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  • Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones: From the Ancient World to the Era of Human Rights
  • Tia Palermo (bio)
Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones: From the Ancient World to the Era of Human Rights (Elizabeth D. Heineman ed., Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press 2011), 342 342 pages, ISBN 9780812243185.

Sexual violence in conflict has garnered increasing attention in recent years, but as editor Elizabeth D. Heineman describes in the opening chapter of Sexual Violence in Conflict, our current understanding is largely based on generalizations drawn from a few recent conflicts.1 She makes the case for studying historical episodes of sexual violence in conflict by pointing out this serious limitation in the current literature and arguing that studying historical episodes can provide us with an understanding of long-term consequences and depictions of how societies achieve post conflict peace and stability.

With this neglect of historical examples in mind, the chapters in Sexual Violence in Conflict provide in depth analyses of pre-1990s episodes of sexual violence in conflict, including those in ancient Greece and Rome and even biblical examples, the Medieval West, Seventeenth-Century England, the Spanish Conquest of Alta California, the American Revolution, the American Civil War, Late Precolonial and Early Colonial Tanzania Uzbekistan in 1917, World War I, World War II, and East Pakistan/ Bangladesh in 1971. The book concludes [End Page 303] with an excellent review of the legal history of rape and sexual violence in international humanitarian and human rights law, and discusses developments that have led toward more accountability in addressing sexual violence in conflict, due largely to initiatives and activities by survivors' groups and women's human rights advocates. The book is organized into five sections, but despite the diverse objectives of these sections, a salient theme throughout the volume is the contribution of gender inequality to sexual violence in conflict.

Functions of Systematic Sexual Violence in Conflict

The chapters reveal how organized sexual violence in conflict can serve various purposes including genocide, and economic, sexual, and social control. Marianne Kamp argues that widespread rape and femicide served the purpose of forcing women to conform to a social order in Uzbekistan during the Soviet government' s struggle to establish control after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.2 Factors that incited and sustained the violence against women included patriarchal assumptions about women's place in society, declarations from religious authorities against women's unveiling, community pressure on male family members of women who unveiled, and a broad perception of state weakness. Similarly, Robert Gerwarth explains how so-called "politicized women" were targeted in the collapsed Central European empires after World War I, in his chapter "Sexual and Nonsexual Violence Against 'Politicized Women' in Central Europe After the Great War."3 Women perceived as politically deviant—those with revolutionary family ties and other women who did not fit the paramilitaries' ideal of womanhood—were targeted. Politicized women and female political emancipation were seen as threats to the increasingly unstable social order in the context of recent defeat and the shock of revolution, and paramilitary units responded with violence to discipline women they perceived as threats to "healthy" gender relations.

Organized sexual violence serving a sexual function occurred in Japanese "comfort stations," or military brothels during World War II, as described in Yuma Totani's chapter "Legal Responses to World War II Sexual Violence: The Japanese Experience."4 Simultaneously, the widespread looting, rape, and arson committed by Japanese troops against the Chinese might have served what are closer to genocidal functions, as the Japanese implemented a scorched-earth policy against villages suspected of providing support to a communist army. Sexual violence that served both sexual and economic functions is described in Kathy L. Gaca's chapter "Girls, Women, and the Significance of Sexual Violence in Ancient Warfare."5 Gaca sheds new light on the ancient practice of "andrapodizing" groups of female war captives by ancient armies—including the Persians, Greeks, Macedonians, and Romans—in Greek narratives. She argues that this [End Page 304] practice does not refer to trading and selling female war captives as has long thought to be true, but rather refers to aggravated battery, sexual assault, and the...


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