unconscionable, and any failure to hold perpetrators accountable is a failure to live up to our common humanity.”

Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, told JNS that “gender-based violence is never acceptable and must be unequivocally condemned.”

“We must believe all women, regardless of their ethnicity, religious affiliation, race or identity, and unite to raise our voices against the use of rape as a weapon of war, ensuring it never happens again,” Katz said.

“We are profoundly grateful to Vice President Harris for convening this impactful panel of survivors, experts and advocates, and for her unwavering stance against all forms of gender-based violence, including the systemic sexual assault perpetrated by Hamas in Israel on Oct. 7 and since,” she added.

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