Rape as a Weapon of War
Military conflicts are envisioned to be a conflict between two armies of soldiers, yet, in reality, most casualties of war are civilians, most of whom are women and children. These women and children are left vulnerable during times of war and are frequently victims of rape and other forms of sexual assault. Throughout history rape has been used as a tool to dehumanize and terrorize the enemy population. When carried out in systematic fashion during periods of conflict, rape becomes much more complicated than an individual act to satisfy sexual urges and exert power over another person. Rape as a weapon of war can be more destructive to communities and family structures than the conflict itself. The effects of rape in postwar societies can be seen for generations and creates a culture that tolerates violence and rape and accepts them as the norm. Rape as an orchestrated combat tool, throughout history, has been viewed as an attack against individual women and not as a strategy of war (Barstow, 2000). These rapes, however, are carried out with a specific purpose in mind and are far more devastating than the “opportunistic pillaging” that they have been painted as in the past. Rapes in war are often committed to terrorize the population, break up families, destroy communities, alter the ethnic make-up of future generations, deliberately infect women with HIV or other STIs, or render them incapable of bearing children (Brouwer, 1998). Ethnic clashes, in particular, appear to have an abundance of rape in order to perpetuate social control and redraw ethnic boundaries. Women are viewed as the reproducers and caretakers of the community. By controlling and impregnating this part of the population, another group is able to maintain authority (Neier, 1998). Some feminists argue that rape has almost always been a party to armed conflict, evidence of this can be seen in classic literature as well as contemporary conflicts. In The Histories, Herodotus writes of the abduction and rape of Io and other women by the Phoenicians and of the abduction and rape of Helen fifty year later that resulted in the Trojan wars. In World War I, the Axis powers forced prostitution and other forms of sexual violence onto the French and Belgium women. World War II saw rape as a weapon of war frequently with the “Rape of Nanjing”, the kidnapping of Korean women to force them to become comfort women, and the rapes that the German and Russian armies carried out on a massive scale against the occupied civilian populations. Rape as a weapon of war caught the international community’s attention with two instances of genocide that used rape as a tool to carry out ethnic cleansing: the Yugoslavian Civil War and the Rwandan Genocide. The civil war that occurred in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s saw the rape of tens of thousands of women, an accurate estimate has not been established. Serbian men attempted to impregnate Bosnian Muslim women in order to force them to have Serbian children while attempting to annihilate the entire Bosnian male population. The Rwandan genocide also used rape as a weapon of war. From April to July in 1994, 250,000 to 500,000 Rwandan women were raped (Brouwer, 1998).
The conflict in Rwanda was between two ethnic groups, the Hutu and the Tutsi, who had historically been pitted against each other by their European colonizers. In 1994, the Hutu president was assassinated and the Tutsis were promptly blamed, beginning 100 days of slaughter and rape. Hutu propaganda and orders from army commanders encouraged the rape of Tutsi women and sympathetic or moderate Hutu women. No one was spared based on age, gender and ethnicity were the only determining factors. Women were gang raped, forced into sexual slavery, made to commit incest, forced into marriage, and had their breasts, vaginas, buttocks, or features that were considered Tutsi, such as a small nose or long fingers, mutilated or amputated ()....
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