Sexual Rights as Human Rights: Resituating Feminist Analysis of Sexual Violence in Wartime

Jennifer Gaboury. Women and Politics around the World: A Comparative History and Survey. Editor: Joyce Gelb & Marian Lief Palley. Volume 1: Issues. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2009.

The slogan “women’s rights as human rights” developed from feminist efforts to highlight issues that affect women but had been largely neglected by human rights movements and the United Nations. Similarly, the term “rape as a weapon of war” has become a part of human rights discourse through a campaign to prosecute war criminals combatants who sexually assaulted civilian women. Within the larger field of human rights work, specific women’s issues still need to be addressed, and yet understanding women as a discrete group requiring specific protections to address historic and systemic discrimination is not always the best way to approach this problem. As work within the field known as sexual rights has expanded in recent years, it is important to turn to dimensions of women’s human rights work to see how they may be understood in a broader context. Sexual violence in wartime is, of course, one of many issues within women’s human rights advocacy; historically, it has been neglected and treated as a secondary issue in the face of other combat-related atrocities.

Sexuality is intertwined with many other aspects of people’s lives. Sexual rights, in turn, involve other rights-based claims. As Alice Miller has articulated, they are a constellation of interconnected issues: “sexual violence against women, sexual and reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, gay, lesbian and transgender identity movements and children’s rights” (2005). What has emerged is a human rights discourse demanding recognition of the body’s needs, including safety, health, and pleasure (Petchesky, 2005: 303). The grouping of particular sexual rights is a strategy that resists the reduction of such violations to any one particular identity or group. Debates about identity politics that preoccupied scholars in the past several decades remain peripheral within human rights work. What activists have learned from identity politics wars in the academy informs the development of a sexual rights framework that seeks to resituate rights claims of different communities such that they are intertwined and dependent on each other for success. Human rights analysis is too often conducted under disparate banners of identity politics. Is a woman who suffers sexual violence in Darfur targeted because of her sex, or is she victimized because of a combination of sex, race, religion, and ethnic identity? Such resituation of identity-based claims within feminism enables activists not only to act in solidarity with other victims but also to better understand the perpetrators and the institutional practices that generate sexual violence. Such an approach would help people better understand the broad nature of such violations and better address their root causes.

This is a vast topic that will be discussed in five parts. First, the issue of women’s rights as human rights will be discussed. This will be followed by discussions of rape within the military, sexual violence against men, sexual violence at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and finally sexual violence in wartime. These topics were selected to provide the reader with an overview of the problems associated with sexual violence and women’s rights as human rights.

Women’s Rights as Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees everyone “all the rights and freedoms set forth without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status” (United Nations, 1948). If this is true, why then is there a need for more specific protections? In cases of discrimination based on sexual identity, gender, race, ethnicity, disability, class, or religion, the lower the social status of the victims, the more likely their claims will be ignored, even by human rights activists. When multiple forms of discrimination converge, it is difficult for victims to escape and seek redress. Sexual rights are not always considered within the framework of mainstream human rights as such topics are considered unspeakable or shameful, even by some human rights activists.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was created to eradicate any “distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on the basis of equality between men and women, of human rights or fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” It further prohibits “any act of gender-based violence that results in … physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life” (United Nations, 1979). Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights includes a right to sexual health, education, and freedom as well as the right to control the terms by which one engages in sex. For example, in more than 80 countries, governments have made consensual sex between same-sex partners illegal; the same countries often restrict consensual premarital or extramarital sex between heterosexual couples.

Although protections have been secured on paper, meeting such standards has been the work of women’s human rights activists since the late 1990s. In 1949, the Geneva Conventions on the Protection of Civilians in Time of War marked the first time international law addressed sexual violations. Protocol II forbids “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, rape, enforced prostitution, and any form of indecent assault” (Geneva Conventions, 1949). In 2000, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1325, which calls on parties to respect the rights of women and girls, particularly civilians, in armed conflict. The resolution acknowledged the existence of such acts and marked the first time the council acted to protect women in armed conflict.

Surveying sexual violence in wartime in the 20th century, both German and Allied soldiers raped women civilians in World War II; Japanese soldiers forced between 100,000 and 200,000 women into sexual slavery (Donohoe, 2004). In Vietnam, where rape was commonly used by both armies, U.S. soldiers raped and left “wasted” Vietnamese girls, leaving them with U.S. military insignias placed between their open legs (Brownmiller, 1975: 105). Rape has also been a systematic part of armed conflicts in such places as Somalia, Kenya, Congo, Sierra Leone, Kashmir, Peru, Haiti, Burma, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Central America. Women and girls constitute well more than half of all refugees and internally displaced persons and are vulnerable to sexual violence by security forces, border guards, smugglers, and other refugees. War brings an increased risk of abduction, trafficking, slavery, and harassment. Sexual health, including access to information and education, is largely sidelined.

Rape is seen not as collateral damage in relation to other forms of violence, but as one of many strategies deployed in a war whose targets are generally, but not always, civilians. Rape and other forms of violence are used to terrorize and immobilize communities. Yanar Mohammed, the founder of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, identifies the killings that have taken place in Basra since armed conflict began in 2003 as part of an effort “to restrain women into the domestic domain and end all female participation in the social and political scene” (Madre, 2008). Further, Amnesty International, reporting on wartime violence against women in Guatemala, finds that it “carries with it a perverse message: women should abandon the public space they have won at much personal and social effort and shut themselves back up in the private world, abandoning their essential role in national development” (Amnesty International, 2005a).

Rape carries with it numerous secondary effects, such as the shunning of victims by family members because of the stigma of sexual assault, forced pregnancies, and the spread of diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Forced pregnancies occur when, after acts of rape, abortion services are legally denied, practically obstructed, or not acceptable to the victims themselves on religious or cultural grounds (Cook and Fathalla, 1996: 117). During war, forced pregnancy is used tactically to punish a people by compelling its civilian women to give birth and raise their enemy’s children. In Rwanda, it is estimated that 5,000 children were conceived through rape during the 1994 genocide. They are known as enfants mauvais souvenir, or children of bad memories, and there have been reports of abandonment and infanticide of these children (Schull and Shanks, 2000: 7). Since 2003, in the Darfur region of Sudan, thousands of girls and women have been raped, beaten, and killed by government-backed Janjawid militia and other armed troops. In many cases, these attacks are staged to be witnessed by husbands, other family members, or people in their community. Women and children have been abducted in Darfur and forced into sexual slavery in camps (Amnesty International, 2005b).

Although sexual violence increases dramatically during wartime, the corresponding rate of prosecutions that successfully make it to courts-martial do not (Amnesty International, 2005b). As John Braithwaite writes:

Warlords have a military interest in being willfully blind to rape by the young men they command. Should they lose the war, they do not want to be tainted with the knowledge of the rapes, so they look the other way. They know rape is viewed as a just reward by some of their most useful warriors, or as just retribution for those they conquer. And even if rape is not a conscious strategy for driving civilians out or for persuading them against helping the enemy, commanders are well aware that rape works in instilling fear and flight. (2006, 8)

Human rights groups agree that ending the culture of impunity around sexual violence is critical in curbing sexual violence in wartime. In contemporary warfare, combatants will often refuse to agree to a cease-fire until they are “promised amnesty from prosecution, often including for rape” (Braithwaite 2006a, 6). The campaign to recognize rape as a weapon of war took a step forward in 1997 with passage of the Rome Statute, which created the International Criminal Court (ICC) and included sexual violence, such as rape, forced pregnancy, and sexual slavery, as crimes against humanity when committed as part of a coordinated, systematic attack on civilians. Before the ICC, the International Criminal Tribunal Yugoslavia (ICTY) and International Criminal Tribunal Rwanda (ICTR) were among the few bodies to have prosecuted sexual assault and torture. Even there, despite the identification of thousands of perpetrators in Yugoslavia, only 90 cases were prosecuted. Using pregnancy statistics, Human Rights Watch estimated that between 250,000 to 500,000 women were likely raped in Rwanda (Human Rights Watch 1996). The ICTR received much acclaim for the landmark Akayesu decision, where, for the first time, a defendant was convicted of rape as an instrument of genocide. It was also the first time a rapist was convicted for crimes against humanity. Yet there has also been widespread disappointment at failures to investigate allegations of rape and unsuccessful prosecutions of the ICTR. In 2007, the ICC’s chief prosecutor office began compiling evidence on sexual atrocities that took place in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003, where the number of rapes likely exceeded the number of murders. At the time of writing, the ICC was also considering bringing cases against perpetrators of sexual violence in Liberia and Darfur.

Under the Geneva Conventions, countries are obliged to protect civilians from sex-based violence, and are grossly underprepared to uphold this responsibility. Yifat Susskind, of the women’s human rights organization Madre, points out that many civilian women in Iraq are being killed in sectarian violence by troops trained by U.S. forces (2007) . Iraqi organizations such as Occupation Watch, Women’s Rights Association, and the Iraqi National Association of Human Rights, have documented extensive sexual violations within Iraqi jails and police custody (Human Rights Watch and Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, 2008). Sectarian Shiite militias, attempting to establish an Islamic theocracy after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, have conducted campaigns of violence that include widespread sexual rights violations. It is not surprising that such charges have been made against the Iraqi National Police when one takes into account their training. DynCorp, a private contractor hired to train Iraq’s fledgling police force, has an appalling record when it comes to sexual violence—not only in policing such acts but also as a perpetrator. When DynCorp was hired in the 1990s to train police in the Balkans, Human Rights Watch found that its employees committed sexual violence against women, including “owning” young women as slaves. A DynCorp site supervisor videotaped himself raping two women, and in spite of this evidence the contractor never faced criminal charges (Human Rights Watch, 2002).

Rape within the Military

Sexual degradation in warfare takes place in a variety of locations, not only as a force unleashed on civilian populations but also within the military itself. The Miles Foundation, which is dedicated to assisting victims of military violence, identified 384 cases as of 2005 of sexual assault on female U.S. soldiers in current operations in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Bahrain (Miles, 2005). The U.S. military’s response to these reports indicates that such infractions are not taken seriously and many known perpetrators receive honorable discharges. Unit cohesion within the military is valued and reporting sexual violence is discouraged. Paradoxically, the argument that the presence of female soldiers is “distracting” or that they are not able to bond as well as men is cited as a reason women should not serve in combat forces alongside men. Military hospitals in war zones often lack the proper supplies to treat victims of sexual violence, including the rape kits necessary to document the crime, HIV tests, and emergency contraception pills (Aguilar, 2006).

The Reverend Dorothy Mackey, a retired U.S. Air Force captain and executive director of Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel, recounted the way her report of sexual assault was treated. Her case was never prosecuted because a Justice Department attorney claimed the case could not be brought to trial for reasons of “national security,” and that to do so would be “contrary to good order, morale and discipline in the military.” Mackey points outs that the Bush administration pointed to “rape rooms” in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq when making the case for war, and yet “in the same breath and lack of action, our own military leadership are free to rape at absolute carte blanche, … We must hold the government accountable for refusing to deal with this issue” (Aguilar, 2006). Denver Post reporter Miles Moffeit uncovered cases such as the following: a specialist who confessed to having committed sexual assault was assigned additional duties and fined $575; a master sergeant was reprimanded, but not charged criminally, after two separate attacks on the same woman; and when military investigators recommended the prosecution of a soldier for sexually assaulting a private while she slept in her tent in Kuwait, he was instead issued an “administrative penalty” (Moffeit, 2005).

Such cases are not, of course, limited to the women serving in the U.S. military. In 2007, the Israeli Defense Force warned women soldiers to drink from sealed containers because of the rise in incidents of sexual violence involving so-called “date rape drugs” (Oren, 2007).

The sexual exploitation of child soldiers, both boys and girls, is extremely common in conflicts across Africa, the Americas, South and Southeast Asia, and Europe. In Latin America, for example, girls often voluntarily join armed struggles, unaware that they will likely be sexually assaulted. A female soldier in Honduras explained: “At the age of 13, I joined the student movement. I had a dream to contribute to make things change, so that children would not be hungry … later I joined the armed struggle. I found that girls were obliged to have sexual relations ‘to alleviate the sadness of the combatants.’ And who alleviated our sadness after going with someone we hardly know?” (Alfredson, 2001).

Sexual Violence Against Men

Using a sexual rights framework, the scope of sexual violence and the way it functions becomes clear with an examination of the connections between hegemonic conceptions of masculinity, militarism, sexism, racism, and homophobia. Feminists have pointed to the ways in which military cultures and hypermasculinity reinforce each other, similar to what takes place in institutions like police forces (Enloe, 2000). In making the case to understand how sexual violence affects men, the intention of such work is not, as Petchesky contends, to “repudiate feminist visions but rather to challenge the exclusive privileging of women as the bearers of sexual rights and to open up discussion of new, more inclusive coalitions of diverse social movements for rights of the body” (2005, 302). Some women’s human rights advocates have unintentionally reinforced a strict dynamic that casts women as victims and men as perpetrators of sexual violence, rendering other forms of assault invisible. Better comprehension of male victims of sexual violence alters how we view female victims—as well as female perpetrators—and brings us closer to addressing the causes of sexual violence in wartime.

In most cultures around the globe, heteronormative conceptions of masculinity discourage men from acknowledging and discussing sexual assault, describing physical vulnerability, and sharing even everyday emotions. Sexual violence against men, both in the military and beyond, is far more common than is generally assumed and often takes place in the context of what is understood to be treating them “like women,” that is, as a sexually degraded object. Mary Ann Tétreault writes, “Indeed, they are feminized—unmanned—by the gaze of their captors who strip them, scrutinize and manipulate their bodies, taunt them, and create pornography out of their humiliation by taking pictures of them” (2006). In ancient Greece, the rape of men, similar to that of women, was an extension of a military victory. There was a belief among many that a captured man, once sexually penetrated, could no longer function as a soldier or ruler. Agnes Inderhaug, who led the ICTY’s Sexual Assault Investigation Team, describes testimony from male soldiers in the former Yugoslavia “who were forced to rape and sexually assault other men, forced to perform fellatio and other sexual acts on guards and each other, suffered castrations, circumcisions, and other sexual mutilations” (Carlson, 1997: 129). After this pioneering work conducted by the ICTY, it is disappointing to see little evidence of such attention in work on sexual violence in contemporary conflicts beyond the spectacle surrounding the events at Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

Before the conflict in Yugoslavia, groundbreaking research was conducted in Chile, Greece, and El Salvador on sexual violence against men in wartime. A study of 434 male political prisoners in El Salvador revealed that 76 percent of them had been sexually assaulted (Oosterhoof, Ketting, and Zwanikken 2004). Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma in Baltimore is one of a growing field of independent war trauma centers that have been set up in the United States in response to an influx of asylum seekers from war-torn countries. The United States is home to an estimated 500,000 torture survivors from such countries as Somalia, Burma, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Liberia. And the Baltimore clinic treating such victims reports that 60 percent of the male clients they treat have been raped (Newall, 2007). Available evidence from the U.S. military suggests approximately 12,500 men in the military are the victims of rape or attempted rape each year. Part of the problem is that male victims of sexual assault lack advocates: “Despite the fact that most perpetrators of male-male sexual violence in the military are heterosexual and many victims identify as gay, most LGBT organizations rarely mention male-male rape or assault, even in the context of opposing gay abuse in the armed forces” (Belkin, 2008: 180).

The phrase male rape underscores what has been understood culturally and in the law: women are vulnerable, penetrable objects and men are the perpetrators of such violence who cannot be raped. Broader studies of the sexual abuse and rape of boys and men frequently uncovers a denial that males can be raped (Holter, 2002: 20). Therapists at the Centre for Psychotrauma reported that they not only found it difficult to address sexual violence with male patients, but one such therapist said she had “not believed that men could be raped” until a victim was brought into the center when he was bleeding from the anus (Oosterhoof, Ketting, and Zwanikken 2004, 7). Rape counselors have been known to respond to allegations of such violence as “homosexual lover’s spats” rather than cases of sexual assault (Sloan, 1992; Oosterhoof, Ketting, and Zwanikken, 2004). When it is recognized, sexual assault against men is routinely mischaracterized as consisting solely of anal penetration; however, some severe cases have resulted in castration. As such, in human rights work, it is common to see the sexual violation of men’s bodies classified more generally as torture or abuse. A recent report by the National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder found that because of issues of shame, men are even less likely than women to report or seek treatment following sexual assault (Street and Stafford n.d.). Some researchers on male sexual assault are interested in how feelings of helplessness and guilt “explain why so few victims later took personal revenge on their torturers” (Vorbrüggen and Baer, 2007: 7). It is common for men who have been sexually violated to report anxiety about their masculinity and sexual identity. As with other victims of sexual assault, psychosomatic symptoms are common, including stomach aches, dizziness, vomiting, and headaches. After sexual assault, many men experience impotence, pain during intercourse, anxiety attacks, and an inability to tolerate conflict. In an article on the rape of men in war, Hilmi Zawati concludes that the rape of men in war is “predominantly an assertion of power and aggression rather than an expression of satisfying the perpetrator’s sexual desire.” But feminists who work on issues of sexual violence have long known that one is not able to definitively separate sexual violence as aggression apart from gratification. And indeed, some men who have been sexually violated report being ashamed and confused as they experienced sexual arousal during the attack (Oosterhoof, Ketting, and Zwanikken 2004, 74-75).

Sexual Violence at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo

The sexual violence and torture of prisoners is not a new phenomenon. In recent years, attention has been very focused on the United States because of scandals at U.S.-run detention facilities at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. These scandals captured the world’s attention and shone a spotlight on the ways in which sexual violence is embedded in an array of military practices. It is important to reiterate that though current discussions focus almost exclusively on American abuses, these are examples of a broader problem.

In April 2004, photos depicting torture and sexual abuse at the correctional facility in Baghdad were made public on a broadcast of the CBS program 60 Minutes II. Allegations compiled from reports in The Washington Post and The New York Times indicated that military police raped female detainees—in at least one instance this was described not as rape but as a soldier “having sex with” a female detainee; male detainees were coerced to masturbate in front of female soldiers; detainees were sodomized with a baton; ropes were tied to detainees and they were dragged across the floor; detainees were arranged into sexually degrading positions and photographed; groups of male detainees were forced to masturbate and videotaped; guards urinated on detainees; phosphoric acid was poured on detainees; male detainees were dressed in women’s undergarments; detainees were arranged naked into a pile and jumped on by soldiers; a naked detainee was stood on equipment with an empty sandbag over his head and wires were then attached to fingers, toes, and penis as part of electrical torture; animal collars and leashes were placed around detainees necks to pose for pictures (Higham and Stephens, 2004; Zernike, 2005; Greenberg and Dratel, 2005: 416). Additional photos and videos were made available privately to members of Congress by the Pentagon that are said to have shown “dogs snarling at cowering prisoners,” Iraqi women forced to expose their bodies, prisoners forced to have sex with each other, and U.S. military guards having sex in front of the prisoners.

At least eight detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay have alleged that female interrogators used humiliating sexual tactics in the course of interrogation, violating Muslim sexual norms by rubbing their bodies against the detainees, wearing revealing clothing, making sexual remarks, and touching the detainees in a sexual manner. One testified that a female interrogator “stripped off pieces of her uniform and writhed on top of him. She also reached down into her pants and pulled her hands up covered with a reddish substance that she said was menstrual blood, but was likely paint. She then smeared it on the detainee” (Bazelon, Carter, and Lithwick, 2005 ). A military investigator explained that they used sexually oriented tactics to shock and offend Muslim prisoners in order to “find the key that will get someone to talk to them. Using things that are culturally repulsive is okay as long as it doesn’t extend to something prohibited by the Geneva Conventions” (Leonnig and Priest, 2005 ). Tétreault notes that in the hoopla around women guards and interrogators, the victims have been lost. She writes, “Reporters and commentators fastened their attention on the women, deflecting attention from both those who organized the torture events and those who endured them” (2006, 41).

On the subject of women committing acts of sexual degradation, violence, and torture at Abu Ghraib, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote:

A certain kind of feminism died in Abu Ghraib. It was a feminism that saw men as the perpetual perpetrators, women as the perpetual victims and male sexual violence against women as the root of all injustice. Rape has repeatedly been an instrument of war and, to some feminists, it was beginning to look as if war was an extension of rape. There seemed to be at least some evidence that male sexual sadism was connected to our species’ tragic propensity for violence. That was before we had seen female sexual sadism in action. (2004)

She concludes that feminist strategies about sexual violence have to change, including rethinking what seem to be tacit assumptions about women’s moral superiority when it comes to committing acts of violence. She calls for “a tough new kind of feminism with no illusions,” demonstrating the ways in which the principle of equality does not necessarily deliver social justice (Ehrenreich, 2004). It is not enough to point to patriarchy, misogyny, and sexual difference when seeking to explain the causes of sexual violence. To locate those causes, we must attend to the instances, even if they are in the minority, where men are violated and where women are the aggressors. There is a kind of perverse parity in that.

Understanding the Causes of Sexual Violence in Wartime

Taking account of both female and male victims of assault better explains why rape in wartime occurs in the first place, connecting what happens inside the military and on the battlefield. Such work indicates that the hypermasculine behavior characteristic of military norms is culturally produced and sexual violence is not simply the result of culturally engrained misogyny. The particular conditions of warfare can stimulate such violence, and even societies with low rates of sexual violence in peacetime witness widespread sexual aggression of soldiers in combat. Studies show that interpersonal and sexual violence is connected to shoring up one’s masculinity when it is threatened in wartime situations, which make soldiers vulnerable. As Henry, Ward, and Hirshberg explain, “When men are fighting each other, the quest to prove ‘manliness’ is assigned considerable importance and … the sexual exploitation of women can serve as a means of reinforcing insecure and defensive masculinity during warfare” (2004).

Part of the solution to this problem is that greater attention should be paid to the conditions that create sexual perpetrators. The intent of military training is to break down a person’s defenses and remake him or her into a responsive soldier. Soldiers are “forged in the crucible of the hazing process” (McCoy, 1995: 681). Carol Burke, a former civilian professor at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, argues that the military would have to address practices of hazing that are used to turn civilians into soldiers. “Typically,” Burke explains, “military rituals—like fraternity rituals—take the initiate into this dark underworld where they’re deprived of sleep, infantilized and feminized…. Simulated sex is not unusual.” She points out further that a violent atmosphere functions dangerously like a kind of pressure cooker; in the outside world, someone can exit a situation if things become too difficult, but this is not the case for a soldier (Hansen, 2004). Burke connected sexualized hazing that is a part of military training to events such as the Tailhook scandal in 1991, where soldiers formed a gauntlet and groped at women who were trying to get down the hall, treating them in a way that resembled what male trainees experience in a “crossing-the-line ceremony.” Similarly, in the Russian army, where troops are conscripted, hazing and sexual abuse of subordinate young soldiers by officers is common, and some male soldiers reported that they were forced into prostitution in St. Petersburg (Arnold, 2007).

Anthropologist Roland Littlewood connects sexual violence to coping with issues of wartime stress:

[A]nxiety and fear are not the general conditions for men to become sexually aroused—as any sex therapist can tell us. Yet sexual assault … is not something that occurs in the heat of battle … but in a reaction to the period of danger afterwards, as in the notion of the spoils of warfare which include the “rewards” of alien women. In psychophysiological studies, the period after sustained anxiety or exertion is frequently one of significantly decreased anxiety and loss of inhibition … Soldiers themselves view sexual relations as countering battle anxiety. McManners suggests that rape as an effective “coping style” was endorsed by American army chaplains and psychiatrists in Vietnam. (1997, 12)

Further, rape functions like “heavy consumption of alcohol, particularly likely after one’s own comrades’ deaths” (McManners, 1994: 115). The trauma of war, as Braithwaite writes, interrupts the “unthinkableness of rape” (2006, 2). Under such conditions, soldiers are transformed into different men than they are in peacetime, doing things they would normally think of as monstrous and inhuman (Henry, Ward, and Hirshberg, 2004).


Sexual violence has largely been understood as a concern of women and should be resituated within a cross-cutting rubric of sexual rights that will not only reach beyond the politics of identity for groups with overlapping claims to work together but will also enable people to better understand how sexual freedom and pleasure might flourish. While gendered analysis has enlarged to take on issues of men’s lives and masculinity, some feminists have hesitated out of fear that women’s issues will sidelined (Bricker-Jenkins and Hyde, 1995). What should be considered is that not only are male victims of sexual violence currently not being adequately identified and treated but the causes of sexual violence in wartime are not sufficiently understood and addressed as well. Women’s rights analysis must be able to account for the female perpetrator, as well as the male victim, even if they constitute a minority of rights violations, as they are part of the same phenomena. Curbing sexual violence requires understanding the ways in which men, women, and institutional practices must be transformed simultaneously.