Why is Rape Common in War? Ctd

Kim Murphy considers the notion that Victorian gender norms prevented rape in the US Civil War:

Historians, Murphy says, largely had the idea that the Victorian era was characterized by restraint, and therefore there was little rape. For example, she mentions a passage from Reid Mitchell’s book, The Vacant Chair: The Northern Soldier Leaves Home, which reads:

“Few northern soldiers raped…True manhood was characterized by sexual restraint not sexual assertion; even mutually agreeable intercourse would have threatened masculine identity. Letting anger toward women break out in unsanctioned violence against women would have been unmanly.”

“There were 109,397 cases of gonorrhea, and 73,382 cases of syphilis—and that’s just among the U.S. white troops; we don’t have the records for the Confederacy,” Murphy says. “Quite frankly, that doesn’t suggest restraint.”

Murphy thinks the Civil War rapes were largely crimes of opportunity:

Why does war, in general, tend to breed rape?

Because, basically, men can get away with it. Very few men are prosecuted for it during war, and commanders usually do not come down very hard on it.

In the book, I mention [a rape that occurred during] Sherman’s March, when the army was on the move. The victim did report it. But by the time the case made it to court martial, they were 100 miles away, so she could not testify.

So there’s a twofold challenge to detecting wartime rape in historical accounts. Just as in peacetime, “purity” norms made the women Murphy studied reluctant to report rape. But in war, reporting may not even be possible. Not only do militaries in combat often lack the luxury of due process and record keeping, but the nature of war means that existing records are sometimes destroyed.

That said, my experience suggests that rape is not a necessary consequence of war. Elisabeth Wood, professor of political science at Yale, takes a look at research that validates my hunch:

[Rape] is not the unavoidable collateral damage we tend to think it is.

recent study by the Peace Research Institute of Oslo of all forty-eight conflicts and all 236 armed groups – including state, rebel groups, and pro-government militias – in Africa between 1989 and 2009 found that 64 percent of armed groups were not reported to have engaged in any form of sexual violence.

..even after 2000, when wartime rape became a highly salient public issue actively investigated by NGOs, more than half of armed groups were not reported to have engaged in sexual violence.

Wood proposes some analytic categories of wartime rape:

Of course, many armed groups do engage in rape, sometimes on a massive scale, like the Bosnian Serb militias, Hutu forces during the Rwandan genocide, the Guatemalan military during the early years of its civil war, and many militias as well as state forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And some do so as an explicit strategy of war.

But not all groups do so as a strategy of war; some engage in a sustained pattern of rape that the chain of command tolerates but does not order. In those instances, rape becomes a practice rather than a strategy.

Where rape occurs as a practice, human rights groups, women’s groups and international actors may be more effective in persuading commanders to take more seriously the political and other costs of rape of civilians by their troops, if they do not assume commanders promote rape as a strategy.

Instead of framing rape as an inevitable outcome of war, by understanding which groups engage in sexual violence – and which do not – and what accounts for the difference, advocates and policy makers will be far better positioned to limit – and perhaps even to end – this scourge of war.

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