Mass Rape Essay

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Mass rape is the use of rape as a war strategy. In a military conflict, armies and paramilitaries plan systematic sexual assaults against women in enemy communities with the goal of demoralizing and terrorizing the enemy and driving them from their home regions. Mass rape as a war strategy is not new; there are numerous historical accounts dating back to ancient societies that include graphic descriptions of the systematic rape, enslavement, and sexual torture of enemy women as a state-supported warfare tactic. However, mass rape began to garner more public attention in 1993 as a result of two significant events. One event was the issuance of a report by the Japanese government admitting to the sexual enslavement of “foreign” women during World War II. Euphemistically called “comfort women,” these women were coerced into prostitution to provide sexual services for Imperial Army military personnel. It is estimated that 100,000–300,000 women were enslaved, most of whom were from South Korea, but others were from Indonesia, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and the Netherlands.

Also in 1993, media reports began to document the systematic rape, sexual enslavement, torture, and murder of Bosnian Muslim women and children by Serbian military forces in the former Yugoslavia. Although estimates vary, a commonly cited figure is that approximately 20,000 Muslim women were raped by Serbian soldiers. When mass rape is used as a warfare strategy, it often takes the form of rape-and-kill in which the victims are murdered following the sexual assault as if they themselves were enemy combatants. But in Bosnia, it appeared that mass rape was one of the strategies used in the Serbian ethnic cleansing campaign. That is, Bosnian men were murdered, but the women were raped for the purpose of impregnating them so that they would produce offspring with desirable genetic material.

Since 1993, human rights workers and other investigators have documented extensive state-supported violence against women, including gang rape by police and military personnel, in many countries including Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador, Iran, Rwanda, Kosovo, East Timor, Myanmar, and the Sudan. According to a recent UN report, however, the sexual violence in the Congo is among the worst in the world. There it has been reported that in some villages as many as 70% of the women residents have been brutally raped by raiding militias, whose only goal appears to be sexual assault and terror. The assailants sometimes rape the women with objects, such as bayonets and chunks of wood, causing severe internal injuries to the women’s reproductive and digestive systems.

Physicians and others in the Congo who have been interviewed regarding the mass rapes have been at a loss to explain why they occur. However, other observers argue that such atrocities occur because the assailants behave with impunity. Their actions are often secretly endorsed by military or government officials, or because their victims are women and women are highly devalued in many societies, their actions are not regarded as being as serious as other types of war crimes.

In 1994, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which calls on governments to condemn all forms of violence against women and to punish acts of violence against women, whether these acts are perpetrated by the state or by private individuals. The declaration also urges all member nations to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which includes provisions that in their effect impose sanctions for violence against women. (The United States remains the only industrialized country in the world that has not ratified this convention.) Nevertheless, despite these measures, mass rape and other forms of sexual abuse continue to be used by combatants as a warfare strategy.


  1. Allen, B. (1996). Rape warfare: The hidden genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  2. Barstow, A. L. (Ed.). (2001). War’s dirty secret: Rape, prostitution, and other crimes against women. Cleveland: Pilgrim Press.
  3. Brownmiller, S. (1975). Against our will. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  4. Gettelman, J. (2007, October 7). Rape epidemic raises trauma of Congo war. New York Times, pp. 1A, 11A.
  5. Schellstede, S. C. (Ed.). (2000). Comfort women speak: Testimony by sex slaves of the Japanese military. New York: Holmes & Meier.
  6. Stigilmayer, A. (Ed.). (1994). Mass rape: The war against women in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

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