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 womens sexual choice has been used
as a way of attacking ones 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 Goodalls 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 womans 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
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 womens 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 womens
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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