UNAIDS estimates that by December 1997, 30.6 million people around the world had been infected with HIV, with more than 70% of these infections occurring through unprotected sexual intercourse.
The proportion of these infections which is attributable, directly or indirectly, to sexual violence is unknown. Nonetheless existing evidence on gender and sexual inequality, together with data on the distribution of HIV among specific groups and locations, and available information on the nature and scale of sexual violence (particularly against women and girls), suggest that it is likely to be significant.
This preliminary overview of available literature suggests that, within the context of gender and the HIV epidemic, sexual violence is a complex phenomenon with multiple determinants, consequences and manifestations.
In the short-term, effective responses require clearly defined strategies which are locally relevant and sensitive, which provide support services for victims, including recourse to justice and the punishment of perpetrators.
Longer-term strategies need to be based upon consideration of both the specifically gendered and sexualised nature of this violence and the need to address these at the level of community and culture rather than of individual perpetrators and victims. Much may be learned from the accumulated experience of activism in relation to gender and sexuality politics and human rights, humanitarian relief and social and economic development.
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