Sexual Violence: A War Against Women

Lisa Price’s article on sexual violence and ethnic cleansing in Thinking Differently discusses how and why institutional organizations, specifically the military, strategically use sexual violence during wartime.  Unlike murder and robbery, this creates a different type of destruction which destroys bonds between family members and the greater community, creates a cultural and/or religious hierarchy which establishes the oppressors as superior to all others, and traumatizes women by using sexual violence and reproductive control.  Sexual violence in wartime has been happening for centuries, but it was not until the late twentieth century that it was brought to the media’s attention.  However, sexual violence has been happening on a wide-scale outside of wartime for centuries and it is hardly discussed by the mainstream media.  Sexual violence against women is a tactic rooted in patriarchy used to dominate and control other human beings.

Price says, “Whatever national, ethnic or geopolitical forces may be at play, the baseline reality of sexual violence in war is that women are raped by men such that ‘tortured female bodies [are] translated into male power’ (Seifert 1996: 41)” (253).”  Although this is a very accurate assessment of rape during wartime, it is also applicable to rape outside of this context.  Rape is not a crime in which perpetrators are hoping to fulfill sexual desires.  In all of these situations, women’s bodies are not the target, but the commodity which helps men gain a sense of power and dominance.  In the process, women are violated and humiliated.

However, there are certain aspects of rape during wartime that distinguish these acts from those committed outside of this context.  First, rape during war time is often an “attack on the family.”  Women are often raped in front of their male relatives in order to strip these men of their pride and sense of duty as the “protector.”  The woman’s family often loses their honor and respect from the community.  Also, rapists during wartime often attempt to impregnate their victims in order to ensure of their race.

All incidents of rape are atrocious violations of human rights in which one person assumes they have the right to exert control over another.  However, we need to stop analyzing each case of sexual violence in wartime separately.  Price says that in cases of sexual violence during wartime, “Rape ceases to be an individual act… and becomes a national act” (264).  I completely agree with her, but feel we need to expand the framework with which we talk about issues of sexual violence.  Is rape really an individual act or are there greater, collective forces at play?  Women are not equal to men, in any sense.  Women’s oppression is engrained in the histories of most countries in the world and is still common today.  Dominant ideas about gender differences allow these inequalities to be written off as a natural phenomenon, but the justification of gender inequality is also evident on institutional, symbolic, and individual levels.  Rape, although not encouraged by society, falls into a greater category of male oppression of women.  Because gender inequality is so prevalent and engrained into our minds, most people rarely notice it.  Ultimately, rape ends up falling in the same category.

As Eve Ensler has stated, rape is part of a greater problem: a war against women.  She refers to women as the world’s most valuable natural resource that continues to be ignored and abused.  This issue needs to be framed differently so that rape can be understood as a perpetual problem resulting from a wide variety of factors.  We need to make these connections in order to link together different cultures, countries, and individuals.  Many international organizations specializing in development and democracy have stressed the importance of achieving gender equality and guaranteeing rights which are inherent to women.  Change will not come until we alter mainstream discourse on sex, gender, and sexuality.  This is not an easy undertaking, but we must work towards achieving these goals if we want to see improvements.

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