Throughout this knowledge module, reference to certain provisions or sections of a piece of legislation, part of a legal judgment, or aspect of a practice does not imply that the legislation, judgment, or practice is considered in its entirety to be a good example or a promising practice.

Some of the laws cited herein may contain provisions which authorize the death penalty. In light of the United Nations General Assembly resolutions 62/14963/16865/206, and 67/176 calling for a moratorium on and ultimate abolition of capital punishment, the death penalty should not be included in sentencing provisions for crimes of violence against women and girls.

Other Provisions Related to Domestic Violence LawsResources for Developing Legislation on Domestic Violence
Sexual Harassment in Sport Tools for Drafting Sexual Harassment Laws and Policies
Immigration Provisions Resources for developing legislation on sex trafficking of women and girls
Child Protection Provisions Resources on Forced and Child Marriage
Other provisions related to dowry-related and domestic violence laws
Related Tools

Sexual assault of vulnerable populations

Last edited: January 25, 2014

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  • Legislation should provide that the sexual assault of certain individuals in vulnerable populations, such as women and children in situations of armed conflict, displaced women and girls, women and children in situations of natural disaster, women and children refugees, women in custody, prostituted women, disabled or incapacitated women, women who are being transported due to infirmity or disability, and minors, should constitute an aggravating factor in the sentencing phase of the prosecution. Legislation should provide that law enforcement must investigate and prosecute the case as with any other sexual assault.



The Criminal Code (1997) of the Republic of Kazakhstan states that rape “with the use of conditions of social disaster, or in the course of mass unrest,” shall receive a penalty which is increased by 3-5 years. Article 120(3).

The legislation of the state of Texas, United States, provides that the punishment of certain offenses, including sexual assaults, is increased to the punishment prescribed for the next higher category of offense if it is shown on the trial of the offense that the offense was committed in an area that was, at the time of the offense, officially declared a state of disaster or was subject to an emergency evacuation order. See: Texas Penal Code Sec. 12.50.


  • Legislation should require a national crime reporting system, a nation-wide tracking system, and weather-proof storage of crime documentation so that in the event of a natural disaster, victims of sexual assault can effectively report the crime, offenders can be tracked though they are displaced, and so that pending cases files are not destroyed if possible.
  • Legislation should require the formation of a national emergency communication system and disaster response database in order to respond to fast-moving situations and provide protection and support to victims of violence, including a website to disseminate critical information, provide response protocols, and training in advance of a disaster.
  • Legislation should require public safety protocols to address safety for women and children in public shelters or camps.See:  the Shelter Module.
  • If a national crime reporting system does not exist, legislation should allow for police and community response to “courtesy reports” or reports of violent attacks that occurred in other jurisdictions.
  • Legislation should provide for the transfer of administrative authority to a criminal court in an area unaffected by the natural disaster. In the alternative, legislation should create a national “emergency court” to plan for and coordinate judicial administration in times of natural disasters. The emergency court could safeguard records and evidence and supervise efforts to locate witnesses. Legislation should require that an institution created in advance of a natural disaster receive national publicity to create awareness on the part of victims. See: Garrett and Tetlow, Criminal Justice Collapse: The Constitution After Hurricane Katrina (2006).
  • Legislation should require the participation of NGOs and women and girls living in refugee camps or camps for victims of natural disasters, including those from especially vulnerable groups such as the disabled, in setting policies for camps for refugees or victims of natural disasters. NGOs and women and girl residents can guide policy makers to incorporate victim needs in planning and policy. See: Human Rights Watch, “Nobody Remembers Us”: Failure to Protect Women’s and Girls’ Right to Health and Security in Post Earthquake Haiti (2011).
  • Legislation should require regular monitoring of conditions in prisons and in camps for refugees or victims of natural disasters in order to determine safety conditions for women and girls and opportunities for women and girls to report incidents of sexual violence, and to evaluate all aspects of a medical-legal response to incidents of sexual violence. Legislation should establish effective accountability and oversight mechanisms, including complaints mechanisms, to prevent and respond to abuses in detention facilities and camps.  
  • Legislation should require camps for refugees or victims of natural disasters to provide a comprehensive response to victims of sexual assault, including health care and psychological services.


For a comprehensive report on systematic sexual violence and torture against women and children prisoners in Iran as a means of silencing dissidents, enabling severe punishment or death, or forcing them into marriage, see: Justice for Iran, Crimes & Impunity: A pioneering report on sexual torture in Iranian prisons (2012). Available in English.   

For a discussion of rape as a weapon of war and its consequences, see: “Now, The World is Without Me”: An Investigation of Sexual Violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (2010).

See also: The Advocates for Human Rights, StopVAW Sections: Sexual Assault and Vulnerable Populations; Custodial Sexual Assault; Women with Disabilities; Sexual Assault During Armed Conflict; and the United Nations, Model Strategies p. 22.

Klein, Sexual violence in disasters: A planning guide for prevention and response (2008) contains guidelines for developing comprehensive plans, making preparations, and coordinating far-reaching policy change. The guide is arranged according to phases of a disaster. The ‘Getting Started’ work sheets in the back have been designed to facilitate the process of disaster planning. Available in English and Spanish.

Inter-Agency Standing Committee, Guidelines for Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings (2005). These guidelines provide specific interventions for preventing and responding to gender-based violence at different stages of humanitarian emergencies. They include action sheets for response organized by sectors and cross-cutting functions. For example, the action sheet on providing sexual-violence-related services provides a response protocol and a checklist of supplies. Available in English.

Gender-based Violence Area of Responsibility Working Group, Handbook for Coordinating Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings (2010). This handbook provides practical guidelines on leadership roles, key responsibilities, and specific actions to be taken when establishing and maintaining gender-based violence coordination in an emergency setting, including both conflict settings and natural disasters. The handbook incorporates knowledge of vulnerability factors to assist relevant parties in risk reduction and preparedness efforts. It identifies good practices, critical knowledge, and lessons learned, and also contains information on working with the media. Available in English.  

Delaney, ECPAT International, Protecting Children from Sexual Exploitation & Sexual Violence in Disaster & Emergency Situations: A guide for local & community based organisations (2006). This handbook provides practical information for people in the field at all stages of emergency situations (mitigation, response, and recovery) on minimizing the risk of sexual violence and sexual exploitation and creating safe spaces for children. It includes checklists for action in the event of sexual violence. Available in English.

Illinois Imagines, Disability Responsiveness Assessment Tool (2009). This assessment tool is used to assess the accessibility of rape crisis centers to survivors with disabilities. It addresses issues ranging from physical environments, policy environments, and communication environments. Once a review is completed, a barrier-removal plan is developed to address accessibility concerns. Available in English.

Illinois Imagines, Trauma Responsiveness Tool (2009). This tool is designed to help a disability services agency evaluate its responses, both formal and informal, to clients/residents/consumers who have experienced sexual violence. Available in English.

Safety First Initiative Accessibility and Responsiveness for Survivors With Disabilities Review Tool (2009). provides a “framework for domestic violence, sexual violence, and disability service organizations to think about the when, where, what, and how of providing inclusive, accessible, and responsive services.” This tool also reinforces collaborative partnerships which are essential to improving services for survivors with disabilities. Available in English.

VAWnet, Special Collection: Violence in the Lives of the Deaf or Hard of Hearing includes an overview of best practices in using interpreters and working with Deaf victims/survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence and training tools. Available in English.

West Virginia Sexual Assault Free Environment, Training and Collaboration Toolkit—Serving Sexual Violence Victims with Disabilities (2010.) The toolkit includes sections on collaboration, sexual violence, and disabilities. Tools relate to programmatic and policy accessibility, facility accessibility, intake practices review, and developing a transition plan. Each section includes a toolkit user’s guide. Available in English.

United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against Refugees, Returnees, and Internally Displaced Persons,: Guidelines for Prevention and Response (2003) is a handbook with multi-sectoral strategies for preventing and addressing sexual violence against those uprooted by conflict. It provides extensive guidance for each sector on topics such as designing effective services and facilities and monitoring and documenting incidents of sexual and gender-based violence. It also includes specific procedures for responding to child survivors. The guide is specifically for use in camp settings and provides many useful forms for practitioners and administrators. Available in English, Chinese, Greek, Hungarian, Russian, Swahili, and 11 other languages.

UNHCR, Action Against Sexual and Gender Based Violence: An Updated Strategy (2011). This updated guide includes strategies designed to protect children, persons with disabilities, and LGBTI individuals. It can be used in emergency or stable situations and is not limited to camp use. It also addresses survival sex, engaging men and boys, and the provision of a safe environment. Available in Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.

AEquitas, The Prosecutor’s Reference on Violence Against Women, a US-based resource for prosecutors and their allied professionals, published Kristiansson, Prosecuting Cases of Sexual Assault in Confinement (2012) in their Strategies newsletter. Available in English.


The Crimes Act (1900) of New South Wales, Australia, includes a detailed definition of a person who is cognitively impaired in its sexual assault statutes:

For the purposes of this Division, a person has a "cognitive impairment" if the person has:

  (a) an intellectual disability, or

  (b) a developmental disorder (including an autistic spectrum disorder), or

  (c) a neurological disorder, or

  (d) dementia, or

  (e) a severe mental illness, or

  (f) a brain injury,

that results in the person requiring supervision or social habilitation in connection with daily life activities. Section 61H (1A)


Mandatory reporting for sexual assaults against minors or vulnerable victims.

Legislation should provide that persons with knowledge of a sexual assault against a minor, a mentally or physically challenged victim, or one incapacitated by age or infirmity must immediately report it to the police. For example, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act (2007) of South Africa requires mandatory reporting for sexual assaults against minors or those who are mentally challenged. Article 54.