VIOLENCE FORUM: Enemies Within: Silence and Wartime Rape at Home and Abroad

December 16, 2008 posted by admin What does a skills training center for women in Sierra Leone, a village in Rwanda and an entire district in the Democratic Republic of Congo have in common? At each location, you are likely to find that the majority -- in some cases nearly all -- of the women and girls have been raped. What do women in these African countries have in common with women in the United States military? Silence and Inaction. A recent article reported that more than 37 women GIs in Iraq have experienced sexual violence at the hands of their own comrades: “The women…have reported poor medical treatment, lack of counseling and incomplete criminal investigations by military officials. Some say they were threatened with punishment after reporting assaults.”

  Comparing sexual violence within the U.S. military to global cases of wartime rape is a reminder that rape during armed conflict happens in multiple contexts, whether perpetrated by enemies or comrades, and in startlingly high numbers. The incidence among American GIs indicates that sexual violence, including rape, can be committed not only by enemy soldiers but also by ‘enemies within.’ It also begs the question: What message is the US military and its government sending out about wartime sexual violence when its own women soldiers are not only facing sexual violence from within but also dealing with stigma, and retribution for breaking silence on this issue? Global statistics on wartime rape are difficult to determine and are almost always grossly under-estimated. Some current estimates of wartime rapes in recent conflicts include:       The Balkan war - 20,000-35,000       Rwandan genocide - 200,000-500,000       The civil war in Sierra Leone - 200,000-250,000 On paper, the last decade has been a boon for advocates of accountability in cases of violence committed against women during war. Wartime rape and sexual slavery have now been set into international law as crimes against humanity and prosecuted for the first time in history. Despite some progress in confronting impunity, rape continues to be used as a systemic tool of war in on-going conflicts, like the one in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and remains a concern for U.S. women soldiers. This must be the generation that not only recognizes wartime rape as one of the gravest crimes against humanity but that also acts to reduce its prevalence during conflict and among military personnel. The US can take a leadership role on this issue, but not before it looks within its own ranks and shows the world that it is taking effective measures to prevent and prosecute sexual violence and rape from within. --Megan MacKenzie, Belfer Center for International Security and the Women and Public Policy Program, Harvard University This post is part of a forum


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Response to Martha Shelley post. If we are to use your argument, or acceptance, for the continual abuse against woman by military forces because "Rape has always been a military tactic, and women considered the spoils of war, from earliest history it" then it could also be argued that it is acceptable to take slaves, kill off entire populations, torture prisoners and local populations, steal food and resources, annex land, steal all of a countries art, separate married couples, execute political leaders, etc... for all of these have been military tactics and the "spoils of war." History does not deem what is "acceptable" or should be permitable without consequence, in this case being charged and punished through a court system. It is what our society deems acceptable that determines what we will allow to occur in both our military forces and in our names when "our" military is sent off. Therefor, though it is fair to be skeptical of a military force that does not mistreat, abuse, or rape woman it is not fair, nor an argument at all, to give credit to these actions because it has been considered "the spoils of war, from earliest history." Anyone who has resisted change has always quoted how things have "always" been done. only those who require change and insist on furthering the development and equality of a society choose to focus on what the future could be, not on what the past has been. In that vain, Martha, I leave you with a quote regarding the womans suffrage movement "Allowing women to vote would jeopardize the nation's security and lead ultimately to war. Allowing women to vote would lead to foreign aggression and war." (Mayor) Thankfully those who fought for equality were not swayed by history.
The purpose of the military is to commit violence. Rape has always been a military tactic, and women considered the spoils of war, from earliest history. I am extremely skeptical that you can have a military organization without violence against women.