- Sexual Violence During War and Peace: Gender, Power, and Post Conflict Justice: Gender, Power, and Post-Conflict Justice in Peru by Jelke Boesten
In her book Sexual Violence During War and Peace Gender, Power, and Post Conflict Justice, Jelke Boesten exposes the blurred lines between wartime and peacetime rape by presenting the case study of Peru.
This ambitious book attempts to cover quite a bit of territory as it approaches the problem of sexual violence from many directions including relying on a remarkably wide range of sources to triangulate a qualitative analysis of the author’s original research and secondary sources, including Peruvian novels.
Building on established critical theories regarding sexual violence, Boesten makes her contribution by sharing rich information contained in the archives of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (PTRC), which was formed in 2001 to address the country’s twenty years internal armed conflict (1980 to 2000). Notably the PTRC was one of the first truth commissions to streamline a gender perspective, which included a public hearing dedicated to sexual violence, and thus warrants this type of in-depth study to shed new light on theories of sexual violence.
Indeed, in analyzing the work of the PTRC, Boesten joins a long line of scholars in rejecting the “rape as a weapon of war” thesis. Instead, the work of the PTRC further confirms that rape during violent conflict includes many different purposes including opportunism and entertainment, rape by neighbors or family members, and forced prostitution that in many ways replicated patterns of violence which pre-dated the war. Boesten reminds the reader that wartime sexual violence does not happen solely because of individual pathologies but rather from “rape regimes” that arise out of pre-existing normative frameworks that “naturalizes” and “normalizes” structural gender ideologies, racism, and classism which are further entrenched by war.1 Her main concern is that focusing on the rape-as-a-weapon-of-war script misdirects the focus of transitional justice by overlooking the historical structural hierarchies just mentioned and how they should be challenged and reformed.
Boesten suggests that changing entrenched sexual discrimination begins [End Page 260] by ending impunity for war time sex crimes, such as through prosecutions as required by international law. Yet, despite the recommendation of the PTRC to follow this course, few cases of sexual violence in Peru have led to convictions, despite persuasive evidence of serious criminal behavior. The risk is that a message “reverberate[s] in homes and on the streets” which suggests that sexual violence will not be taken seriously and is not a human rights violation.2 This situation only reinforces social norms that tolerate and even condone sexual violence.
Boesten attempts to unpack the puzzle of impunity by analyzing eight cases of rape presented to the Peruvian Public Minister, but which were eventually closed. She discovers a paradox: the same permissive normative framework that encourages sex crimes also impedes holding perpetrators accountable. The legal arguments made by Peruvian judges often reflect institutional sexism and racism that arise out of many assumptions about gender, sex, and sexuality, which create a “rape script” through which the evidence is screened. For example, Peruvian law allows a criminal charge to be dropped if the soldier married the victim. Or prosecutors may fail to distinguish coercion in cases where women exercised agency to barter sex for freedom for themselves or loved ones.
Boesten attributes some failure to the simple lack of institutional capacity—of resources, as well as knowledge, skills, and training needed to prosecute these complex and sensitive cases. For example, by treating wartime rape as a common crime rather than a crime against humanity prosecutors must apply statutes of limitations that bar the proceedings. Or prosecutors claim there is a lack of evidence although they have victims’ testimony and Peruvian law does not require corroborating evidence. In some instances, they fail to identify perpetrators due to the use of military nicknames. Documents and evidence go missing. Corruption undermines accountability...