The long-accepted narrative of wartime rape is one of inevitability, with sexual violence committed at the hands of soldiers during conflict being written off as an unavoidable side-effect of war. In reality, however, wartime rape can be systematically and tactically employed by military forces to terrorize the bodies of their enemies, often as an attempt to physically and psychologically destroy certain populations. The act itself, when employed tactically, is legally recognized as a weapon of war—and the rape of civilians by military forces was legally designated as a crime against humanity in 1993—yet rape continues to be utilized in conflict by military forces. To understand why soldiers are willing to employ rape as a tactic against their enemies, certain aspects of military culture must be examined, especially those that breed toxic masculinity, emphasize the demonization of the enemy, and create environments where raping is not only permissible, but encouraged. This paper will also examine cases of genocide and ethnic cleansing in both Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s that clearly illustrate how rape is used tactically to achieve a political or ideological goal, as well as how these conflicts have contributed to new legal conceptions of rape under international humanitarian law. By shifting the narrative of wartime rape from an inevitable symptom to an internationally recognized war crime, we can then begin to focus on (1) ensuring justice for victims, and (2) eradicating wartime rape, whether it be through military reform or legal deterrence on the global stage.
Velte, Claire, "The Weaponization of Rape: Military Culture, Tactical Warfare, and Legal Justice" (2022). International Relations Summer Fellows. 11.
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Presented during the 24th Annual Summer Fellows Symposium, July 22, 2022 at Ursinus College.