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Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones

From the Ancient World to the Era of Human Rights

Edited by Elizabeth D. Heineman

Publication Year: 2011

Since the 1990s, sexual violence in conflict zones has received much media attention. In large part as a result of grassroots feminist organizing in the 1970s and 1980s, mass rapes in the wars in the former Yugoslavia and during the Rwandan genocide received widespread coverage, and international organizations—from courts to NGOs to the UN—have engaged in systematic efforts to hold perpetrators accountable and to ameliorate the effects of wartime sexual violence.

Yet many millennia of conflict preceded these developments, and we know little about the longer-term history of conflict-based sexual violence. Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones helps to fill in the historical gaps. It provides insight into subjects that are of deep concern to the human rights community, such as the aftermath of conflict-based sexual violence, legal strategies for prosecuting it, the economic functions of sexual violence, and the ways perceived religious or racial difference can create or aggravate settings of sexual danger.

Essays in the volume span a broad geographic, chronological, and thematic scope, touching on the ancient world, medieval Europe, the American Revolutionary War, precolonial and colonial Africa, Muslim Central Asia, the two world wars, and the Bangladeshi War of Independence. By considering a wide variety of cases, the contributors analyze the factors making sexual violence in conflict zones more or less likely and the resulting trauma more or less devastating. Topics covered range from the experiences of victims and the motivations of perpetrators, to the relationship between wartime and peacetime sexual violence, to the historical background of the contemporary feminist-inflected human rights moment. In bringing together historical and contemporary perspectives, this wide-ranging collection provides historians and human rights activists with tools for understanding long-term consequences of sexual violence as war-ravaged societies struggle to achieve postconflict stability.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights


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pp. v-vi

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Introduction: The History of Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones

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pp. 1-21

Revelations of sexual abuse of prisoners by personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and reports of rape in ongoing conflicts in Sudan, Uganda, and Congo have drawn renewed attention to an ancient problem: sexual violence in conflict zones. Information regarding the scale of the phenomenon is imprecise, but estimates point to large numbers. A partial list ...

I. Sexual Violence in Peace and in Conflict

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1. Rape in the American Revolution: Process, Reaction, and Public Re-Creation

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pp. 25-38

Rapes occur in wartime and in peacetime. They occur in military conflict zones, in what we might call the social/cultural/political conflict zones of colonial encounters, and in zones without any overt macroconflicts at all—in “peacetime.” To what degree can, or should, we distinguish rapes that occur in military conflict zones from those that occur in mainstream society...

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2. Sexual Violence in the Politics and Policies of Conquest: Amerindian Women and the Spanish Conquest of Alta California

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pp. 39-55

In words reminiscent of sixteenth-century chroniclers Bernal D

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3. Femicide as Terrorism: The Case of Uzbekistan’s Unveiling Murders

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pp. 56-70

Although a “conflict zone” may be a war zone, many conflict zones consist of situations where the state lacks a monopoly on violence and where, in that absence, various groups try to assert their own dominance through force against agents of the state. Following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the Soviet government and Communist Party struggled against multiple ...

II. The Economy of Conflict-Based Sexual Violence

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4. Girls, Women, and the Significance of Sexual Violence in Ancient Warfare

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pp. 73-88

One compelling social justice concern in the modern day is the practice of armed men at war, adolescent and older, seizing, traumatizing, and subjugating foreign or enemy girls and women through rape, torture, and related debasement, by such methods as subjecting the victims to prostitution, domestic servitude, forced impregnation, and maternity. Many of these women ...

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5. The Victimization of Women in Late Precolonial and Early Colonial Warfare in Tanzania

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pp. 89-102

An eloquent reflection on eastern Africa’s recent history of conflict is “Weight of Whispers,” Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s prize-winning short story about the traumatic after-effects of the Rwanda genocide of 1994.1 As she describes the degradation (and also resilience) of Rwandese women who become refugees in Kenya, Owuor reflects bitterly on the region’s history of ...

III. Tellings of Sexual Violence

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6. War Crimes or Atrocity Stories? Anglo-American Narratives of Truth and Deception in the Aftermath of World War I

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pp. 105-121

On April 12, 1927, Gordon Catto of Dunedin, New Zealand, wrote to the Evening Star on the subject of German atrocities committed during the Great War. According to Mr. Catto, his wife was a nurse in the Ramsgate General Hospital in England during the period 1914–15 and “actually nursed Belgian women and children refugees who were the victims of ...

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7. Sexual and Nonsexual Violence Against “Politicized Women” in Central Europe After the Great War

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pp. 122-136

Fictional and embedded within a tragic love story, the killing of the Bolshevik partisan Sophie von Reval by the young German officer Erich von Lhomond during the German Freikorps’ Baltic campaign of 1919–20 remains one of the most widely known accounts of paramilitary violence against women in the immediate...

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8. The “Big Rape”: Sex and Sexual Violence, War, and Occupation in Post-World War II Memory and Imagination

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pp. 137-151

The defeated Reich that the victors encountered in the spring of 1945 wore a predominantly female face. German men had been killed, wounded, or taken prisoner, leaving women to clean the ruins, scrounge for material survival, and serve the occupiers, often as sexual partners and victims.1 After years of remarkable inattention since the 1950s, and provoked in part by ...

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9. War as History, Humanity in Violence: Men, Women, and Memories of 1971, East Pakistan/Bangladesh

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pp. 152-169

“One of my brothers was politically involved in the liberation struggle. This enraged our Bengali and Bihari neighbors. One afternoon, five men stormed into our house. They were Montu, Jewel, and Ghyas Babu from our neighborhood, and two others from outside our colony.1 Several Pakistani soldiers were also with them. They shot and killed my elderly grandfather and...

IV. Law and Civilization

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10. The Theory and Practice of Female Immunity in the Medieval West

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pp. 173-188

My opening quotation comes from The Tree of Battles, a treatise on warfare written by Honoré de Bonet around 1387.1 Bonet begins his work with a fundamental question: what is war? “I answer . . . that war is nothing other than discord or conflict that has arisen on account of certain things displeasing to the human will, to the end that such conflict...

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11. Law, War, and Women in Seventeenth-Century England

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pp. 189-201

In modern accounts of dismaying actions, whether in war, civil unrest, or mere everyday violence, we are familiar with a standard trope that is intended to heighten both the horror of the actions and our sense that those who commit them are outside the ranks of decent and humane people. It is so familiar and routine that it has probably lost much of its power. We read ...

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12. “Unlawfully and Against Her Consent”: Sexual Violence and the Military During the American Civil War

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pp. 202-214

Sexual violence has been a ubiquitous part of warfare since the beginning of recorded time. From ancient myths and wars to modern conflicts, the dehumanization and punishment of a conquered people have included sexual violence against the enemy’s women, and sometimes its men. Until recently, the American Civil War has been considered an anomaly to this pattern of ...

V. Toward an International Human Rights Framework

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13. Legal Responses to World War II Sexual Violence: The Japanese Experience

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pp. 217-231

Since the establishment of international criminal tribunals in the 1990s, legal scholars, human rights experts, and policy makers have debated the significance of international prosecution not only in meting out punishment to grave human rights violators but also in achieving “restorative justice.” Certain researchers such as Mark Osiel have explored the educational ...

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14. Toward Accountability for Violence Against Women in War: Progress and Challenges

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pp. 232-256

Since the 1990s, sexualized violence has drawn international attention as particularly gruesome, atrocious, widespread, and systematic in many conflicts. This includes the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Liberia, Peru, Guatemala, and more recently the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and Uganda. Although rape has been, ...


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pp. 257-319

List of Contributors

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pp. 321-324


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pp. 325-340

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pp. 341-342

From its inception, this book has benefited from intellectual, administrative, and financial contributions from many individuals and institutions. In spring 2006, the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights hosted a conference that provided the inspiration for this volume. Center staff members Amy Weismann and Liz Crooks put tremendous energy into organizing the ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812204346
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812243185

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights
Series Editor Byline: Bert B. Lockwood, Jr., Series Editor See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 793012555
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones

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Subject Headings

  • Rape as a weapon of war -- History.
  • Women -- Crimes against -- History.
  • Women (International law).
  • Women -- Violence against -- History.
  • Women and war -- History.
  • War crimes -- History.
  • War victims -- History.
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