Rape Warfare

This research topic submitted by Heather A. Blackburn and Stacey M. Thomas (blackbha@ and thomass4@) on 2/25/98.

As a result of our inquiry into biological reasons for rape behavior, we have decided to concentrate on how frequently rape occurs in war. The forcible taking of women’s sexual choice has been used as a way of attacking one’s enemies since ancient times starting with cavemen, the Greeks and Romans, and medieval times leading all the way up to the American Civil War, World War II, and the Vietnam War. Presently, ‘genocidal’ rape is happening in Bosnia-Herzegovnia, Croatia, and Rwanda. Ironically, until recently these violations of women were more of an insult to the father, husband, or other group of men that these women ‘belonged’ to.
We will be using our previous research on biological reasons for rape throughout the course of the paper. We believe that there may be connections between animal behavior in war and human behavior in war. We have read in Jane Goodall’s book, Through a Window that when chimpanzees attack rival groups they almost always will fiercely attack the females. This behavior may be paralleled in human warfare, where women become the reward for military bravery, but unlike with chimps, infanticide is common.
There are three areas which we will examine more closely. We will study the overall history of rape in war, and then focus in on the Vietnam War as an example. The genocidal rape and other violations of women in certain parts of the world are perhaps the most upsetting because they are occurring at this moment. What is it about war that seems to give men permission to rape women? What are some steps that can be taken to prevent this horrendous assault on human rights from occurring?
Rape occurs for a number of reasons. Socially, men rape to feel powerful. By raping women, or taking away a woman’s control over her reproductive choice, a man may feel more control over his own life. During war, when many men feel powerless because of rank, resorting to rape is a relatively easy way to regain some of their lost power. There also may be some biological reasons for rape. These reasons are mainly an attempt at reproduction. The male is usually of low status, which would mean that he is reproductively disadvantaged, and rape might be his only chance at reproduction.
When asked if they would commit rape if they knew they could get away with it, around half of the men surveyed answered ‘yes’. During war, a period of confusion where anything seems possible for the group who has the upper hand, rape is prevalent. Often, the troops are specifically told to rape women, (as it was with American troops in the Vietnam War) as a way of demoralizing the people who were being invaded. Other times women were taken and raped as trophies and prizes. Recently, as we have seen in Bosnia-Herzegovnia, rape has been used as a way of ‘ethnic cleansing’.
Rape has been going on for a long, long time. The cartoonish depiction of a caveman bonking a woman on the head and dragging her off is not too far off from reality. Many laws in ancient civilizations considered women as property. When a woman was raped, she was often forced into marrying her assailant. In ancient Hebrew law, many times the rapist and the rape victim were stoned to death. Raped women were considered damaged goods, and if a woman was found to be raped, then the husband/father/brothers would be monetarily reimbursed. Rape during warfare has been around just as long. The ancient Greeks and Romans would rape and enslave women after they had conquered a city. The Bible even condones the abduction of women as war trophies.
War has certainly been prevalent in the twentieth century, and so has rape. There have been documented occurrences of rape during conflict in places such as Vietnam, the Philippine Islands, El Salvador and in many other places during the world wars. There does not seem to be a place that is free from either rape or war on the planet.
Even with all the knowledge of rape warfare in the past, somehow it is still being allowed to occur today. In her book, Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, Beverly Allen describes and analyzes three kinds of genocidal rape practiced by the Serb forces there. Soldiers brutally rape women in public and then return several days later to guarantee safe passage for the terrified villagers only if they promise never to return. In this case, rape is used as an instrument of subjugation and fear-inducement which the soldiers can use to manipulate the decisions of the community they are trying to scare away. Secondly, persons held in concentration camps are repeatedly raped and often killed. And perhaps the most sickening form of rape is when soldiers repeatedly rape women until they become pregnant and then continue the acts of rape until it is too late in the pregnancy for the women to receive a safe abortion. The women are then released, eventually to give birth to a Serb child, and be eternally rejected by their husbands and family. Many of these women return home only to be compelled to commit suicide, many times after committing infanticide. This is not only forcing the women to have sex, but forcing them to become pregnant and have the soldiers’ children. That an injustice against women’s rights to control their own bodies is occurring so frequently without any formal recognition is perhaps the largest tragedy of our times.
Genocidal or systematic rape is not an isolated or random occurrence within a war theater. It is planned by superior officers of the conquering faction as a widespread assault against a targeted group of women. It is often performed in front of the women’s community as a way to humiliate them and terrorize and intimidate other citizens into fleeing. In addition to the loss of control and dignity that all rape victims must face, these women realize that they have been targeted for rape not only because they are women, but because they are women of the hated ethnicity or race. Maybe this needs to be separated from category of war crimes and be recognized as enraging molestation of human rights.

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