Rape as a Weapon of War

Thousands of Congolese flee the town of Sake, 26km west of Goma, following fresh fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic
Thousands of Congolese flee the town of Sake, 26km west of Goma, following fresh fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo town on November 22, 2012. Fighting broke out this afternoon causing people to flee the town and head east, towards Goma, to the camps for the internally displaced in the village of Mugunga. AFP PHOTO/PHIL MOORE (Photo credit should read PHIL MOORE/AFP/Getty Images)

Rape as a Weapon of War

Rape became politicized during the recent election. Extreme conservatives favored the modifiers "legitimate" or "forcible" while feminists countered with the slogan, "Rape is rape." When a woman is raped during an armed conflict, rape takes on a different character. Rape becomes a weapon of war -− a cheap weapon of war.

Under any circumstance, rape is a brutal, dehumanizing attack. Rapes of civilian women during war take on the most horrendous aspects of this crime. Women are often raped in front of their husbands and children by multiple men using their bodies and, at times, gun barrels or other objects to penetrate women.

Like any rape, these acts may to lead to pregnancy and transmission of STDs and infection. The psychological toll can be devastating. Victims may be stigmatized by their communities and even subject to honor killing by their families. Typically, justice is not available because civil police organizations are disbanded or ineffective during wartime.

It is important to recognize that conflict rapes are much more than opportunistic pillaging. In modern warfare, rape has become a strategic weapon used to humiliate, demoralize and dehumanize the enemy. The use of rape as a tactic may, in fact, be ordered by those in command of combatants. In ethnic conflicts, rape is seen as a tool of genetic "cleansing." Even when a conflict has ended with a truce or ceasefire, rape continues to be used as a weapon against the vanquished civilian population. Rape violates the Geneva Convention and is viewed as a "crime against humanity" by the International Criminal Court.

Recent history provides horrific examples of the use of rape as a weapon of war:

  • Approximately up to 500,000 women were raped during the Rwandan genocide
  • Approximately up to 64,000 women were raped in Sierra Leone
  • Over 40,000 women were raped in Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Hundreds of women are raped every day in Syria, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo

The reality of rape during conflict is brought home by a crowd-sourced map of Syria that reports the location and details of sexual assaults occurring during the current conflict. This resource is maintained by the Women under Siege Project of the Women's Media Center.

The days between Nov. 25 and Dec. 10 have been designated by the Center for Women's Global Leadership and the Nobel Women's Initiative as the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign. In 2012, this campaign focuses on gender violence in conflict, use of small arms in domestic violence and state actors perpetrating violence against women, such as commanders sexually assaulting military women with impunity.

You can speak out against these outrages in a number of ways: Organize an educational activity, write to your newspaper, blog or tweet. The campaign's website offers an action kit with information sheets, model letters and sample posts. Follow the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and adopt the campaign's logo as your profile picture.

You don't have to be a woman to participate in this campaign. All you need is a voice and a conscience.