Call it what it is – Ending impunity by defining sexual violence

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is the first international criminal law instrument to expressly include crimes of sexual violence. However, the Rome Statute does not define the term “sexual violence”. Approximately half of the crimes of sexual violence contained within the Rome Statute (namely sexual slavery, enforced prostitution and any “other act of sexual violence” as both war crimes and crimes against humanity, and sexual violence as a constitutive act for genocide) include in their definitions an “act of a sexual nature” which is not defined under the Rome Statute system. Moreover, the legal framework of the ICC does not include examples of acts which might be captured by the residual crime of “any other form of sexual violence”, a charge that has yet to be successfully confirmed by an ICC Pre-trial chamber despite multiple attempts. Twenty years since the adoption of the Rome Statute, there has been limited accountability for conflict-related sexual violence through the International Criminal Court. Relevant case law reveals a lack of clarity about what makes violence sexual, and a disparity between how sexual violence is deliberated in courts and how it is perceived and experienced by victims. 

The Call it what it is campaign aims to change this. It calls on the collective strength of civil society to shape a contemporary, contextually relevant working definition of sexual violence to close this gap.  Importantly, such a definition will include acts that may be intended as sexual by perpetrators, and/or perceived as such by victims in diverse cultural environments. The definition will be developed from a global survey and structured into a Civil Society Declaration. The Declaration will be formally presented to the ICC, and to States Parties to the ICC with a view to its ultimate inclusion in the Elements of Crimes (part of the ICC legal framework that contains details about the elements of each crime in the Rome Statute). The definition will guide prosecutors, defence counsel, victims’ representatives, and other judicial actors to better understand what an “act of a sexual nature” may entail, and enhance accountability for sexual violence.

The first 100 survey responses from across the globe were presented at the launch of the Call it what it is campaign at the 2018 ASP, which you can read more about here (English only).

Join us to create a definition of sexual violence!

  • Complete the survey to help us get a global picture of what makes violence sexual.
  • Contribute to the Civil Society Declaration by joining the Alliance for Change. Members will spearhead the development of the Civil Society Declaration. To join, please leave your details in the survey or contact us directly at
  • Spread the word about the campaign and the survey, and help us make this truly global. Use the social media package containing campaign logos, background information and draft posts for your social media channels. We also invite you to disseminate the survey through your networks.
  • Help out in other ways by volunteering your skills and resources or sharing your questions and suggestions. Find out how to reach us here (French, Spanish, and English only).