Rampant sexual abuse is the product of Colombia's decades old civil war, the United Nations’ top official on sexual violence said Wednesday.
During a four-day visit to Colombia, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura said survivors of abuse face “a deep culture of silence and denial.”
“They want sexual violence crimes that have been perpetrated against them to be acknowledged by all the parties involved in the conflict, and they want perpetrators to ensure that sexual violence will not be repeated,” she said.
She also stated there is “a direct correlation between poverty, access to justice, and sexual violence.” In some areas of the country, Bangura said she heard reports of widespread sexual abuse at the hands of militant groups and criminal organizations, such as illegal miners.
While praising the peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba, for making progress toward including gender violence in talks, she said more needs to be done.
Human rights groups have long accused all sides of Colombia's conflict of engaging in sexual violence, though no reliable figures are available on the extent of the problem.
Colombia's National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences recorded over 22,500 suspected sexual abuse cases in 2011, though that figure only includes cases where examinations took place.
Many victims of sexual abuse in Colombia do not report cases to authorities, according to human rights advocates.
In a historic 2008 ruling, Colombia's constitutional court admitted the country's civil war had produced “systematic” and “habitual” abuse of women.