Colombia Report

Benetech Human Rights Program and Corporación Punto de Vista Issues Report on
Sexual Violence in Colombia

Researchers Find that Data About Sexual Violence is Difficult To Collect and Subject to Misinterpretation

May 2, 2011, Palo Alto, CA — The Benetech Human Rights Program has issued a report with the Colombian NGO Corporación Punto de Vista which examines how quantitative data can be used to assess conflict related sexual violence in Colombia. Written by Francoise Roth, Tamy Guberek and Amelia Hoover Green, Using Quantitative Data to Assess Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Colombia: Challenges and Opportunities notes that sexual violations are notoriously difficult forms of violence to measure. A Spanish translation of the report is forthcoming. The authors point out that misinterpretation of the available data may create false impressions of reliability and lead to incorrect interpretations that promote unsound policy assessments, misallocation of resources and potential attacks by critics.

While the United Nations Security Council has passed a number of resolutions promoting the collection of data about wartime sexual violence and other gender issues, the authors note that existing data about sexual violations in Colombia is not suitable for generating broad interpretations for policymakers. The report looks at the challenges of measuring sexual violence in Colombia’s ongoing internal armed conflict — and the cultural and political issues affecting the collection of this information.

The authors conclude that due to inherent problems with reporting procedures, researchers should first address more fundamental questions regarding the use of this information. They found that strong demand for numerical data on sexual violence in Colombia encourages overinterpretation of this information and cannot be used as the basis for claims about the magnitude or incidence of violations. The authors investigated indirect indicators of sexual violence which could be used as components of investigations, provided that researchers employ multiple methods and investigate highly specific locations or time periods.

The authors of the study recommend that advocates and other analysts of sexual violence should be cautious and rigorous about claims concerning the pattern and magnitude of sexual violence in Colombia based on existing data. They warn that investigators should be aware of the politicization of debates about conflict casualties in Colombia and that opponents of human rights groups will attempt to discredit advocate’s claims by criticizing their statistical methods.

Roth, Guberek and Green recommend large investments to improve local methodological expertise about the origins and limits of human rights data that could support the capacity to make defensible claims. They note that donors must also better understand the limits of quantitative data and carefully consider the incentives they create. Finally, the authors suggest that analysts should rely heavily on the qualitative and contextual knowledge of local experts which can help to avoid bias. The researchers urge continued investigations of sexual violence in Colombia, especially in marginalized populations that may be targeted for sexual violence.

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