What is rape as a weapon of war?

Rape as a weapon of war is often committed in public and with brutal violence, targeting civilians. It involves gang rape and rape with objects and weapons. The systematic use of rape as a weapon of war includes other forms of sexual violence, such as sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization/abortion, sexual mutilation and sexual torture. Moreover, it is recognized that this definition is gender neutral, and does not preclude the existence of female perpetrators or male victims. Rape will be be considered a crime against humanity when it is part of a widespread or systematic attack against a given civilian population. Rape will be considered a war crime when it takes place in the context of an international armed conflict.

Rape is about power

Rape is about power. It is a way to exert power and instil fear in victims and their community. While international legislation does not often address the use of rape as a weapon of war, the Security Council Resolution of 19 June states that, “women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or an ethnic group.

Even though a common misconception about rape is that it is a result of ‘uncontrolled sexual desire’, the link between rape and power cannot be ignored. Rape as a weapon of war is first and foremost a strategy to demoralize and destabilize an entire community. Rape is also used to gain information, in detention for example, and during ethnic cleansing, rape is used to systematically attack the lineage of a group. Some armed- or terrorist groups use rape and sexual slavery as a means of attracting and retaining fighters.

Rape isn’t just an attack on a woman’s body

Rape as a weapon of war is used against women, men, girls and boys. The position of women as second-class citizens in a patriarchal society, however, makes them extra vulnerable. Furthermore, women are often seen as property of men. Rape is considered to be an attack not only on the woman’s body, but on the men in her life whose masculinity is questioned, on her children who are often forced to witness the violence, and on the entire community that was unable to protect her.