President Biden condemned accounts of rape and sexual violence reportedly perpetrated by Hamas against Israeli girls and women, stating that “the world can’t just look away at what’s going on.”
Biden made the comments at a campaign fundraiser in Boston on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press, adding that the world must condemn “without equivocation” and “without exception” the “horrific accounts of unimaginable cruelty” shared by survivors over the past few weeks.
“Reports of women raped—repeatedly raped—and their bodies being mutilated while still alive—of women corpses being desecrated, Hamas terrorists inflicting as much pain and suffering on women and girls as possible and then murdering them,” Biden said, according to the AP. “It is appalling.”
Hamas has denied allegations of sexual assault.
Biden’s comments come as evidence of sexual atrocities perpetrated by Hamas mounts and officials increasingly demand an investigation.
A report published by NBC News on Tuesday notes that evidence provided by Israel and the Israeli Defense Forces—including interrogations of captured Hamas fighters, graphic images, eyewitness accounts, and testimonies from first responders and morgue workers—suggests dozens of Israeli women were raped, sexually abused, or mutilated during the October 7 attack perpetrated by Hamas. Graphic accounts of rape on October 7 have also been published by the Associated Press and the Washington Post.
At a United Nations panel on Monday, public figures including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and former Meta executive Sheryl Sandberg demanded international aid groups denounce the allegations of sexual violence. State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said that the UN panel featured “incredibly compelling firsthand accounts from eyewitnesses and first responders and physicians about Hamas’s sexual violence against women and girls on that day.”
UN Women said in a statement last week that its leaders are “alarmed by the numerous accounts of gender-based atrocities and sexual violence during those attacks.” The gender equity arm of the UN also noted that the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel, has opened submissions for people to share accounts of gender-based crimes that have occurred in Israel and Gaza since October 7.
While human rights investigators believe that Hamas perpetrated the sexual violence on October 7, they’re unsure about the scale of the attacks and don’t yet have access to a significant body of evidence, according to NBC News. Many rape victims were killed by their attackers, and the priority among officials in the immediate aftermath of the attacks was to identify bodies rather than to preserve evidence, the AP reported.
A spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights told the AP that it has sought access to the areas where the October 7 attack unfolded, but Israel has not responded to its requests—while Israeli officials have claimed that the UN office holds a bias against Israel and that they will instead seek other independent methods of investigation.
An open letter from 39 representatives of Palestinian women and civil society organizations noted their “profound concern” with the UN Women statement, claiming that it did not address “the ongoing refusal of the Israeli occupation to cooperate with various international investigation commissions appointed by the United Nations to probe into the crimes committed against Palestinian women in the past,” NBC News reported. The letter also urged UN Women to establish committees to investigate “sexual crimes and acts of genocide perpetrated by the Israeli occupation in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”
In Gaza, Palestinian women and children have accounted for more than half of those killed by Israeli forces, Reem Alsalem, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, said in a statement last month, noting that Palestinian women have also been among those subjected to sexual violence since October 7.