Here’s What Pramila Patten’s UN Report on Oct 7 Sexual Violence Actually Said


Feminist Solidarity Network for Palestine | Mondoweiss - TRANSCEND Media Service

Pramila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. (Photo: UNIS Vienna Flickr AccountLilia Jiménez-Ertl)

The UN report on sexual violence on October 7 has found no evidence of systematic rape by Hamas or any other Palestinian group, despite widespread media reporting to the contrary. But there are deeper problems with the report’s credibility.

11 Mar 2024 – Over the past four months, a concerted propaganda campaign, mounted by the Israeli government and amplified across various Western media outlets, has accused Hamas of using rape as a weapon of war on October 7. Allegations that Hamas planned and carried out a systematic campaign of sexual violence (with acts ranging from the deeply grotesque to the outright fetishistic and bizarre) have been used to paint the Palestinian resistance as inhuman and to justify Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza. Recently, analysis demonstrating the fallacious nature of these claims — the fabrications, factual errors, and journalistic malpractice, the non-credible witness and first responder testimonies, the Israeli military affiliations of key sources, as well as the absence of any forensic evidence or video or photographic proof — has broken through into the mainstream.

On March 4, United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten issued a report based on a visit conducted from January 29 to February 14 to Israel and the occupied West Bank to “gather, analyze and verify allegations of conflict-related sexual violence reportedly committed during the brutal, Hamas-led terror attacks of 7 October 2023.” The report, which details the findings of Patten’s visit, has emerged at a crucial moment. At a time when Israel’s narrative that Hamas committed systematic sexual violence on October 7 is crumbling, and the media outlets that spun this narrative are under fire, the report is being widely heralded as a vindication of both.

Our analysis shows that this is not true. The report does not, in fact, reach many of the conclusions for which it is being lauded in Western media, and several of its findings undermine the Israeli narrative. While we point these out, we note that the report contains severe limitations and pitfalls in credibility. It is important that we understand why the report cannot be trusted, as it has given new life to the cycle of mass rape propaganda that is being used to justify Israel’s genocide in Gaza.

1. The non-investigation and problems with Patten’s methodology 

Patten’s office has neither the means nor the mandate to investigate what happened on October 7, and its findings do not fulfill the legal standard of “evidence.” Rather, the office of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict exists to “gather information” and engage in “advocacy.”

Ironically, it is the absence of any ability or power to investigate that likely induced Israel to extend an invitation to Patten. This was despite Israel’s refusal to cooperate with the official UN investigation currently underway. While Patten has made no secret of the fact that her “main concern” in producing the report was to “do everything for the remaining hostages,” it is her complaisance and willful ignorance when it comes to not investigating the nexus of what happened on October 7 — its before and after, contextually and historically — that makes her mission useful to Israel. No wonder that Patten’s mission enjoyed the “full cooperation” of the government of Israel (Para 32), when they knew in advance that the mission could not — indeed, would not — probe too far.

Upon the release of her recent mission report, Patten argued that any conclusive finding regarding sexual violence on October 7 would require an official UN investigation.[1] [2] But it is exactly this UN investigation, chaired by Navi Pillay and already underway, that the Israeli government has repeatedly blocked. On January 15, for example, Israel instructed physicians who had treated October 7 survivors not to cooperate with UN investigators. Patten’s report itself cites “the lack of cooperation by the State of Israel with relevant United Nations bodies with an investigative mandate.” (Para 55) Yet, at the same time, Israel misleadingly parades Patten’s report as UN endorsement of its claim that Hamas committed systematic sexual violence on October 7.

To show how easy it is to co-opt the work of Patten’s office, we need only ask what constitutes “credible information” in the report’s context. During her briefing to journalists, Patten repeatedly justified the report as following “UN methodology.” But closer scrutiny reveals that when the “applicable standard of proof” used by UN investigative bodies — “reasonable grounds to believe” — is transferred to a setting where no investigation is possible, information can easily be distorted and weaponized (Para 26). Interviews with unnamed secondary witnesses constitute some of the main sources of “credible information” in the report, but their inclusion is based on the mission team’s “own assessment of the credibility and reliability of the witnesses it met.” (Para 26)

In other words, we are asked to trust Patten’s judgment and take her report at face value. Such trust would be more forthcoming had the report included any citations or references that explained the sources it relied on for its “credible information.” While we understand that “sensitive information” needs to be anonymized when dealing with witnesses (para 31), this crosses the line to obfuscation when the information in question comes from Israeli national institutions or civil society organizations; publications are not cited, nor is any government official or first responder identified (even if they have already spoken on the public record).

For example, we know that Patten spoke to ZAKA men like Yossi Landau (as she herself admitted in the press briefing). Landau (pictured below with Patten at Kibbutz Be’eri) has been a central figure in spreading false stories around October 7, all now discredited. While Patten’s report debunks one false story about “a pregnant woman [at Be’eri]  whose womb had reportedly been ripped open before she was killed, with her fetus stabbed while still inside her” (para 65), a story that we can trace back to Landau, the report also repeats other claims made by Landau publicly but which it does not question. For instance, the report endorses the reasons given by Landau to the New York Times as to why “a limited number of photos were taken” by volunteer search and rescue groups — namely due to their “conservative religious background” and out of “respect for the deceased” (para 46) — all without ever naming Landau.

Pramila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict (Center), on a tour of Kibutz Be'eri with the infamous volunteer group ZAKA, February 7, 2024. On Patten's righthand side (second left) is Yossi Landau, a ZAKA volunteer who has been exposed for fabricating testimony regarding October 7 atrocities. (Photo: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs X Account)
Pramila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict (Center), on a tour of Kibutz Be’eri with the infamous volunteer group ZAKA, February 7, 2024. On Patten’s righthand side (second left) is Yossi Landau, a ZAKA volunteer who has been exposed for fabricating testimony regarding October 7 atrocities, including the myth of “dozens of beheaded children.” (Photo: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs X Account)

To convey this information in generic terms, without sourcing or attribution, gives that information an air of “objectivity” and “impartiality.” This lack of transparency makes it almost impossible to weigh and evaluate the information we receive in the report.

It is also problematic given that the small number of existing witnesses of sexual violence on October 7 have already been largely discredited. Several have been found to have lied explicitly in their testimony, the majority have direct or indirect ties with the Israeli military, all key witnesses have changed their testimony significantly enough to undermine their credibility, and several belong to the conservative zionist organization ZAKA, which, according to spokesperson Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, views itself as “an arm of the ministry of foreign affairs.”

We already know that Patten’s team, despite issuing a public call, did not meet with a single survivor of sexual violence from October 7 (para 48). Unless Patten, with few contacts on the ground and facing what she herself referred to as “extremely limited availability of victims/survivors and witnesses of sexual violence,” was somehow able to conjure an entirely new set of witnesses in a period of two weeks, we have to assume that Patten’s “credible witnesses” draw from this already-discredited pool. It is, therefore, highly unlikely that they are credible at all.

UN Special Representative Patten meeting with Capt. Avigail Bar Asher at Camp Shura. (Photo: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs X Account)
UN Special Representative Patten meeting with Capt. Avigail Bar Asher at Camp Shura. (Photo: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs X Account)

The absence of cited source material is even more problematic, given where much of the information in the report came from. The report itself states that the mission team was limited by the fact that the information it relied on was “in a large part sourced from Israeli national institutions.” (Para 55) These included: “the President of Israel and the First Lady, relevant line ministries…the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), the Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet), and the Israeli National Police in charge of the investigation on the 7 October attacks (Lahav 433); [and] several working visits to the Shura military base, the morgue to which the bodies of victims were transferred, as well as one visit to the Israeli National Center of Forensic Medicine” (para 33).

In all, “the mission team conducted 33 meetings with representatives of Israeli national institutions.” (para 33) Rendering such information generic and communicating it in a passive voice that effaces sources gives the illusion of “objectivity,” even while the report remains highly dependent on Israeli sources. As such the report is not just methodologically flawed but dangerous.

Patten admitted in the press briefing on March 4 that, “unlike an investigation … we looked at sexual violence pretty much in a vacuum” (Minute 20:36, our emphasis). This decontextualization allows the pretense that stories of mass rape on October 7 have not had an enduring role in justifying the genocide in Gaza. In this vein, the act of delegitimizing two widely circulated alleged instances of sexual violence (both thoroughly debunked long before the report’s publication) in the report worked to validate the judgments of credibility made in the rest of the report and confound critics. [3] The report can thus appear to accord “with the principles of independence, impartiality, objectivity, transparency, integrity” (Para 30), even as it presents a one-sided picture of October 7.

Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan (left) and UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten (center) (Photo: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs X Account)
Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan (left) and UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten (center) (Photo: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs X Account)

Patten claims that she understands the risks of her report being instrumentalized. Given this, we may wonder why she accepted the invitation to Israel when she knew that the Israelis were refusing access to the UN Commission of Inquiry, the agency with investigatory powers. As we show in our analysis of the uptake of Patten’s report in Western media, the report has already been cited as an official UN endorsement of Israel’s claims and used to revitalize the mass rape propaganda, just when that propaganda had been publicly debunked. This essentially makes Patten a willing accomplice in Israel’s genocide in Gaza.

2. Unraveling the mass rape narrative

In spite of its own complicity in the Israeli narrative, Patten’s report undermines several of that narrative’s fundamental tenets. Western mass media is currently engaged in a concerted campaign to ignore this, as it spins the report as a vindication of claims that Hamas committed systematic rape on October 7. In fact, the report explicitly does not reach this conclusion. Here, we list several findings in the report and explain how and why they undermine Israel’s narrative.

2.1 The UN report does not find a ‘pattern’ of sexual violence on October 7

This was the central claim of Jeffrey Gettleman, Anat Schwartz, and Adam Sella in their now thoroughly discredited article, “‘Screams Without Words’: How Hamas Weaponized Sexual Violence on Oct. 7,” which argued that Hamas fighters did not carry out rogue or isolated acts of rape, but rather engaged in “a broader pattern of gender-based violence,” using rape as a weapon of war. However, when, 52 minutes into Patten’s March 4 press conference, Farnaz Fassihi from the Times asks, “Would you say that you found a pattern of sexual violence that was a strategy of Hamas, both in the October 7 attacks and in regards to the hostages?” Patten answers definitively in the negative.

Later in the press conference, when she is asked by Haaretz journalist Liza Rozovsky, “Am I correct that you cannot conclude that the sexual violence was of a systematic character?” Patten reiterates her answer, stating: “No…the distinguishing factor from the exercise that we set out to do, the gathering and verification of information for the purpose of its inclusion in the annual report of the Secretary-General versus an investigation, that’s where you would…go into elements of widespread or systematic. We did not go into that.” (Minute 57:53)

Patten’s report could neither “establish the prevalence of sexual violence” (para 86), nor “draw conclusions on attribution of alleged violations to specific armed groups.” (para 78) Later in the March 4 briefing, Patten reiterates this when she explains:

“I do not go into prevalence, I do not have numbers in the report. Because for me one case is more than enough. It’s not about…I didn’t go on a bookkeeping exercise. The first letter that I received from the government of Israel talked about hundreds if not thousands of cases of brutal sexual violence perpetrated against men, women and children. I have not found anything, anything like that.” (emphasis added)

Here, it is worth clarifying that while prevalence is not within the scope of the work of the mission, finding patterns is. To wit, “the mandate of the SRSG-SVC encompasses the gathering, analysis, and verification of existing, as well as independently received information on incidents and patterns of conflict-related sexual violence” (para 25, our emphasis).

That there was no “finding in fact” of a pattern of sexual violence on October 7 is thus significant. This comes despite the clear bias in sourcing (“from Israeli national institutions”) from which the report suffers. Even at the much lower standard of “credible information” (below evidence, but above circumstantial), Patten is clear at the briefing that there was no finding of a pattern of sexual violence.

Indeed, the most the UN report can be understood to claim is “credible information” for disparate incidents. Potentially to compensate for the absence of a pattern, the report distributes the information regarding rape and gang rape into multiple locations. It lists “at least three” distinct locations for which it claims there is credible information of acts of sexual violence: “the Nova music festival and surrounding areas”; “road 232 and other ‘escape routes’”; and Kibbutz Re’im. This multiplicity of locations is deceptive. Upon closer scrutiny, at least two of the locations prove to be indistinguishable: the Nova music festival took place in a field that borders route 232, and so pretending that the festival “and surrounding areas” would not already include route 232 is a sleight of hand that leads to some of the report’s worst inconsistencies. In the report, we are told:

“Other credible sources at the Nova music festival site described seeing multiple murdered individuals, mostly women, whose bodies were found naked from the waist down, some totally naked, with some gunshots in the head and/or tied including with their hands bound behind their backs and tied to structures such as trees or poles.” (Para 58, our emphasis)

Yet the executive summary puts these bodies that are “tied to structures including trees and poles, along Road 232.” (para 13) This error is telling since it gives the impression of multiple testimonies and a repetition of circumstantial indications of sexual violence, when they are, in fact, describing the same incidents. In other words, the report’s conclusions go beyond and inflate even the minimal claims it can make from the so-called credible information it has gathered.

Moreover, almost all the cases of sexual violence that the report covers are familiar to us from previous reports and media articles, be it the New York Times, the Physicians for Human Rights Israel position paper, the more recent report of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, or a slew of other outlets. There is only one new case of rape that the UN report attempts to add to the already very limited list of alleged cases that have been circulating and recirculating in the public sphere since the mass rape propaganda began in earnest in November. This case is at the third location, Kibbutz Re’im (2 km southwest of the Nova music festival site). It is described as “the rape of a woman outside of a bomb shelter at the entrance of kibbutz Re’im, which was corroborated by witness testimonies and digital material.” (para 61) It is based almost exclusively on this case that the report judges there to be “reasonable grounds to believe that sexual violence occurred in kibbutz Re’im, including rape.” (para 61)

Yet the description “outside of a bomb shelter at the entrance of kibbutz Re’im” is misleading, because that bomb shelter is outside the kibbutz on route 232. While this case is classified in the UN report under the heading of kibbutz Re’im, it could just as well have been classified under “road 232”; indeed, it is part of the surrounding areas to the Nova festival site. The reason this is important is that this is the only case of supposed credible information of rape in a kibbutz. So far, in all the reports and media stories, very few alleged rapes have been localized to the kibbutzim, and all of those have been debunked. The UN report itself judges other allegations of sexual violence at kibbutzim to either be unverified (kibbutz Kfar Aza) or unfounded (three allegations at kibbutz Be’eri, which is the only kibbutz that the mission team visited).

Given that Hamas did not know that the Nova Music Festival was taking place in the field next to Re’im on October 7 (the rave was scheduled to end on October 6), had they been planning to use rape or sexual violence as a weapon of war against civilians, they would have been targetting the kibbutzim. Yet we have not been presented with credible information of sexual violence at any of the kibbutzim. [4]

Despite appearances to the contrary, the UN report has not changed that. This sheds further doubt on claims that the Palestinian resistance committed systematic rape on October 7.

2.2 The report does not attribute any act of sexual violence to Hamas or other Palestinian resistance groups

Despite Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s triumphant declaration that the report “substantiates with moral clarity and integrity the systematic, premeditated, and ongoing sexual crimes committed by Hamas terrorists against Israeli women,” the report explicitly does not find that Hamas in particular committed any crime. In the press conference, Patten explains that:

“Given the multiple actors, it was Hamas, it was Palestinian Islamic Jihad, there were other armed groups, there were civilians, armed and unarmed, I did not go into attribution given the time and given the fact that I was not conducting an investigation.”

The mission report itself notes that Hamas has formally denied claims that it committed rape on October 7, and reiterates that it does not find any group responsible for possible instances of sexual violence:

“Given the mission was not investigative, it did not gather information and/or draw conclusions on attribution of alleged violations to specific armed groups.” (Para 78)

Various news media headlines have chosen to ignore this, with CBS News reporting, “U.N. says ‘reasonable grounds to believe’ Hamas carried out sexual attacks on Oct. 7,” and Associated Press and Time that “U.N. Envoy Says ‘Reasonable Grounds’ to Believe Hamas Committed Sexual Violence on Oct. 7.” Headlines claiming that Patten’s report attributed sexual violence to Hamas also appeared in The Guardian, The Financial Times, and The Washington Post.

2.3 The report does not locate a single piece of audiovisual or photographic evidence confirming rape

This is despite the fact that a forensic pathologist and digital analyst in the mission team reviewed:

“over 5,000 photos, around 50 hours and several audio files of footage of the attacks, provided partly by various state agencies and through an independent online review of various open sources, to identify potential instances and indications of conflict-related sexual violence. The content encompassed the actual attacks and their immediate aftermath, captured through militants’ bodycams and dashcams, individual cellphones, CCTV, and traffic surveillance cameras.” (Para 34)

In the conclusions section of the report, Patten writes that “In the medicolegal assessment of available photos and videos, no tangible indications of rape could be identified.” (Para 74)

Moreover, the report adds in a footnote that:

“The mission team took note of the averments of the Israeli authorities that some of the incriminating online materials, including those specifically depicting acts of sexual violence, had been removed…it is the view of the mission team that, had clear digital evidence of sexual violence or orders to commit sexual violence been circulated in the mainstream, it would have likely been discovered given the volume of the information posted online and further recirculated, making the removal of all trace of such material unlikely.” (Para 77)

2.4 The report confirms that witnesses circulated false stories about sexual violence on October 7

Confirming what independent journalists and activists have shown now for months, the report went out of its way to note the manipulation of evidence and testimony, stating that:

“It must be noted that witnesses and sources with whom the mission team engaged adopted over time an increasingly cautious and circumspect approach regarding past accounts, including in some cases retracting statements made previously.” (Para 64)


“inaccurate and unreliable forensic interpretations by some non-professionals also represented a challenge.” (Para 10)

Such inaccurate interpretation included widely-circulated reports (reprinted by BBC, NBC News, The New York Post, Unherd, and others) that a woman had been found at Kibbutz Be’eri with “objects like knives inserted in the genitalia.” However, when the mission team reviewed the photos, they “did not find anything like that.” (Minute 55:10)

In her press conference, Patten hints that the erroneous interpretations of first responders may have been intentional: “They may not have been in bad faith, I don’t know, but it is a fact that we found many instances of unreliable, inaccurate forensic interpretation by untrained people.” (Minute 56:20)

Allusions to “untrained people” or first responders are almost certainly referring to ZAKA, an ultra-orthodox conservative religious organization that functioned as a group of first responders in the wake of October 7. Mondoweiss has already extensively documented the organization’s unreliability and implication in fabricating evidence of atrocities on October 7.

The Israeli government recognizes ZAKA as the only group responsible for dealing with deaths due to “terrorist” attacks within Israel. By now, we have ample evidence that ZAKA members, who hold a radical religious position against autopsies and forensic procedures, “used their imagination” to fabricate elaborate stories of sexual brutality in the wake of October 7. Patten’s report points to ZAKA’s unreliable practices, but conveniently ignores ZAKA’s close relationship with the Israeli government — the organization receives government funding and coordinates with key government ministries, all while posturing as a neutral non-governmental organization. ZAKA spokesperson Yehuda Meshi-Zahav has claimed that the organization acts “as an arm of the ministry of foreign affairs,” and on November 23, 2023, Benjamin Netanyahu met with ZAKA members, telling them: “You have an important role in influencing public opinion, which also influences leaders. We are in a war; it will continue.”

Zaka volunteers in Kibbutz Holit, October 26, 2023. (Photo: Mishel Amzaleg/Israel National Photo Collection)
Zaka volunteers in Kibbutz Holit, October 26, 2023. (Photo: Mishel Amzaleg/Israel National Photo Collection)

Patten’s report functions as a distraction from genocide  

Despite the fact that Patten’s report does not find any credible information supporting a pattern of rape on October 7, that it has no investigative powers, and that it sustains glaring gaps in credibility that it cannot address within its mandate, Western media has been following the lead of the Israeli government in framing the report as a vindication of Israel’s narrative that Hamas committed systematic sexual violence on October 7.

At the same time, these media groups are ignoring Israel’s blanket refusal to cooperate with the official UN investigation into said claims. We must see Patten’s report for what it is: an attempt to give a veneer of legitimacy to claims that have been roundly debunked by recycling anonymous witness testimony under cover of “UN methodology” — but without the investigative mandate required to legitimize that methodology. Patten’s report explicitly does not find a pattern of sexual violence, gives no indication of its prevalence, and does not name any possible perpetrators. This does not appear to trouble Patten, who continuously reiterates that she is acting in her role as an advocate for victims of conflict-related sexual violence, and not as an investigator.

But an advocate for whom? Ultimately, one of the biggest problems with this report is that it serves as a distraction — a distraction from the plight of thousands of Palestinian men, women, and children who continue to be subjected to verified sexual abuse and torture in occupation prisons; from the current fate of those women whose underwear Israeli soldiers took photographs in after bombing their families and homes; from people forced to identify their sons, husbands and fathers stripped down to their own underwear, sexually humiliated and tortured.

It is a distraction from the agony of mothers who are now being forced to watch their children starve to death; from the terror of more than 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza with no food, water, or medical assistance, and no safe place to give birth; from the pain of Palestinian women mourning the 30,000 martyrs already slaughtered in Israel’s ongoing genocide.

As feminists, we adamantly refuse the weaponization of charges of sexual violence to justify these atrocities and join feminists around the world in calling for those echoing this propaganda to be held accountable for complicity in — indeed, for manufacturing consent for — genocide.


[1] The first and primary recommendation of Patten’s report is that an investigation take place. (Para 88).

[2] This is not the first time Patten has hidden behind her lack of investigative mandate to spread dubious claims without evidence. In October 2022, when asked if she had any evidence for her assertion that Russian soldiers had committed mass gang rape using Viagra (a claim first circulated online), Patten appeared affronted. “It’s not the role of my office to go and investigate,” she retorted, “I have an advocacy mandate…I sit in New York, in an office in New York, and I have an advocacy mandate.” The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which does have a mandate to investigate, made no mention of the viagra claims in its own extensive report.

[3] By debunking already falsified fabrications regarding Kibbutz Be’eri (para 65), discrediting ZAKA (already a convenient target in Haaretz), and providing alternative interpretations of postmortem photos and videos of “destructive burn damage,” the UN report positions itself as self-correcting and hence renews the mass rape narrative in more credible form.

[4] Moreover, some of the survivors at the kibbutzim have testified that they were treated humanely by the Palestinian fighters who took them captive (as in the oft-cited example of Yasmin Porat).


The Feminist Solidarity Network for Palestine is an international collective of anti-imperialist, anti-colonial feminist academics, lawyers, and organizers working against zionist settler colonial propaganda and towards a free Palestine.

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