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Rape as a Tool of War by Jennifer Fenton

by Jennifer Fenton
featured writer
Dandelion Salad

Jennifer’s blog post
Justice and Peace
Oct 9, 2008

The use of rape as a tool of war is not a modern occurrence. Rape during wartime is a well-documented phenomenon that has occurred since writers and philosophers have recognized its existence. Gottschall notes, “historical and anthropological evidence suggests that rape in the context of war is an ancient human practice, and that this practice has stubbornly prevailed across a stunningly diverse concatenation of societies and historical epochs.” This claim, supported by APAP (2002), “In primitive warfare, women were targeted as a means to avoid facing the enemy again by eliminating the source of manpower for future supply,” shows the deliberate means in which a society may suffer through the use of rape as a tool of war. Wartime rape does not indicate solitary examples of rape by individuals but rather a pattern “of rape by soldiers at rates that are much increased over rates of rape that prevail in peacetime.” (Gottschall, 2004). Human Rights Watch claims:

…rape in conflict or under repressive regimes is neither incidental or private. It routinely serves a strategic function and acts as a tool for achieving specific military objectives. Like other human rights abuses, rape serves as a means of harming, intimidating, and punishing individual women. Further, rape almost always occurs in connection with other forms of violence or abuse against women and their families.

Reliable statistical data is difficult to ascertain due to the reluctance of victims and perpetrators to be forthcoming with information, however with the implantation of centers similar to The Center for Victims of Torture where the treatment and rehabilitation of victims of war crimes, including rape, are free to express themselves in the therapeutic setting. Organizations that report and ascertain the prevalence of wartime rape have also assisted researchers in gaining greater understanding. According to Peace Women (2007), Amnesty International has played a significant role in documenting wartime rape in countries such as the Democratic republic of Congo where records indicate that at least 40,000 female civilians, girls and women, had been raped over the past six years.

In a recent comparative study conducted by Alexander, Bernstein and Blake 2007, evaluating incidents of rape in Bosnia and Columbia occurred at rates close to fifty percent less than that of other acts of violence. The violent acts that were assessed, included rape/sexual harassment/molestation (forced sex, sexual comments and other forms of harassment, sexual threats, forced touching), beating (blows with objects, slapping, kicking, punching), strangulation, deprivation (of food, water, needed medical attention, sleep, extreme exposure), immobilization, stress to senses, psychological torture, degradation (forced into acting, forced nakedness, verbal abuse), threats-not including death threats, torture as a witness, indiscriminate attacks (being shot at, forced at gun point, hostage).  Many of these acts of violence although not categorized as such can and should be seen as sexual in nature. For example, the category of degradation includes sexual misconduct but is not placed in the category of rape/sexual harassment/molestation.

Gottschall (2004) explains that there are currently four theories currently used to assess the impacts and treatment modalities for wartime rape. The Feminist Theory asserts that rape in war, just as rape during peace time “is identified not as a crime of sexual passion but as a crime motivated by the desire of man to exert dominance over a woman.” With this theory in place, the feminist theory attempts to dispute the notion that rape during war time is simply a series of, “irresistible biological imperatives and that the chaos of the wartime milieu encourages men to vent their urges to terrible effect…Therefore, rape in war is deemed a result of a conspiracy, not necessarily conscious but still systematic, of men to dominate and oppress women.” The Cultural Pathology Theory examines wartime rape from a psychoanalytic perspective. Gottschall states, “The goal is to peer back into a nation’s history and see what developmental factors conspired to cause its men to descend to the vilest barbarism.” Strategic Rape Theory, currently the most widely accepted among researchers, theorizes that,

wholesale rape represents just another ordinance-like bombs, bullets, or propaganda-that a military can use to accomplish its strategic objectives. While supporters of this position do not always claim that military planners explicitly instruct soldiers to rape, the implication is clear: Wartime rape is a coherent, coordinated, logical, and brutally effective means of prosecuting warfare.

The Biosocial theories of wartime rape places causation solely on biological and social influences, which are out the immediate control of its perpetrators.

This view is sometimes identified with…the pressure cooker theory of wartime rape: the idea that men posses instincts for sexual aggression that are restrained under normal conditions but that, in the chaotic wartime milieu, spew for the like the vented gas of a pressure cooker. The pressure cooker metaphor is based on hydraulic models of aggression championed by Freud and 20th century ethnologists like Knorand Lorenx and Robert Ardrey.

The rape of women appears to be the most common form of sexual abuse however, more instances of male rape and sexual torture are being documented. Male rape in particular seeks to humiliate and degrade its victim as to discourage further opposition and resistance to opposing military forces. Zawati, seeks to define wartime rape as a war crime and has extensive data documenting rape perpetrated on both male and female populations. Zawati states, “While this landmark definition has restricted the elements of the crime to (a) a physical invasion (penetration) of sexual nature, (b) committed on a person (male or female), (c) under circumstances which are coercive…sexual violence is not limited to physical invasion of the human body and may include acts which do not involve penetration or even physical contact.”

The importance of identifying the causation of wartime rape is inherent when one realizes the role of creating international law to either define wartime rape as a war crime or a simple act of war, inevitable on the battlefield. As Nowak and McArthur (2006) point out wartime rape and sexual harassment in any form can be defined as either torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, all identified as war crimes and punishable by international law. The Istanbul Protocol is non-binding document however,

~International law obliges governments to investigate and document incidents of torture and other forms of ill treatment and punish those who are responsible comprehensively, effectively, promptly and impartially.

~The Istanbul Protocol demonstrates international standards for implementing such investigation and documentations.

~States that are against torture and ill treatment must follow the standards set for the in the Protocol for effective prevention. To achieve credibility for the claim of being against and being in an effort to prevent torture and ill treatment effectively states must follow the standards ser forth in the protocol.

~All medical examinations, evaluations, and reports concerning allegations of torture and ill treatment should be in accordance with the principles and standards in the Protocol.

Necessary to achieving these goals are implementation of minimum requirements:

~To seek to obtain statements from the victims of alleged torture (including rape)

~To recover and preserve evidence, including medical evidence, related to the alleged torture (rape) which will aid in any potential prosecution of those responsible

~To identify possible witnesses and obtain statements from them concerning the alleged torture (rape).

~To determine how, when and where the alleged incidents of torture occurred as well as any pattern or practice that may have been observed about torture (rape).

The goals set forth in the Protocol are establishment:

~Clarification of facts and establishment and acknowledgement of individual and state responsibility for victims and their families

~Identification of measures needed to prevent recurrences

~Facilitation of prosecution or, as appropriate, disciplinary sanctions for those indicated by the investigation as being responsible, and demonstrating the need for full repartition and redress from the state, including fair and adequate financial compensation and provision of the means for medical care and rehabilitation.

Currently within the United States, numerous claims of misconduct and wartime rape have been directed at US troops in Occupied Iraq. The consequences of these actions are grave. The cost to Iraqi society and the moral of the armed services is greatly compromised when these acts of aggression are perpetrated upon the civilian population. Riverbend author of Baghdad Burning (2007) best reflects the sentiment of injustice and anger among the Iraqi population, when she writes of Sabine an Iraqi rape victim, “She’s just one of tens, possibly hundreds, of Iraqi women who are violated in their homes and Iraqi prisons. She looks like a cousin I have. She looks like friends. She looks like a neighbor I sometimes used to pause to gossip with in the street. Every Iraqi who looks at her will see a cousin, a friend, a sister, a mother, an aunt…” Recently, during a discussion at the Monterey Institute of International Study Riane Eisler, an internationally acclaimed scholar and activist, stated, “Where women and children suffer, the whole of that society suffers, they are an integral piece of the fabric of society and we must not ignore their importance.”

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10 Responses

  1. [...] Rape as a Tool of War by Jennifer Fenton [...]

  2. Catseye, I’m so sorry to hear it was your friend. I do hope she is doing OK, considering.

    dk, thanks for your additional info. It’s horrifying.

  3. Thanks, Lo!
    Catseye not only is rape an ongoing escalating problem for miltary women so is murder to cover up those rapes and other crimes. In the last few years 39 military women have been killed. Women in the military have suffered violence against them since they have been there, During WWII The Wasps ( women Air Force personnel) were used as targets for target practice for newly enlisted men) We lost over 50 women pilots in this insane excerise. I grow up not even knowing there were women pilots in WWII?
    Catseye how was your friend treated by the military after the rape? If she reported it?

    With the finanical freefall and bailout along with all of the other insane things happening there will be a rise in abuses against women and children. I had wanted to mention this in my last comment on the subect of the on-going cultural war against women.

    Already in the last week in Michigan, broadcasted on our local news a female teacher of an Adult Education class was doused with liquid by a student who wanted to burn the “Witch” after the class had finished reading “The Crusible”?
    In Monroe Mi. seven girls ages 12 to 13 were “Strip Searched” by three school officals when they were looking for a stolen 42 dollars. For 42 dollars?
    My point being that rape and violence is used as a weapon in war and here at home during stressful times.
    Please look after the women in your life.
    Insane behavior is escalating on the streets here.

    Thanks again, Lo.

  4. It happened to my best bud when she was stationed in Germany.

  5. Catseye, very good point.

  6. Rape in wartime is not limited to the “enemy’s women” either. The biggest threat to women in the U. S. Army is rape by their so-called “brothers in arms.”

  7. Rant away, dk. I appreciate your input on this topic.

  8. Army manuals from the 60′s instruct Army privates to be prepared to use anything they have as a weapon as need be, including the penis. The penis is also referred to as a way to search a woman prisoner to make sure she is not hiding anything in the vaginal area. Angela Davis wrote a series of essays on the use of rape in war in the 80′s and 90′s that are excellent.

    There have been over 200 women in the Army over the last few years that have killed themselves. 39 women were killed, some were pregnant. On Military bases across the globe and right here in the US rape is on the rise.

    The war on women escalates during times of stress be it a war, a financial crisis, or merely the loss of a mans’ favorite football team.

    There has been a 2,000 year war against women.

    We can not even comprehend the loss to the development of the human race as a whole from this on-going war. What developmental skills have we not developed because of the witch hunts of the “So-Called Enlightenment” when over 3 million European women were killed in a land and power (knowledge) grab during those feudal times. And it’s just one moment in history where masses of women were killed at one time. The women’s movement has not ended the war. There needs to be a mothers movement to counter the backlash of the Feminist Movement! The time is ripe!
    Oh, thanks for letting me rant there and hijack your blog. peace from Motown, dk

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