Rape has no boundaries, no specific race, age, class, location or even gender. It can be used as a weapon to suppress another person, culture or nation. Throughout time the limitless usage of rape has been recounted and repeated. Even the Bible has examples of how rape was used as an instrument of war, “For I [God] will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses looted and the women raped; half the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city.” (Zechariah 14:2) The depth and degree of deterioration that rape cases a person, gender and nation is remarkable and terrible. Rape is a consistent presence that will never go away but hopefully will eventually decrease in incidence.
Sexual violence happens everywhere. There is not one place in the world that has not experienced one form of rape or another. However, rape tends to be more widespread in some areas and rarer in others. In hostile times and warring areas like Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia and China, rape became too common and in some instances inevitable. “Women’s bodies are often used as a battleground of men’s wars.” (Peterson 43) In Serbia, paramilitary troops used rape systematically as a tactic to encourage Bosnian Muslim women to flee from their land. In Rwanda, Hutu leaders ordered their troops to rape Tutsi women as an integral part of their genocidal campaign. In Algeria, secular women were targeted by Muslim revolutionaries and forced to be sex slaves. In Indonesia, security forces reportedly raped Chinese women during a period of rioting. In Serbia, Serbian military and paramilitary units systematically raped Albanian Muslim women in Kosovo. (Enloe) It is hard to say what exactly is accomplished, other than the humiliation of women and children.
Female sexual violence during times of war often consists of targeting women’s bodies and their representation of nationalism and culture. The representation of women in this idea of nationalism is that of country. Women often symbolize the country or culture so directing crimes at them is the same as desecrating the nation itself since women are often considered men’s possessions. “But women also serve as symbolic markers of the nation and of the group’s cultural identity….The personification of nature-as-female transmutes easily to nation-as-woman, where the Motherland is a woman’s body and as such is ever in danger of violation-by ‘foreign’ males.” (Peterson 44) Often, women are viewed as objects and possessions, held and obtained by men. (Peterson 44) It is obvious that women have been targeted in nearly, if not, every war, national or cultural conflict ever engaged in throughout history. In some cases, sexual violence is even more common because of the lack of protection, education, civilization or cultural restraints. For example U.S. soldiers do not use sexual violence as frequently in times of war whereas in areas like Rwanda, it is notorious if not encouraged to tear down Tutsi unity and confidence.
There are many different forms of rape. Rape can be used to take, break, destroy, dehumanize and to torture. “Rape perpetuated by as soldiers has been experienced by women in a variety of forms:
rape by a male soldier of a woman he thinks of as a ‘foreigner’; rape by an individual male soldier of a civilian woman of the same nationality while that soldier is ‘off duty’; rape by a male soldier of a woman soldier in the same army, perhaps because he resents her presence in a preciously all-male unit or because he is angry at her for her unwillingness to date him or flirt with him; rapes of women held in military prisons by male soldiers serving as guards; rapes perpetrated by a soldier acting as an interrogator with the apparent purpose of forcing the woman victim to give information; rapes by a group of invading soldiers to force women of a different ethnicity or race to flee their home regions; rapes of captured women by soldiers of one communal or national group aimed principally at humiliating the men of an opposing group’ rapes by men of one ethnicity, race, or nationality of men from the ‘enemy’ group to make the latter feel humiliated because they have been, via rape, reduced to ‘mere women’; rapes of women by men in accordance to male officers’ system of morale-boosting rewards in their man after battle; rapes of women taking refuge in wartime refugee camps by men also taking refuge in those camps or by men who are assigned to protect women in those camps; rapes of women by those men who are prostitution procurers to ‘prepare’ them for later service in brothel organized for soldier clients; rapes of women in wartime by civilian men of their same ethnic or national community who are acting out a misogyny nurtured by and licensed by the militarized climate; rapes of women who publicly oppose militarization by men of their own supposed community who support militarization.” (Enloe 109-10)
In all of these forms of rape, they are done in an attempt to victimize and alienate these women and sometimes even men. Other forms of sexual violence consist of group rape and even horrific events of foreign objects and blades used to mutilate female genitalia. In these cases, most women suffer terrible physical deformities and lifelong medical problems that often go unaided. Men too can face terrible physical trauma. “Agger and Jensen note that ‘sexual torture’ is ‘widely used in the process of breaking down the identity of political prisoners. It is important to understand the psychodynamics of this trauma, since many refugees who seek psychological and psychiatric assistance have suffered sexual trauma.” (Carlson) The worst part is the fact that the men who commit these crimes go free and do these horrific acts of sexual violence again to yet more men and women. “Typically, when rape happens in the midst of war, no individual soldier-rapists are identified by victims, by their senior command, or by the media (if there). The women who suffer rape in wartime usually remain faceless as well.” (Enloe 108)
Women are not the sole victims of sexual violence. As depicted by Carlson, men sometimes too experience sexual violence and humiliation. “If the topic of sexual assault against women in times of war has been uncomfortably pushed to the side of the agenda, then the topic of sexual assault against men has been treated as particularly taboo.” (Carlson) Another example would be the Hutus cutting off Tutsi male genitalia in Rwanda. Men can be humiliated and physically abused just as women can. However, women seem to remain the majority of sexual victimization.
There is no grand solution that can halt sexual violence in times of war. Previously, laws have been passed and governments have debated over how to end this victimization: The 1949 Geneva Conventions, the 1977 Supplementary Protocols of the Geneva Conventions, the body of law from the Nuremberg Tribunal held at the end of World War II and the Military Tribunal of the Far East. Yet these acts and laws have offered little hope to the currently struggling victims of sexual violence. As said by Cynthia Enloe, “Rape is shocking” and not many people want to think or hear about it. However, one thing that can be done is increased awareness that rape is wrong and that it should not be tolerated. Another item to hamper future sex offenders would be to prosecute and hold them accountable for their actions “Often in Haiti and Indonesia, action has been required through the organizing by women, for women to uncover soldiers’ systematical uses of rape.” (Enloe 109). If people stand up and voice their opinions, then rape would not have to be something tolerated in any society.
Peterson, V. Spike. 1988. ‘An Archeology of Domination: Historicizing Gender and
Class in Early Western State Formation’. Ph.D. Dissertation. International Relations.
The American University.
Enloe, Cynthia, 1939 “Maneuvers; The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives”. University of California Press, Berkley CA.