TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL VIOLENCE, RAPE DURING ARMED CONFLICT, MENTIONS OF WAR, AND VIOLENCE
WHAT IS SEXUAL VIOLENCE?
Have you committed acts of sexual violence? Everyone would have you believe they would never commit such a heinous act. What about pressuring a woman for nudes? Badgering her to engage in sexual acts with you? Have you flashed anyone? Shared or showed your friends privately shared nude photos someone else sent you?
Defining sexual violence is a necessary component of advocating against sex and gender-based violence. Forms of sexual violence that may seem more commonplace, like voyeurism or cyber harassment, are just as destructive as rape during armed conflict. There is a link between normalizing behaviors that diminish the importance of consent, and broader-scale, horrific forms of sexual violence.
With sexual violence as a weapon of war, women’s bodies assert state dominance and achieve political aims.
SEXUAL VIOLENCE AS A WEAPON OF WAR
Sexual violence during conflict is not a monolith, for there are various forms. According to the Mukwege Foundation, they include “rape, gang rape, penetration with objects or weapons, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy or abortion, forced marriage, sexual torture, and a host of other horrific abuses designed to humiliate and destroy the sexual identity and autonomy of the victim.”
Perpetrators act with impunity as few international protections for prosecuting those who commit sex-based crimes during War. Shame culture adds fuel to the fire for survivors of sex-based violence, for they face alienation in their communities. This contributes to the normalization of sex-based violence during wartime and peacetime. Perpetrators of sex-based violence during conflict are defined as soldiers, terrorists, and rebel groups.
GENDER ROLES AND SEX-BASED VIOLENCE
Sex-based violence during conflict is a tool of the patriarchy. Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy asserted that violence is the language of the patriarchy, for both men and women can use violence against the other. Still, only women fear retaliation from doing so.
WHEN HAS SEXUAL VIOLENCE BEEN USED AS A WEAPON OF WAR?
Across time and geographical location, sexual violence as a weapon of war has been used virtually every time. As previously mentioned, the effects and physical and psychological wounds of sexual violence remain after the conflict ends. However, in most instances, sexual violence was committed during a war is actively attempted to be erased. Take the colonization of the United States and Canada, where the genocide and profound violence perpetrated against the Indigenous population. Many Indigenous people were killed in dehumanizing ways, especially Indigenous women. White colonizer men would rape and sexually assault Indigenous women, justifying their behavior by asserting that Indigenous women were naturally “sexually promiscuous” or “primitive” and hence “sexually available.” This way of thinking aligns with the notion that rape or sexual assault survivors are “asking for it.”
In present days, there are alarmingly high numbers of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. According to the Government of Canada, Indigenous women represent 10% of the tidal population of missing women, and Indigenous women have a police-reported homicide rate for Indigenous women that was higher than the overall rate in Canada.
The colonial-era ideas about Indigenous women’s sexual availability and dehumanization contribute to the current violence against Indigenous women by Indigenous men. According to Emma LaRocque, family violence perpetrated by Indigenous men is due to the internalization of white male devaluation of women.
In Sarajevo, Bosnia, a spa and hotel opened up in the years after the Bosnian War. The building the resort and hotel used was a former rape camp for Muslim women and girls taken as sex slaves by Serbian forces. Once a rape camp, now a spa. Upwards of two hundred women and girls were enslaved in the hotel. According to Bosnian Journalist Nidzara Ahmetsevic, the women and girls were taken to the pool for mass rape. One fourteen-year-old girl committed suicide by throwing herself out the hotel window after one of the mass rapes. A site of such unspeakable horror is now where tourists enjoy a spa. Across Sarajevo, there are monuments, rightfully so, for the fallen soldiers who served in the Bosnian War. There is no commemoration for the victims at the hotel.
This blatant erasure of war crimes and sexual violence during wartime shows how the suffering of women and girls at the hands of the patriarchy is unimportant. Rape during wartime is not random but done intentionally. Systemic rape is used as a weapon of war. As Eltahawy said, Women’s bodies are considered proxy battlegrounds.”
War in Syria, ISIS genocide against the Yazidis, Rwandan Civil War, the Holocaust, the Colonization of Latin America and North America. The list goes on. Next time any conflict is brought up in discussion, it is imperative to remember how women’s bodies are weaponized to further political agendas and the patriarchy.
The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls by Mona Eltahawy