Before going any further, it is important to highlight that there are different types of conflict-related sexual violence. There is individual rape, which includes one perpetrator and one victim. There is collective rape with several perpetrators and one or more victims ; public rape, where the family or the community is forced to watch (and sometimes even participate). And finally, there is the introduction of objects in the genital parts of the victims (Bouvy, 2007 ; Awa, 2012 ; Kirby, 2012 ; Mikulic, 2016). But conflict-related sexual violence also encompasses forced marriages (e.g. Lord’s Resistance Army, Boko Haram, ISIS, etc.), sex slavery (e.g. ISIS, etc.), forced prostitution (e.g. Holocaust, Japan, etc.), forced pregnancy (e.g. Spanish civil war, etc.) or forced sterilization (e.g. Holocaust, etc.). Sexual violence can be spontaneous or organized and victims can include everyone from any gender, ethnicity and age.
Rape is cheap. It makes a lot of damages by inflicting a wound on the victim that is physical but also psychological, social and moral. Moreover, it also impacts entire communities by stigmatizing and isolating the victims, which has enormous consequences for generations to come. Women are the primary target because they produce offsprings and they are what glues together families and entire communities. They ensure the future of the family and the transmission of the values, the culture and the traditions (Bouvy, 2007). Rape is also used as a reward (an entitlement for service rendered), a punishment to communities perceived to be opposing an armed group, a strategy to humiliate and dominate opponents (a means to show the other ‘who is in control’) ; and most of all, it is used to break any form of resistance among the enemies. In Lybia, one man reported to investigators that, during his four-year detention in a prison in Tamina, prison guards used sexual violence to seperate and subjugate the men. They would film everything on their phone, making sure the prisoners would «never hold their heads up again» (Allegra 2017).
Furthermore, rape and sexual torture bring fear among entire villages which can drive them to flee their homes. Myanmar is a good example: the army rapes Rohingya women, often in front of their families, because they know the fear of it (or of them returning) makes Rohingya families leave their home behind (Mukwege, 2017 ; Gelineau, 2017). In the conflict zones of Iraq, Syria and Nigeria, under ISIS and Boko Haram, rape is also used to recruit suicide bombers by telling the victims that the only way to avoid the shame is to become a martyr. In an online video, Samira Ahmed Jassim, the ‘mother of believers’, was seen confessing to recruiting female suicide bombers by having them raped (The Dailymail, 2009).
Sexual violence is the most powerful weapon. It kills you from the inside out and leaves you with nothing but the pain and the stigma of having been raped. All survivors have the same conclusion: rape and death are the same, but the latter is less painful. As Dr Denis Mukwege stated : «rape destroys the will to live, it paralyzes victims, their families, and entire communities. Rape is a cost-effective way to establish power over the vanquished» (Mukwege 2017). And what are the objectives of weapons in war ? To harm (or kill) and establish power over the enemy. The same results observed after a rape has been committed.
The strategic nature of sexual violence can be witnessed in the victims that are targeted and the reasons of the use of rape. In Libya, for instance, most victims are individuals from the Tawarga tribe, in Rwanda, Tutsis were the target. In any conflict, victims can be chosen on the basis of ethnicity, religion or political affiliation. Rape can be used to punish those groups, to ‘put them in their place’, to humiliate them or as a genocidal means if the objective is to eradicate an ethnic group. Rape as a genocidal means can be used through forced pregnancies which alters the culture of a community, but it is also a carrier of dangerous diseases such as HIV/AIDS which prevents perpetuation of a particular group. The aim is to impose maximum humiliation on opponents. Thus rape is not about pleasure but rather about exercising power, to hurt and to destroy. The complete opposite of what sex should be.