Harris to shine light on horrific sexual violence perpetrated during Hamas’ October attack

Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to host a White House event focused in part on the Israel-Hamas war on Monday as part of an effort to highlight conflict-related sexual violence and amid fraught negotiations to reach a ceasefire agreement.

Harris has forcefully spoken about the situation unfolding in Gaza – notably, in remarks in Selma, Alabama, this year – and acknowledged the heightened emotions surrounding the humanitarian crisis in the region.

But Monday’s event also comes as the administration has publicly placed enormous pressure on Hamas to accept a hostage and ceasefire proposal and heightened its rhetoric about the Israel-Hamas war. Planning for the event had been underway for months, according to a source familiar.

Harris will deliver remarks at the White House on conflict-related sexual violence, followed by a panel discussion of survivors and experts from around the world, and a partial screening of documentary film, “Screams Before Silence,” on Hamas’ sexual violence on October 7, according to a White House official. Sheryl Sandberg, who led the film, will deliver remarks before the screening.

“The Vice President spent her career as a prosecutor working to protect women and girls from violence, and as Vice President, she has continued this leadership globally. The Vice President has worked to ensure that conflict-related sexual violence – and a focus on the status of women and girls – remains at the forefront of our national security policymaking,” a White House official said, citing multiple measures the administration has taken to tackle gender-based violence.

Earlier this year, the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel published a report that found Israeli civilians suffered “brutal sexual assaults” that were carried out “systematically and deliberately” during Hamas’ October 7 attacks.

The report, which includes testimonies from eyewitnesses, first responders, forensic experts and news articles, says Hamas militants who entered Israel used extreme acts of sexual violence against their victims and, in most cases, killed them “after or even during the rape.”

According to evidence collected by the ARCCI – an umbrella organization for nine regional Rape Crisis Centers – men, women, and children were all victims of gruesome sexual abuse on October 7. The report outlines witness testimony of the brutality of the sexual crimes, including that of gang rape at the Nova music festival, in the desert of southern Israel.

Two former hostages who were released in late November described witnessing and hearing about other hostages being assaulted while in captivity, according to their testimony, which the report emphasizes is likely continuing to happen to the hostages that remain in Gaza.

A United Nations report also found “clear and convincing” information that hostages in Gaza were sexually abused and there are “reasonable grounds” to believe the sexual violence is ongoing.

“This event gives voice to a truth we must all hold: sexual violence is never ok and we must stand together as a global community to support survivors and hold perpetrators accountable,” said Sandberg, founder of Sandberg Goldberg Bernthal Family Foundation.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden said he’s not confident a ceasefire deal will be reached in Gaza soon.

“No,” Biden said when asked if he was confident in a deal, which he said he discussed with world leaders at the G7 summit in Italy. Still, he added: “I haven’t lost hope.”

The US-backed Israeli proposal for a ceasefire and hostage deal appeared to be in limbo Thursday, with neither side yet publicly committing to the plan. Biden on Thursday called on the Hamas terror group to step up.

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