Created July 2009

The consequences of violence against female environmental refugees are the same as violence against female refugees in other contexts, such as refugees from armed conflict. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in a 2003 report (PDF, 168 pages), women face a long list of health, social, psychological, and other kinds of consequences from their experiences of violence.

There are serious and potentially life threatening health consequences that stem from sexual and gender-based violence of any kind. Fatal consequences include homicide, suicide, maternal or infant mortality, and AIDS-related mortality.  Non-fatal health outcomes may include chronic physical consequences such as disability, chronic pain, eating disorders, sleep disorders, and drug and alcohol abuse.  There may also be reproductive consequences such as miscarriage, sexually-transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS, and unwanted pregnancy.

Sexual and gender-based violence of any kind can also cause psychological and social problems such as anxiety, fear, anger, shame, self-hate and -blame, and mental illness such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Social consequences are often strongly associated with gender, such as stigmatizing, blaming and socially rejecting a female rape victim but not a male rapist.

When national laws do not provide adequate safeguards against sexual and gender-based violence, or if judicial and law enforcement practices do not enforce laws that exist, violence against female environmental refugees can be perpetrated with impunity.  Community attitudes of blaming the victim/survivor are often reflected in the courts. Many sexual and gender-based crimes are dismissed or guilty perpetrators are given light sentences. The lack of punishment meted out to perpetrators constitutes another violation of the victim’s/survivor’s rights and freedoms. The emotional damage to victims/survivors is compounded by the implication that the perpetrator is not at fault.

For many victims of environmental crises, the disaster and its consequences leaves them insecure, threatened, afraid, unprotected and at risk of further violence.

If police and security workers are not sensitive to the victim’s/survivor’s needs for immediate care, dignity, respect, and accountability for perpetrators, the result will be further harm and trauma to the victim/survivor.

From: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons (2003) (PDF, 168 pages).