Free «Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War» Essay Sample


The use of sexual violence as a weapon of war can be historically understood through observing its dominance throughout the world. The emergence of new modes of warfare incorporates innovative means of achieving the end goal of war. Sexual violence has been utilized as an effective tool to facilitate submission. Furthermore, it is a means of inflicting psychological pain and killing the morale of victims and soldiers in wars. The intimate nature of the violence elicits long term consequences to the victims.

Moreover, political institutions have exploited this form of social vice in order to attain political agendas. Through intimidation and dominance, rape significantly contributes to the breakdown of social systems in wars. Sexual violence has been utilized in modern conflicts to act as a devastating psychological and physical weapon of war, used to erode the continuity of ethnic communities. International law plays a key role; sexual violence recognition as an international crime is a major step towards punishing and ending sexual violence.


Genocide has been a dominant theme over the years, dating back to the medieval period. The motives of instigating genocide range from simple political disagreements to deep rooted ethnic divisions. Emergence of war of sexual violence plays a major role in the resultant genocide. Mass and genocidal rape have evidently been used in this form of conflicts. Africa has experienced a fair share of conflict over the past decade with the escalation of political and ethnical tensions as a major cause. As evidenced in the Rwandan genocide, sexual violence was strategically used as a weapon of war.

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Roots of Rwandan Genocide

Historically, the development of ethnic intolerance in the Rwandan community was well nested in the fabric of colonial system of administration. The Belgian colonial rule has established a system based on ethnicity since 1916. The Tutsis were much favored by the colonial regime. It caused tension and growing resentments from the Hutus. In 1959, it led to the riots in which over 20,000 Tutsis were killed while others fled to neighboring countries.

Changes in Government

During the attainment of independence in 1962 the Hutus rose to power; Juvenal Habyarimana became the new president. However, his leadership quickly lost popularity. This saw the emergence of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) headed by Paul Kagame. Its aim was to overthrow the existing president who exploited this opportunity to accuse the Tutsis of RPF support and severely attack them. This led to the August 1993 talks and negotiations where a peace accord between the two parties was signed. However, the tensions still continued and in April 1994, President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down.  The war that ensued was fueled by ethnic tensions among the Hutus and the Tutsis. The Hutus, motivated by the presidential guard, believed that the only way to maintain power was to eliminate the Tutsis (Mamdani).

The planned genocide continued until July, when RPF defeated the government guard. A first multi-ethnic government was created headed by Pasteur Bizimungu (a Hutu) and his deputy Paul Kagame (a Tutsi). However, Bizimungu was soon imprisoned on grounds of instigating ethnic violence. At that point, the current president Paul Kagame rose to power (Mamdani).

Involvement of the Other Countries

Belgium played a central role in the development of the genocide in Rwanda by creating social injustice and inequality. Through ethnic based colonial policies, the colonial administration developed tensions, which were the impetus for violence. Democratic Republic of Congo served as a safe haven for the genocidaires escaping the new government regime. That later led to the destabilization of the country. Historically, Uganda was also involved in providing a home for the Tutsi refugees who had been fleeing due to attacks by Hutu extremists. The international community was reluctant to act during the genocide. The United Nations, United States, United Kingdom and Belgium, their colonist, did not commit any substantial efforts to avert the genocide. The United Nations committed to negotiate a deal but withdrew as talks collapsed. Attempts for ceasefire negotiations were futile; in addition, there was a killing of 10 of their soldiers.

Rape and War

Meaning of Rape

According to the international criminal court rape is defined as a forced invasion of a body of a person. The invasion in this case leads to penetration of the victim’s body with a sexual organ. Also the contact that results in penetration, either anal or genital, may result from an object. Key to this definition is the lack of consent between the parties involved. Further, it is conducted under duress or coercion (Rome Statute of 1998.).

The definition seeks to clarify the exact meaning of rape. The first part asserts that any form of conduct resulting in penetration can be categorized as rape. The second part outlines the forms and circumstances of invasion. This may include oral, anal, genital, or use of objects.

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Raped Used in Wartime

Rape is used to achieve a wider strategic objective. Mass rape is used in the same way as bombs, bullets, or propaganda which may be used to achieve specific strategic goals (Gottschall). However, there is a lack of clear cases when soldiers were explicitly ordered to rape. Despite this, wartime rape still remains the most effective means of warfare prosecution.

Strategic rape theory is based on the hypothesis that rape is used as a weapon of war. Some of the main objectives facilitated by rape in wars include community destruction, dominating terror, instigating fear, killing morale, humiliation, ethnic cleansing, reducing faith in government protection, and emasculating antagonistic soldiers.

In the times of war, rape is used as a means of instituting terror. The victims are engaged in genocidal or mass rape to inflict trepidation and fear. The fear attributed to the atrocities of rape negatively impacts people’s perception of their assailants. Through instilling terror, the victim’s normal life is interrupted. As a result, its serves the war objective of disrupting people’s ability to access resources. Further, it facilitates submission to the demands of assailants.

Moreover, rape may also be used during war to punish the victims. This is predominant in cases of forced marriages. The victims are compelled to marry their assailants and any negative behavior is punished by severe rape episodes. Through this form of rape, the victim’s behavior is controlled and compliance in inevitable. Regulation of movement of women in Rwanda was instigated through rape. Women were intimidated by the risk of rape while moving around to do basic chores. This serves a military objective of controlling movement.

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Furthermore, the use of rape during war may be a tactical approach. As a military tactic, rape may be used to force victims to provide information. Further, through rape the assailants can influence the behavior of their antagonists. In the case of Rwanda, women were raped to force men to retaliate. This was effective in ensuring that the assailants could easily locate the husbands of their victims. In the context of psychological warfare, rape provides a military tactic to demoralize the victims. Raping women inflicts an inferiority complex among their husbands which psychologically enhances aggressive retaliations (Fielding).

Systematic rape is a weapon usually used in ethnic cleansing. This is evident in Bosnia where over 20,000 girls were raped since the start of conflict in 1992. Further, the targeted girls were forced to bear the children of the enemy. Moreover, in the Rwandan genocide nearly all the surviving adolescent girls were raped. Eventually, those pregnant were isolated by their families and communities. As a consequence, some resorted to deserting their babies while others committed suicide (Gruber).

Societal Implications of Rape

With the social structures in society as the primary targets, rape has been effective in breaking down families. Family bonds are shattered among rape victims and their loved ones. Acceptance of rape victims becomes a major hurdle for most families. Stigma associated with the victims creates isolation of those affected by rape and changes their perspectives. Couples break-up as a result of rape, while children are neglected by caregivers. Rape victims who contract sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, or become disabled are widely marginalized. Apart from social isolation, the victims also have problems normally re-integrating with social institutions (Merry).

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Mass rape disintegrates the culture of societies and alters social relationships. Human dignity is largely impacted by the integration of rape as a means of control. Exertion of male discriminative culture has been witnessed in the legal, social, and economic situation in society. Genocidal rape in the contemporary culture has conditioned members of community to tolerate impunity. This form of social stigma promotes greater oppression of women and young girls. Hence, corruption of morality and social value system is the resultant vice (Fielding).

Feminist Theory

According to feminist theory, any woman can be a rape victim regardless of her age, appearance, or status. The difference in size and physical strength greatly increases women’s vulnerability to sexual coercion and rape (Malamuth). Feminist theory of rape holds that all men use rape as intimidation process in which women are kept in a state of fear. The denial of a right to choice and opportunities has been greatly influenced by rape and sexual coercion of women. Most feminists assert that rape is encouraged by a desire to exercise control over women, not by lust. In addition, they believe that through violence men exert dominance over women. One of the main suggestions of the theory is that rape developed from a social framework that emphasizes conflict (Brownmiller).

The society structure is patriarchal, therefore, men as the sole controllers of wealth and power. As a result, men involve themselves in behaviors that sustain this control consciously or unconsciously. In addition, feminists also observe that any system is maintained by socialization. Women are predominantly socialized to be passive and submissive contrary to men who are encouraged to be active and dominant. This leads to socialization of men devaluing women, developing hostility, and even learning how to be aroused by domination.

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Systematic use of rape in the strategic rape theory can be linked with feminist theory. The basic understanding that men are motivated by a desire to dominate women would be exploited as a strategic goal. Through domination of women in warfare, a strong message is sent to the men who previously controlled women. The psychological impact of rape of their women will have a huge toll on the soldier’s masculinity.

Physical and Psychological Effects of Rape

Rape victims suffer a number of physical injuries as a result of the violence against them. Physical symptoms of rape include scars and torn flesh, tears in the vagina and anus, malfunctions of the hips, and rectal and vaginal fistula. In addition, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV/AIDS is fueled by rape. Further, unwanted pregnancies also result from sexual violence against women. Due to the wide scope of physical harm that is inflicted during rape, many women suffer complications in labor. Obstetric fistula contributes to infant mortality rate in rural areas where medical care is not accessible (Haffajee).

During war health care systems are adversely affected. This presents a challenge to the victims of war. Sexual violence victims require special care and treatment. This is an issue for many victims since the inaccessibility of these services presents a health risk to them. Most victims die due to manageable complications like obstetric fistula, because of poor healthcare services. The risk and danger to healthcare personnel limits the provision of services for the victims. As a result, lack of healthcare is a major impetus for the deteriorating state of rape victims (Gottschall).

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Psychologically, rape victims are affected by stress associated with the traumatic events. Feelings of shame, isolation, and unworthiness are evident among many rape victims. Acute depression and paranoia take a toll on the victims. In addition, most rape victims develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Feelings of resentment from family and friends of victims propel them into a state of apathy. Married women may be abandoned by their husbands because of rape.

Blame is the major psychological effect of rape. The victims’ blame themselves for the sexual violence that they experienced. This is based on the understanding of the victim that they should have done something differently to avoid the rape experience. In addition, some victims also believe that there is something wrong with them, because they were raped. Suicide may result if the victim doesn’t have the inherent capacity to cope with traumatic experience. The reluctance to share their experiences with others coupled with shame may lead victims to suicide (Chapleau).

Fear of negative reactions and castigation are the impetus for silencing most victims of rape. This form of secondary victimization by formal support systems has a detrimental effect on the healing process of the victim. Children were also psychologically affected by observing violent crimes. Children interviewed in Rwanda stated that they believe they would die as a result of the murders they saw during the genocide (Dyregrov).

The separation and isolation of women is another major impact of sexual violence. Women alienate themselves from society due to their situation as rape victims. Men separate themselves from the women due to the negative stereotypes in society. This leads to women living independently and coping with their own problems. Women affected by the war negatively are labeled by society; their social status changes. This form of marginalization results in the isolation of women in society.

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Rape in Current Conflicts


In former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, lives of numerous women and young girls were ruined during the highly sexualized war. “Rape camps” were established, where torture and repeated rape were commonplace. The collapse of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the assertion for independence led to ethnic tensions. War broke out, which lasted up to November 1995. This involved wide scale systematic rape and massacre. Bosnian Serbs instigated sexual violence aimed at Muslim women; 20,000 to 60,000 women were raped as a result (Folnegovic-Smalc). Mass murder and gang rape were predominantly used by Ratko Mladic, Colonel General of the Bosnian Serb, and politician Radovan Karadzic. Rape in the Bosnian war was used mainly to achieve strategic objectives: ethnic cleansing, humiliation, instilling fear, gaining information, peer pressure, and as part of looting. All these objectives present dominant themes of war tactics.

Women were raped for being Muslim or impregnated to deliver babies of different ethnicity. Furthermore, they were raped in front of their children and husbands who were forced to observe under duress. This was strategically aimed at humiliating them; some accounts describe men being forced to rape their fathers or sons. In addition, information was sought from women before they were raped. This was in line with collection of war intelligence which the perpetrators required. Also, peer pressure to engage in rape was evident in the Bosnian war, where some soldiers were forced to rape. Raping of inhabitants was openly done as a part of looting.

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The emergence of ethnic violence in Rwanda after the shooting of the president’s plane was a major impetus to genocidal rape. The pre-conflict stereotypes of Tutsi women feeling superior towards Hutu men fueled the sexual violence. It is observed that of all women who survived the genocide 90 percent had been systematically raped. Most of the dead were raped before they were killed. Forms of rape and torture included rape in public or walking naked in public (Weitsman). Use of foreign objects, such as machetes, gun barrels, and spears was widely used in violent torture. Mutilation and cutting of women’s sexual organs erewith acid and boiling water was also quite spread. Evidence of evisceration was also documented where pregnant women’s fetuses were killed. The strategic warfare objective of torturing was to create humiliation, punishment, and degrading of the Tutsi community.

Another form of sexual violence that was used by the Hutus included forcing women to be married to their rapists. The women were given a choice of death or marriage, which was an intimidating war tactic. In addition, many were forced to carry the conceived babies. This led to high numbers of women living with HIV/AIDS in Rwanda.

Democratic Republic of Congo

According to a study undertaken in 2011, four women are raped every five minutes in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Fielding). The conflict in DRC emanated from the escape of Hutus to Congo during the Rwandan Genocide. They created a destabilization in the region which leads to the violent toppling of the political regime. Joseph Mobutu assassinated Patrice Lumumba, who was the prime minister at the time, and became the president in 1965. Episodes of regime change and violence followed and eventually led Joseph Kabila to power.

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In the sexualized warfare soldiers utilized rape to achieve strategic objectives of war. It was believed that there was a “magic power” in raping a woman. A section of the soldiers believed it strengthened them for war. In addition, rape was used to target pregnant women and terminate their pregnancies (Jones). This involved use of objects to eject pregnant women’s fetuses after rape. In other regions of the DRC rape was used for territory control and strategic access to resources. There were selective rape patterns, where women living in areas of close proximity to resources were systematically raped. Further, women who went out to search for food or farm were raped, which increased food insecurity. Rape was used as a weapon of humiliation. Trafficking and prostitution are some of the effects of the heavily sexualized conflict. This is better described by the name “rape capital of the world” attributed to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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