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U.N. report finds grounds to believe attacks in Israel included sexual violence


The United Nations has released an investigation of the Hamas attack on Israel last October 7.


It is a report on sexual violence, and some people may find what we're about to talk about for the next few minutes disturbing. The allegations of sexual violence against the attack's perpetrators have been very contentious. Now, U.N. investigators offered their own view, finding, quote, "reasonable grounds to believe," unquote, that Israelis were victims of sexual violence that day.

INSKEEP: NPR's Becky Sullivan is covering this story. Becky, good morning.


INSKEEP: Who are the investigators, and what did they do?

SULLIVAN: This report was led by the United Nations special representative for sexual violence in conflict. Her name is Pramila Patten, and she had a team of about nine U.N. staff members that included a forensic expert and specialists in sexual violence investigations. And they went to Israel, and they reviewed 5,000 photos and 50 hours of video evidence. And they interviewed dozens of people, witnesses and first responders and medical staff. In total, they don't put a number on how often this happened, but they do ultimately conclude that rapes were likely to have taken place in at least three different locations on October 7, and they were also able to talk to released hostages. And they got firsthand accounts of what they say could be ongoing sexual violence by captors in Gaza. So they called for a cease-fire to release those hostages. Hamas now has strongly rejected this report, we should say.

INSKEEP: This is a highly politicized topic. People are making very intense points having to do with the allegations of sexual violence and also pushing back against the allegations of sexual violence. Did this U.N. report address that?

SULLIVAN: Yeah, the report is very detailed about the challenges that they and other investigators have run into looking into this topic, including the lack of survivor accounts, because no survivor of sexual assault that day has publicly come forward. Here's Pramila Patten, the report's author.

PRAMILA PATTEN: On the very first day, I made a call for survivors to come forward, but we received information that a handful of them were receiving very specialized trauma treatment and were not prepared to come forward.

SULLIVAN: There's also a relative lack of physical forensic evidence due to a lot of factors that the report details, including the sheer scale of attack and Israeli officials prioritizing the identification of bodies instead of collecting evidence, that kind of thing. And so where the inaccurate stories come in is that many of these early accounts, the really kind of outlandish ones, came from soldiers or first responders who weren't trained in medicine or forensics, and so they misinterpret what they're seeing. That's what the report says. The team behind the report says, you know, they had a lot of accounts to look into, some they weren't able to verify and others, they found, were unfounded.

INSKEEP: Isn't there some photographic evidence that can be shown here?

SULLIVAN: Yeah, I mean, they looked at 5,000, but we, NPR, myself reviewed about 20 photos taken by first responders of bodies found at the rave and in some of the small communities that were attacked that show the remains of at least 20 or so victims. Those included women who were found in various states of undress, multiple people found with their hands tied and some with very obvious injuries like gunshot wounds to the pelvic area, which I should say, the report couldn't currently identify a pattern there, but they say it warrants future investigation.

INSKEEP: Taken in total, how does this add to what was known about that day?

SULLIVAN: Well, so this is the most comprehensive report yet on the issue of sexual violence that has been issued by an independent body outside of Israel, so that's significant. But it's still only 24 pages long, and the team of researchers was only there for about two weeks. And so, you know, what they say is that a full team of investigators there for a long time is what's needed. Israel hasn't fully allowed that yet. They accuse the U.N. of an anti-Israel bias.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. So Israel accused the U.N. of bias, but the U.N. report substantiated, broadly speaking, with Israel's claims of sexual violence here.

SULLIVAN: That's right. And Israel's ambassador to the United Nations doubled down on that yesterday, saying that the five months it took for this to come out since October 7 is evidence of their shameful delay, essentially.

INSKEEP: NPR's Becky Sullivan, thanks.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.