Angelina Jolie Helps End Sexual Violence in War, Says Shame Is on Aggressor

( [email protected] ) Jun 12, 2014 11:11 AM EDT
Actress Angelina Jolie and British Prime Minister David Cameron attend a meeting on the opening day of the global conference on preventing sexual violence in conflict. (Photo: PA)

Actress Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague opened a summit in London on Tuesday that's aimed at ending sexual violence in war.

The global summit, titled "End Sexual Violence in Conflict" is a four day event in which Hague, Jolie, and hundreds of experts, survivors, faith leaders, and staffers from NGOs will launch the international protocol to help strengthen prosecutions for rape in conflict.

"It is a myth that rape is an inevitable part of conflict," Jolie told an attentive crowd. "There's nothing inevitable about it. It is a weapon of war aimed at civilians. It has nothing to do with sex, everything to do with power."

"They feel above the law because the law rarely touches them and society tolerates them," the Hollywood star continued.

"We must send a message around the world that there is no disgrace in being a survivor of sexual violence -- that the shame is on the aggressor."

The actress' eyes welled up as she listened to victims of sexual assault speak about their experiences and spent time with them afterwards, discussing the issues they face and embracing delegates, the Daily Mail reports.

The "Maleficent" actress, who is the UN representative on sexual violence in war, has campaigned for the last ten years to end rape being used as a weapon of war.

According to CNN, the summit organizers have four main goals: ending the culture of impunity by agreeing on an international protocol for documenting and investigating sexual violence in conflict zones; taking practical steps to protect women, including by training soldiers and peacekeepers; increasing support for survivors and human rights activists; and achieving a "seismic shift" in attitudes so that the problem is recognized and tackled globally.

According to the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, more than 150 million young girls and 73 million boys experience sexual violence every year, and children in conflict-affected countries are the most vulnerable. However, very few oppressors are ever convicted.

"We need to shatter that impunity and make justice the norm, not the exception, for these crimes," Jolie said.

"I have met survivors from Afghanistan to Somalia and they are just like us, with one crucial difference: We live in safe countries, with doctors we can go to when we're hurt, police we can turn to when we're wronged and institutions that protect us."

Anita Tiessen, deputy executive director of children's charity Unicef UK, said that while Jolie's fame is a significant asset to the summit, the actress' experience is even more valuable.

Ms Tiessen talked about the impact of the 2011 film written and directed by Jolie called In the Land of Blood and Honey which is set during the Bosnian war.

'I think Angelina herself has shown a big commitment to the issue over the last ten years that she's been an envoy for the issue.

'So yes she clearly brings her fame to the issue and so that attracts a lot of media. But I think she's got a strong track record of knowing what she's talking about, of really taking action.

Tiessen said the four day summit will be 'hugely significant', and said there has been a build-up of about 18 months of work led by Foreign Secretary William Hague.

She also said she thinks the week 'will be very, very emotionally charged'.

'I've heard children talk about how they've been sexually abused, or how they've been threatened with sexual abuse, and clearly it's a very, cuts close to the bone.

'It's not something that people talk about easily,' she said                    .

Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, announced his support for the cause via social media.

"Let us pray for all victims of sexual violence in conflict, and those working to end this crime," he tweeted Tuesday, using the hashtag #TimeToAct.