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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 July, 2003, 02:49 GMT 03:49 UK
Baghdad sexual violence 'rising'
By Pam O'Toole
BBC regional analyst

Baghdad women
There are reports of women being abducted

Sexual attacks have increased in Baghdad since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, according to a new report.

The US-based Human Rights Watch says the rise in sexual violence is driving women indoors, and preventing them from taking part in Iraq's public life at a crucial time.

The failure of the US led coalition forces and civilian administration in Baghdad to provide public security has made females more vulnerable to sexual violence and abduction, the report says.

It also claims that not enough is being done to investigate such crimes.

Human Rights Watch says the fear of sexual violence is such that many women in Baghdad are too scared to leave their homes, even to attend school or go to work.

Its researchers say there has undoubtedly been a rise in the number of rapes in the city since the end of the war.

And for the first time, there are reports of girls and women being abducted from the street, sometimes in broad daylight.

Trafficking fears

"I spoke to one woman who was 23 years old. She had been snatched from the street while walking with her mother and sisters," said HRW researcher Johanna Bjorken, who visited Baghdad to investigate.

"She was held overnight and raped.

"I talked to another girl who was 15 years old. She had been taken with two sisters to a house outside of Baghdad where she was kept for about a month before she escaped.

"She believes the reason she was kept was to be sold, to be trafficked."

Human Rights Watch says that Iraqi police officers tend to give a low priority to allegations of sexual violence.

"What was particularly worrying was that the Iraqi police were completely uninterested in the 15-year-old's case," says Ms Bjorken.

"When I spoke to them about it, they referred to her as 'the girl who ran away from home'."

Policing vital

The situation is being compounded by the current security vacuum.

There aren't enough police or resources; many medical facilities have had to reduce their working hours, making it more difficult to document such crimes and provide victims with medical assistance.

One nine-year-old rape victim had been turned away from several medical facilities.

Human Rights Watch says it is vital that the recent breakdown in Iraq's policing system be addressed.

It calls on the US to deploy a special unit which could investigate sex crimes until the Iraqi police are in a position to take up such investigations fully themselves.

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