In a new series for STAND, Deepthi Suresh examines the connection between sexual violence and war.
What is wartime rape?
Rape, sexual violence and sexual torture are often used to control, inflict fear, humiliate, injure, punish and ethnically cleanse communities. Sexual violence can be a strategy used by armed groups in a conflict as a tactic of war and to target specific ethnic groups. Recently both the Yazidi Tribe and Rohingya Muslims have been targeted by military forces. The list pertaining to wartime rapes is neverending. A Bosnian wartime rape survivor accounts the torturous events number of women like her had to experience during the 1994 conflict, as reported in The Independent.
“They had their eyes set on teenage girls,” she says. “Many of the girls wore their father’s big shirts to cover their bodies. If you looked feminine or if they knew you previously and wanted sex they would just take you. Probably 10 were raped every night. They took them to a local empty house. The girls would come back the next morning totally exhausted but no one would talk about it. They were ashamed. We all knew silently what had happened but no one discussed it.”
It is believed tens of thousands are sometimes horrifically forced to live next to their rapists even after post-conflict.
Why are women targeted?
Women often hold families and communities together. Targeting women would mean destroying not just an individual but a community as a whole. Rape can also be used as a weapon, seen as motivation or a reward for armed troops. According to Médecins Sans Frontières, rape is also used as a biological weapon in some conflicts to transmit AIDS.
Unfortunately, these horrific acts of crime are also committed by people who are considered as the protectors during an armed conflict. Police, national armies, aid workers and UN peacekeepers have all featured as perpetrators in the acts of wartime rape and other forms of sexual violence in war-driven regions.
Is wartime sexual violence inevitable?
Wartime rape for a long time was not acknowledged as there was a complete disregard of women’s experiences during a conflict. However, feminist scholars have rallied behind the atrocities that women have faced during a conflict and hence this led to a cry for ending violence against women worldwide. The understanding of the consequences of wartime rape led to the introduction of legal and quasi-legal approaches to such crimes during and post-conflict. Wartime rape or any form of sexual violence is a human rights violation and needs to be addressed internationally. It does not need to be inevitable.