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War rapes are rapes committed by soldiers, other combatants or civilians during armed conflict or war, or during military occupation, distinguished from sexual assaults and rape committed amongst troops in military service.[1][2][3] It also covers the situation where women are forced into prostitution or sexual slavery by an occupying power, as in the case of Japanese comfort women during World War II.

During war and armed conflict, rape is frequently used as means of psychological warfare in order to humiliate the enemy and undermine their morale. War rape is often systematic and thorough, and military leaders may actually encourage their soldiers to rape civilians. War rape may occur in a variety of situations, including institutionalised sexual slavery, war rapes associated with specific battles or massacres, and individual or isolated acts of sexual violence. War rape may also include gang rape and rape with objects.

When part of a widespread and systematic practice, rape and sexual slavery are now recognized under the Geneva Convention as crimes against humanity and war crimes.[4] Rape is also now recognized as an element of the crime of genocide when committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a targeted group. However, rape remains widespread in conflict zones.

War rape and gender[]

Susan Brownmiller was the first historian to attempt an overview of rape in war with documentation and theory[5] . Brownmiller's thesis is that "War provides men with the perfect psychological backdrop to give vent to their contempt for women. The maleness of the military—the brute power of weaponry exclusive to their hands, the spiritual bonding of men at arms, the manly discipline of orders given and orders obeyed, the simple logic of the hierarchical command—confirms for men what they long suspect—that women are peripheral to the world that counts." She writes that rape accompanies territorial advance by the winning side in land conflicts as one of the spoils of war, and that "Men who rape are ordinary Joes, made unordinary by entry into the most exclusive male-only club in the world."


Kelly Dawn Askin observes that increasingly, the victims of war are civilians. An estimated forty-five million plus civilians died during World War II. Male and female civilians may be subject to torture, but many studies show that war rape is more frequently perpetrated on women than men.[7][8] This may be due to the reluctance of men to come forward with accusations of being raped, and also an institutional bias amongst NGOs, who frequently focus resources on female victims.[9] A 2010 Journal of the American Medical Association survey found that 22% of men and 30% of women in Eastern Congo had reported sexual violence connected to warfare.[9] Perpetrators of sexual violence against women and children "commonly include not only enemy civilians and troops but also allied and national civilians and even comrades in arms."[7]

The victims of war rape are usually "civilians", a category first recognized in the 19th century.[10] Although war rape of women is documented throughout history, laws protecting civilians in armed conflict have tended not to recognise sexual assault on women. Even when laws of war have recognised and forbidden sexual assault, few prosecutions have been brought. According to Kelly Dawn Askin, the laws of war perpetuated the attitude that sexual assaults against women are less significant crimes, not worthy of prosecution.[11] War rape has until recently been a hidden element of war, which according to Human Rights Watch is linked to the largely gender-specific character of war rape – abuse committed by men against women. This gender-specific character has contributed to war rape being "narrowly portrayed as sexual or personal in nature, a portrayal that depoliticizes sexual abuse in conflict and results in its being ignored as a war crime."[8]

"To the victor go the spoils" has been a war cry for centuries, and women classed as part of the spoils of war.[12] Furthermore, war rape has been downplayed as an unfortunate but inevitable side effect of sending men to war.[8] Also, war rape has in the past been regarded as tangible reward to soldiers (which were only paid irregularly), and as a soldier's proof of masculinity and success.[13] In reference to war rape in ancient times, Harold Washington argues that warfare itself is imaged as rape, and that the cities attacked are its victims. He argues that war rape occurs in the context of stereotypes about women and men, which are part of the basic belief that violent power belongs to men, and that women are its victims.[14]

The rape of men by other men is also common in war. A 2009 study by Lara Stemple[15] found that it had been documented in conflicts worldwide; for example, 76% of male political prisoners in 1980s El Salvador and 80% of concentration camp inmates in Sarajevo reported being raped or sexually tortured. Stemple concludes that the "lack of attention to sexual abuse of men during conflict is particularly troubling given the widespread reach of the problem".[16][9] Mervyn Christian of Johns Hopkins School of Nursing has found that male rape is commonly underreported.[17]

International law[]

Prosecution of rapists in war crime tribunals is a recent development. Generally, humanitarian law concerns the maltreatment of civilians and "any devastation not justified by military necessity".[18] War rape has rarely been prosecuted as a war crime. After World War II the Nuremberg Tribunals failed to charge Nazi war criminals with rape, although witnesses testified on war rape. The War Crimes Tribunal in Tokyo did convict Japanese officers "of failing to prevent rape" in the Nanking massacre, which is known as the "Rape of Nanking".[19][20] Justice Richard Goldstone, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, said that "Rape has never been the concern of the international community."[19] The United Nations Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict, which went into effect in 1974, does not mention rape specifically.

Customs of war[]

Main article: Laws of war

Some scholars argue that the lack of explicit recognition of war rape in international law or applicable humanitarian law may not be used as a defence by the perpetrator of war rape. Laws and customs of war prohibit offenses such as "inhuman treatment" or "indecent assaults", adding to this domestic military codes and domestic civil codes (national law) may make sexual assault a crime.[21]

Humanitarian law prior to World War II[]

See also: International humanitarian law

One of the first references to the "laws of war", or "traditions of war" was by Cicero, who urged soldiers to observe the rules of war, since obeying the regulations separated the "men" from the "brutes". Conquering the riches and property of an enemy was regarded as legitimate reason for war in itself. Women were included with "property", since they were considered to be under the lawful ownership of a man, whether a father, husband, slave master, or guardian. In this context, the rape of a woman was considered a property crime committed against the man who owned the woman.

The ancient Greeks considered war rape of women "socially acceptable behaviour well within the rules of warfare", and warriors considered the conquered women "legitimate booty, useful as wives, concubines, slave labour or battle-camp trophy".[12]

In the Middle Ages, and until the 19th century, this attitude and practice prevailed, and the legal protection of women in war time related directly to the legal protection women were granted in peace times. In medieval Europe, women were considered as an inferior gender by law.[22] Catholic Church sought to prevent rape during feudal warfare through the institution of Peace and Truce of God which discouraged soldiers from attacking women and civilians in general and through the propagation of a Christianized version of chivalry ideal of a knight who protected innocents and did not engage in lawlessness.

Medieval Islamic military jurisprudence laid down severe penalties for rebels who use "stealth attacks" and "spread terror". In this category, Muslim jurists included abductions, poisoning of water wells, arson, attacks against wayfarers and travellers, assaults under the cover of night, and rape. The punishment for such crimes were severe, including death, regardless of the political convictions and religion of the perpetrator.[23]

File:Konstantin Makovsky - The Bulgarian martyresses.jpg

The Bulgarian Martyresses by Konstantin Makovsky (1877). Atrocities of bashibazouks in Bulgaria in Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78.

In 1159, John of Salisbury wrote Policraticus in an attempt to regulate the conduct of armies engaged in "justifiable" wars. Salisbury believed that acts of theft and "rapine" (property crimes) should receive the most severe punishment, but also believed that obeying a superior's commands whether legal or illegal, moral or immoral, was the ultimate duty of the soldier.[24]

In the 15th and 16th century, despite considerations and systemisation of the laws of war, women remained objects available to the conquering male in any way whatsoever. The influential writer Francisco de Vitoria stood for a gradual emergence of the notion that glory or conquest were not necessarily acceptable reasons to start a war. The jurist Alberico Gentili insisted that all women, including female combatants, should be spared from sexual assault in wartime. However, in practice war rape was common.

It is suggested that one reason for the prevalence of war rape was that at the time, military circles supported the notion that all persons, including unarmed women and children, were still the enemy, with the belligerent having conquering rights over them.[10] In the late Middle Ages, the laws of war even considered war rape as an indication of a man's success in the battlefield and "opportunities to rape and loot were among the few advantages open to... soldiers, who were paid with great irregularity by their leaders... triumph over women by rape became a way to measure victory, part of a soldier's proof of masculinity and success, a tangible reward for services rendered... an actual reward of war".[13]

During this period in history, war rape took place not necessarily as a conscious effort of war to terrorize the enemy, but rather as earned compensation for winning a war. There is little evidence to suggest that superiors regularly ordered subordinates to commit acts of rape.[25] Throughout this period of history war became more regulated, specific, and regimented. The first formal prosecution for violations of war crimes did not take place until the late Middle Ages.[25]

Hugo Grotius, considered the father of the law of nations and the first to conduct a comprehensive work on systematizing the international laws of war, concluded that rape "should not go unpunished in war any more than in peace". Emmerich van Vattel emerged as an influential figure when he pleaded for the immunity of civilians against the ravages of war, considering men and women civilians as non-combatants.[26]

In the late 18th century and 19th century, treaties and war codes started to include vague provisions for the protection of women: The Treaty of Amity and Commerce (1785) specified that in case of war "women and children... shall not be molested in their persons". Article 20 of the Order No. 20 (1847), a supplement to the US Rules and Articles of war, listed the following as severely punishable "Assassination, murder, malicious stabbing or maiming, rape". The Declaration of Brussels (1874) stated that the "honours and rights of the family.... should be respected".[27]

In the 19th century the treatment of soldiers, prisoners, the wounded, and civilians improved and core elements of the laws of war were put in place[by whom?]. However, while the customs of war mandated more humane treatment of soldiers and civilians, new weapons and advanced technology increased destruction and altered the methods of war.[28] The Lieber Code (1863) was the first codification of the international customary laws of land war and an important step towards humanitarian law. The Lieber Code emphasises protection of civilians and states that "all rape...(is) prohibited under the penalty of death", which was the first prohibition of rape in customary humanitarian law.[29] After World War I the War Crimes Commission, set up in 1919 to examine the atrocities committed by Germany and the other Central Powers during World War I, found substantial evidence of sexual violence and subsequently included rape and forced prostitution among the violations of the laws and customs of war. Efforts to prosecute failed.[30]

The Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals[]

After World War II, the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals became the first international criminal tribunals of real significance. The victorious powers established them in 1945 and 1946 respectively to prosecute the major war criminals of the European Axis countries (in fact only Germans) and of Japan for "crimes against peace," war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The possibility of prosecuting sexual violence as a war crime was present because of the recognition of war rape as serious violation of the laws of war in the Lieber Code and the Hague Convention assertion that "family honour and rights...must be respected".

Also, there was evidence that previous war crimes trials had prosecuted for sex crimes, hence war rape could have been prosecuted under customary law and/or under the IMT (International Military Tribunals) Charter's Article 6(b): "abduction of the civilian population... into slavery and for other purposes" and "abduction unjustified by military necessity". Similarly, it would have been possible to prosecute war rape as crime against humanity under Article 6(c) of the Nuremberg Charter: "other inhumane acts" and "enslavement". However, notwithstanding evidence of sexual violence in Europe during World War II a lack of will led to rape and sexual violence not being prosecuted at the Nuremberg Tribunals.[31]

The War Crimes Tribunal in Tokyo prosecuted cases of sexual violence and war rape as war crimes under the wording "inhumane treatment", "ill-treatment," and "failure to respect family honour and rights." According to the Prosecution in excess of 20,000 women and girls were raped during the first weeks of the Japanese occupation of the Chinese city of Nanking. The War Crimes Tribunal in Tokyo included accounts of sexual violence crimes in the trial testimonies as well as public records.[32] On a national level, a commander of the 14th Area Army, General Yamashita, was convicted for, inter alia, "rape under his command."[32] Some 35 Dutch comfort women brought a successful case before the Batavia Military Tribunal in 1948.[32]

Geneva Conventions[]

Main article: Geneva Conventions

Since 1949 Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly prohibits wartime rape and enforced prostitution. These prohibitions were reinforced by the 1977 Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions.[21]


Further information: Rwandan Genocide and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
Further information: Genocide

In 1998 the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda established by the United Nations made landmark decisions defining rape as a crime of genocide under international law. The trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu, the mayor of Taba Commune in Rwanda, established precedents that rape is an element of the crime of genocide. The Trial Chamber held that "sexual assault formed an integral part of the process of destroying the Tutsi ethnic group and that the rape was systematic and had been perpetrated against Tutsi women only, manifesting the specific intent required for those acts to constitute genocide."[33]

Judge Navanethem Pillay said in a statement after the verdict: “From time immemorial, rape has been regarded as spoils of war. Now it will be considered a war crime. We want to send out a strong message that rape is no longer a trophy of war.”[34] An estimated 500,000 women were raped during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.[35]

Professor Paul Walters in his April 2005 statement of support of her honorary doctorate of law at Rhodes University wrote:[34]

Under her presidency of the Rwanda Tribunal, that body rendered a judgment against the mayor of Taba Commune which found him guilty of genocide for the use of rape in “the destruction of the spirit, of the will to live, and of life itself.”

The Akayesu judgement includes the first interpretation and application by an international court of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Trial Chamber held that rape (which it defined as "a physical invasion of a sexual nature committed on a person under circumstances which are coercive") and sexual assault constitute acts of genocide insofar as they were committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a targeted group, as such. It found that sexual assault formed an integral part of the process of destroying the Tutsi ethnic group and that the rape was systematic and had been perpetrated against Tutsi women only, manifesting the specific intent required for those acts to constitute genocide.[33]

In September 1999 the United Nations published a "Report of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Genocide and Other Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of Rwanda and Rwandan Citizens Responsible for Genocide and Other Such Violations Committed in the Territory of Neighbouring States between 1 January and 31 December 1994". The report states that on 2 September 1998, Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, composed of Judges Laïty Kama, Presiding, Lennart Aspegren and Navanethem Pillay, found Jean Paul Akayesu guilty of 9 of the 15 counts proffered against him, including genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity, murder, torture, rape, and other inhumane acts). The Tribunal found Jean Paul Akayesu not guilty of the six remaining counts, including the count of complicity in genocide and the counts relating to violations of article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions and of Additional Protocol II thereto.[33] On 2 October 1998, Jean Paul Akayesu was sentenced to life imprisonment for each of the nine counts, the sentences to run concurrently. Both Jean Paul Akayesu and the Prosecutor have appealed against the judgement rendered by the Trial Chamber.[33]

Crimes against humanity and war crimes[]

Main article: Crimes against humanity
Main article: war crimes

The Rome Statute Explanatory Memorandum, which defines the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, recognises rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, "or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity" as crime against humanity if the action is part of a widespread or systematic practice.[36][37]

Rape first became recognised as crime against humanity when the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia issued arrest warrants based on the Geneva Conventions and Violations of the Laws or Customs of War. Specifically, it was recognised that Muslim women in Foča (southeastern Bosnia and Herzegovina) were subjected to systematic and widespread gang rape, torture and sexual enslavement by Bosnian Serb soldiers, policemen, and members of paramilitary groups after the takeover of the city in April 1992.[38] The indictment was of major legal significance and was the first time that sexual assaults were investigated for the purpose of prosecution under the rubric of torture and enslavement as a crime against humanity.[38] The indictment was confirmed by a 2001 verdict by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia that rape and sexual enslavement are crimes against humanity. This ruling challenged the widespread acceptance of rape and sexual enslavement of women as intrinsic part of war.[39] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia found three Bosnian Serb men guilty of rape of Bosniac (Bosnian Muslim) women and girls (some as young as 12 and 15 years of age), in Foča, eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina. Furthermore two of the men were found guilty of the crime against humanity of sexual enslavement for holding women and girls captive in a number of de facto detention centres. Many of the women subsequently disappeared.[39]

Definition of rape[]

Main article: Rape

Some commentatorsTemplate:Which? use the terms "rape" and "sexual assault" interchangeably. There is no universally accepted definition of "war rape".

The Explanatory Note of the Rome Statute, which binds the International Criminal Court, defines the "rape" as follows:

"The perpetrator invaded the body of a person by conduct resulting in penetration, however slight, of any part of the body of the victim or of the perpetrator with a sexual organ, or of the anal or genital opening of the victim with any object or any other part of the body."[40] and "The invasion was committed by force, or by threat of force or coercion, such as that caused by fear of violence, duress, detention, psychological oppression or abuse of power, against such person or another person, or by taking advantage of a coercive environment, or the invasion was committed against a person incapable of giving genuine consent."[40]

The concept of “invasion” is intended to be broad enough to be gender-neutral and the definition is understood to include situations where the victim may be incapable of giving genuine consent if affected by natural, induced or age-related incapacity.[41]


War rape has a severe impact on the victims and may be systematic in nature or an isolated act of sexual violence.[8][42] A recent study lists the physical injury to the victims of war rape as traumatic injuries, sexually transmitted disease, and pregnancy. Because war rapes take place in zones of conflict, access to emergency contraception, antibiotics, and/or abortion are extremely limited. The short-term psychological injuries to the victims include feelings of fear, helplessness, and desperation. Long-term psychological injuries may include depression, anxiety disorders (including post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS)), multiple somatic symptoms, flashbacks, difficulty re-establishing intimate relationships, shame, and persistent fears.[42]

If left untreated, the physical and psychological effects of sexual assault and rape can be devastating, sometimes even deadly. Causes of death as the result of sexual violence include suicide, murder, and infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Murder of sexual assault and rape victims may be perpetrated by the rapist or as part of an honor killing by family members of the victim. A victim of a rape or other sexual assault might become pregnant as a result of the rape. He or she could have trouble sleeping, changes in their appetite, or develop full-blown emotional problems, including posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, substance abuse, or dependence. Individuals who have experienced sexual assault are at risk for other day-to-day problems, including arguing with family members and having problems at work.

War rape may include gang rape and rape with objects, such as sticks and gun barrels. Women victims may suffer from incontinence and vaginal fistula as a result of particularly violent instances of rape.[43] Vaginal fistula is a medical condition usually the result of poor childbirth care, and involves the walls between the vagina, bladder and anus or rectum being torn, resulting in severe pain and debilitating incontinence.[43] Women victims of war rape may be stigmatised and excluded from their families or communities as a result of war rape, particularly in societies where female virginity is prized and the husband of a rape victim is considered shamed.[44][45]


Spivak characterizes "group rape perpetrated by the conquerors" as "a metonymic celebration of territorial acquisition".[46]

Military strategy[]

Amnesty International has challenged the view that sees rape and sexual abuse as a by-product of war. According to Amnesty International rape is now used as deliberate military strategy rather than opportunistic rape and pillage of previous centuries.[47] As a military strategy war rape is reportedly used for the purpose of conquering territory by expelling the population therefrom, decimating remaining civilians by destroying their links of affiliations, by the spread of AIDS, and by eliminating cultural and religious traditions. War rape may be described as "weapon of war" or a "means of combat" in the media.[41] With specific reference to recent war rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other African countries the aims of war rape as a military strategy have been listed as follows: increase in military morale, decrease the military morale of the enemy, to offend the enemy, and to loot the maximum of an enemy’s belongings (including women and children).[44]

Commenting on the use of rape in wars, Gita Sahgal said in 2004 that it is a mistake to think such assaults are primarily about "spoils of war" or sexual gratification. She said rape is often used in ethnic conflicts as a way for attackers to perpetuate social control and redraw ethnic boundaries. "Women are seen as the reproducers and carers of the community," she said.[48]



File:Paul Jamin - Le Brenn et sa part de butin 1893.jpg

"Brennus and His Share of the Spoils", by Paul Jamin, 1893.

Rape has accompanied warfare in virtually every known historical era.[49] The Greek and Roman armies reportedly engaged in war rape, which is documented by ancient authors such as Homer, Herodotus, and Livy [citation needed]. Ancient sources held multiple, often contradictory attitudes to sexual violence in warfare.[50] Rape in the course of war is mentioned multiple times in the Bible: "For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped..." Zechariah 14:2

"Their little children will be dashed to death before their eyes. Their homes will be sacked, and their wives will be raped."Isaiah 13:16

In the near east, victorious armies often dealt in homosexual intercourse with the losers.[51]

Roman military officers often used the young boys of defeated peoples for homosexual intercourse, a Roman Historian, Tacitus, noted this happening during the Revolt of the Batavi.[52]

Middle Ages[]

The Vikings (Scandinavians who raided and colonized wide areas of Europe from the late 8th century to the early 11th century,[53]) have acquired a reputation for "rape and pillage". Viking settlements in Britain and Ireland are thought to have been primarily male enterprises, with a lesser role for Viking females. British Isles women are mentioned in old texts on the founding of Iceland, indicating that the Viking explorers had acquired wives and concubines from Britain and Ireland.[54] Some historians dispute the Vikings' "rape and pillage" image, arguing that exaggeration and distortion in later medieval texts created an image of treacherous and brutal Northmen.[55]

Medieval Islamic military jurisprudence laid down severe penalties for those who committed rape. The punishment for such crimes were severe, including death, regardless of the political convictions and religion of the perpetrator.[23].

Female slavery was also common during the medieval Arab slave trade, where prisoners of war captured in battle from non-Arab lands often ended up as a concubine slaves (which are considered free when their master dies) in the Arab World.[56] Most of these slaves came from places such as Sub-Saharan Africa (mainly Zanj), the Caucasus (mainly Circassians),[57] Central Asia (mainly Tartars), and Central and Eastern Europe (mainly Saqaliba).[58] Historian Robert Davis claims that the Barbary pirates also captured 1.25 million slaves from Western Europe and North America between the 16th and 19th centuries.[59][60]

The Mongols, who established the Mongol Empire across much of Eurasia, caused much destruction during their invasions. Documents written during or after Genghis Khan's reign say that after a conquest, the Mongol soldiers looted, pillaged and raped. Some troops who submitted were incorporated into the Mongol system in order to expand their manpower. These techniques were sometimes used to spread terror and warning to others.[61]

The sack of Aberdeen in 1644 by the Royalist general Montrose during the Civil War involved large-scale rape.[62]

European colonial era[]

In German South-West Africa during Herero and Namaqua Genocide, German soldiers regularly engaged in gang rapes[63] before killing Herero women or leaving them in the desert to die; a number of women from the rebelling Herero tribe were also forced into prostitution.[64]

Indian Rebellion[]

With the beginnings of the mass media in the 19th century, war rape was occasionally used as propaganda by European colonialists in order to justify the colonization of places they had conquered.[65] The most notable example was perhaps during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, known as "India's First War of Independence" to the Indians and as the "Sepoy Mutiny" to the British, where Indian sepoys rebelled against the British East India Company's rule in India. While incidents of rape committed by Indian rebels against English women and girls were generally uncommon during the rebellion, this was exaggerated to great effect by the British media in order to justify continued British colonialism in the Indian subcontinent.[65]

At the time, British newspapers had printed various apparently eyewitness accounts of English women and girls being raped by Indian rebels, but with little physical evidence to support these accounts. It was later found that most of these accounts were false stories created in order to paint the native people of India as savages who need to be civilized by British colonialists, a mission sometimes known as "The White Man's Burden". One such account published by The Times, regarding an incident where 48 English girls as young as 10–14 had been raped by the Indian rebels in Delhi, was criticized as a false propaganda story by Karl Marx, who pointed out that the story was written by a clergyman in Bangalore, far from the events of the rebellion.[66]

Boxer Rebellion[]

Western forces of the Eight-Nation Alliance went on a killing, looting, and raping rampage against Chinese civilians. Thousands of women were raped by the western forces on a massive scale.[67] All of the foreign troops, except the Japanese, raped women.[68] The Japanese officers had brought along Japanese prostitutes to stop their troops from raping Chinese civilians. A western Journalist, George Lynch, said "there are things that I must not write, and that may not be printed in England, which would seem to show that this Western civilization of ours is merely a veneer over savagery."[69] All of the nationalities engaged in looting and rape. The Russians and French behavior was particularly appalling. Chinese women and girls committed suicide to avoid being raped. The French commander dismissed the rapes, attributing them to "gallantry of the French soldier".[70]

World War I[]

[71] Rapes were routinely committed during the Imperial German advance through Belgium in the first months of the war (cf. Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will (1975) pp.40–48). After the war Harold D. Lasswell dismissed them as propaganda in his 1927 Freudian-oriented study, "Propaganda Technique in the World War" Brownmiller, "Against Our Will (1975) p. 44.[5]


World War II[]

The sometimes widespread and systematic occurrence of war rape by soldiers and civilians of women has been documented. During World War II and in its immediate aftermath, war rape occurred in a range of situations, ranging from institutionalized sexual slavery to war rapes associated with specific battles. The Judge Advocate General's office reports that there were 971 convictions for rape in the U.S. military from January 1942 to June 1947, which includes a portion of the occupation. [71]


Main article: Japanese war crimes
File:Chinese girl from one of the Japanese Army's 'comfort battalions'.jpg

Rangoon, Burma. 8 August 1945. A young ethnic Chinese woman who was in one of the Imperial Japanese Army's "comfort battalions" is interviewed by an Allied officer.

Japanese army

The term "comfort women" is a euphemism for the estimated 200,000, mostly Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese and Filipina women who were forced to work as prostitutes in Japanese military brothels during World War II.[73] It is also said of the Nanking Massacre that the WWII Japanese militants sexually assaulted any women of their defeated city or area neglecting the fact that some of the women they raped were married or pregnant.

Australian army

"A former prostitute recalled that as soon as Australian troops arrived in Kure in early 1946, they 'dragged young women into their jeeps, took them to the mountain, and then raped them. I heard them screaming for help nearly every night'."[5][74]

US Army

It has been claimed that some U.S. soldiers raped Okinawan women during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Following the war there were 1,336 reported rapes during the first 10 days of the occupation of Kanagawa prefecture.[75]

Despite being told by the Japanese military that they would suffer rape, torture and murder at the hands of the Americans, Okinawans "were often surprised at the comparatively humane treatment they received from the American enemy."[76][77] According to Islands of Discontent: Okinawan Responses to Japanese and American Power by Mark Selden, the Americans "did not pursue a policy of torture, rape, and murder of civilians as Japanese military officials had warned."[78]

American marines stationed in Beijing immediately after World War II raped a Chinese schoolgirl. This, and other incidents created ill feelings toward the Americans from the Kuomintang and Chiang Kai-shek.[79]

Soviet Red Army

Soviet Red Army troops are alleged to have looted and terrorized the people of Mukden in Manchuria, China. A foreigner witnessed Soviet troops, formerly stationed in Berlin, who were allowed by the Soviet military to go at the city "for three days of rape and pillage".[80] The Soviet Army's influence in the region was affected for years to come.


German forces
Main article: War crimes of the Wehrmacht
See also: German military brothels in World War II and Rape during the occupation of Germany

Rapes were committed by Wehrmacht forces on Jewish women and girls during the Invasion of Poland in September 1939;[81] they were also committed against Polish women and girls during mass executions carried out primarily by the Selbstschutz units, which were accompanied by Wehrmacht soldiers and on territory under the administration of the German military; the rapes were carried-out before shooting female captives.[82] Only one case of rape was prosecuted by German court during the military campaign in Poland, and even then the German judge sentenced the guilty for Rassenschande that is a shame against their race as defined by racial policy of Nazi Germany and not rape.[83] Jewish women were particularly vulnerable to rape during the Holocaust.[84]

Rapes were also committed by German forces on Eastern Front, where they were largely unpunished (as opposed to rapes committed in Western Europe); the overall number of rapes is difficult to establish due to lack prosecution of the crime by German courts.[85][86] Wehrmacht also established a system of military brothels, in which young women and girls from occupied territories were forced into prostitution, the conditions were extremely hard and many women tried to escape their captors.[83] In Soviet Union women were kidnapped by German forces for prostitution as well; one report by International Military Tribunal writes "in the city of Smolensk the German Command opened a brothel for officers in one of the hotels into which hundreds of women and girls were driven; they were mercilessly dragged down the street by their arms and hair[87]

French army
Main article: Marocchinate

French Moroccan troops, known as Goumiers, committed rapes and other war crimes in Italy after the Battle of Monte Cassino[88] and in Germany. In Italy, victims of the mass rape committed after the Battle of Monte Cassino by Goumiers, colonial troops of the French Expeditionary Corps, are known as Marocchinate. According to Italian sources, more than 7,000 Italian civilians, including women and children, were raped by Goumiers.[89]

French Senegalese troops too, known as Senegalese Tirailleurs, who landed on the island of Elba on 17 June 1944, were responsible of mass rapes though their behaviour was considered less brutal than that of the French North African troops in continental Italy.[90]

British army

To a lesser extent, Indian troops in the British service were also known in Italy for the number of rapes and violent acts they committed, according to Mondadori.[90]Template:Failed verification

US Army

Secret wartime files made public only in 2006 reveal that American GIs committed 400 sexual offences in Europe, including 126 rapes in England, between 1942 and 1945.[91] A study by Robert J. Lilly estimates that a total of 14,000 civilian women in England, France and Germany were raped by American GIs during World War II.[92][93] It is estimated that there were around 3,500 rapes by American servicemen in France between June 1944 and the end of the war and one historian has claimed that sexual violence against women in liberated France was common.[94]

Red Army

After the German armed forces had surrendered, the half of Germany under Soviet Union occupation was split roughly in half and one part was allocated for temporary Polish administration (see Former eastern territories of Germany). In order to ensure that the German territory under communist Polish administration would become permanently de-facto Polish territory, the Polish communists ordered that the German population be expelled "by whatever means necessary".[95] The communist Polish administrators of the occupied territories as a consequence did little to protect the German population from Polish and Soviet rapists.[95] "Even the Soviets expressed shock at the Poles’ behavior. Polish soldiers, stated one report, 'relate to German women as to free booty'."[95]

During the war Polish women were victims of brutal mass rapes by Soviet[96][97] soldiers. Polish sources claim that there are cases of mass rapes in Polish cities taken by the Red Army. It is reported that in Kraków Soviet occupation brought mass rapes of Polish women and girls, as well as plunder of all private property by Soviet soldiers. Reportedly the scale of the attacks prompted communists installed by Soviets to prepare a letter of protest to Joseph Stalin while masses in churches were held in expectation of Soviet withdrawal.[98]

At the end of World War II, Red Army soldiers are estimated to have raped around 2,000,000 German women and girls.[99][100] Norman Naimark writes in "The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945–1949." that although the exact number of women and girls who were raped by members of the Red Army in the months preceding and years following the capitulation will never be known, their numbers are likely in the hundreds of thousands, quite possibly as high as the 2,000,000 victims estimate made by Barbara Johr, in "Befreier und Befreite". Many of these victims were raped repeatedly. Antony Beevor estimates that up to half the victims were victims of gang rapes. Naimark states that not only did each victim have to carry the trauma with her for the rest of her days, it inflicted a massive collective trauma on the East German nation. Naimark concludes "The social psychology of women and men in the soviet zone of occupation was marked by the crime of rape from the first days of occupation, through the founding of the GDR in the fall of 1949, until – one could argue – the present."[101] German women who became pregnant after being raped by Soviet soldiers in World War II were invariably denied abortion to further humiliate them as to carry an unwanted child.[citation needed] As a result, according to the book Berlin: The Downfall, 1945 by Antony Beevor, some 90% of raped Berlin women in 1945 had venereal diseases as results of these consequential rapes and 3.7% of all children born in Germany from 1945 to 1946 had Soviet fathers. The history behind this particular rape of the German women by the Soviet troops was considered a taboo topic until 1992. (See also Red Army atrocities.)

In Romania, the writer Mihail Sebastian described, that in 1944 Soviet soldiers raped local women.

Bangladesh atrocities[]

Main article: 1971 Bangladesh atrocities

During the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, numerous women were tortured and raped. Exact numbers are not known and are a subject of debate. Most of the women were captured from Dhaka University and private homes and kept as sex-slaves inside the Dhaka Cantonment.[102]

It has been estimated that up to 200,000 Bangladeshi women may have been raped during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971 by the Pakistan army during night raids on villages.[8][103] Pakistani sources claim the number is much lower, though having not completely denied rape incidents.[104][71][105] One work that has included direct experiences from the women raped is Ami Birangana Bolchi ("I, the heroine, is speaking") by Nilima Ibrahim. The work includes in its name from the word Birangona (Heroine), given by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman after the war, to the raped and tortured women during the war. This was a conscious effort to alleviate any social stigma the women might face in the society. How successful this effort was is doubtful, though.

In June 2005 the United States Department of State organised a conference titled "South Asia in Crisis: United States Policy, 1961–1972" where Sarmila Bose, born and educated in USA, published a paper suggesting that the casualties and rape allegations in the war have been greatly exaggerated for political purposes. This work has been criticised in Bangladesh and her research methods have been attacked by expatriate Bengalis as shoddy and biased.[106][107]

1974 to 1992[]

Other documented instances of war rape include the First Liberian Civil War, and in East Timor during the occupation by Indonesia in 1975.[108]

It has been reported that in Peru, throughout the 12 year internal conflict, women were frequent victims of sustained war rape perpetrated by government security forces and the Shining Path.[8][108] It has also been reported that during the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, an estimated 5,000 Kuwaiti women were raped by Iraqi soldiers.[108]

Former Yugoslavia[]

Main article: Yugoslav Wars

Evidence of the magnitude of rape in Bosnia and Herzegovina prompted the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to deal openly with these abuses.[19] Reports of sexual violence during the Bosnian War (1992–95) and Kosovo War (1996–99), part of the Yugoslav wars, a series of conflicts from 1991 to 1999, have been described as "especially alarming".[109] Since the entry of the NATO in the Kosovo War, rapes of Albanian, and Roma women were committed by ethnic Serbs.[110]

It has been estimated that during the Bosnian War between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped. The majority of the rape victims were Muslim women raped by Serbian soldiers. Although men also became victim of sexual violence, war rape was disproportionately directed against women who were (gang) raped in the streets, in their homes and/or in front of family members. Sexual violence occurred in a multiple ways, including rape with objects, such as broken glass bottles, guns and truncheons.[109] War rape occurred as a matter of official orders as part of ethnic cleansing, to displace the targeted ethnic group out of the region.[111]

During the Bosnian War the existence of deliberately created "rape camps" was reported. The reported aim of these camps was to impregnate the Muslim and Croatian women held captive. It has been reported that often women were kept in confinement until the late stage of their pregnancy. This occurred in the context of a patrilineal society, in which children inherit their father's ethnicity, hence the "rape camps" aimed at the birth of a new generation of Serb children. According to the Women's Group Tresnjevka more than 35,000 women and children were held in such Serb-run "rape camps".[112][113][114]

During the Kosovo War thousands of Kosovo Albanian women and girls became victims of sexual violence. War rape was used as a weapon of war and an instrument of systematic ethnic cleansing; rape was used to terrorize the civilian population, extort money from families, and force people to flee their homes. According to a 2000 Human Rights Watch report war rape in the Kosovo War can generally be subdivided into three categories: rapes in women's homes, rapes during fighting, and rapes in detention. The majority of the perpetrators were Serbian paramilitaries, but they also included Serbian special police or Yugoslav army soldiers. Most rapes were gang rapes involving at least two perpetrators. Rapes occurred frequently in the presence, and with the acquiescence, of military officers. Soldiers, police, and paramilitaries often raped their victims in the full view of numerous witnesses.[111]

Mass rape in the Bosnian War[]

Main article: Rape in the Bosnian War

During the Bosnian war, Serb forces conducted a sexual abuse strategy on the thousands of Bosnian Muslim girls and women which became known as "mass rape phenomenon". No exact figures on how many women and children were systematically raped by the Serb forces in various camps were established,[115][116][117] but estimates range from 20,000[118] to 50,000.[119] Mass rape mostly occurred in Eastern Bosnia (especially during Foča and Višegrad massacres), and in Grbavica during the Siege of Sarajevo. Numerous Serbian officers, soldiers and other participants were indicted or convicted of rape as the war crime by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina.[120][121] The events inspired the Golden Bear winner at the 56th Berlin International Film Festival in 2006, called Grbavica.

Rwanda genocide[]

Main article: Rwandan Genocide

During the Rwanda genocide, from April until June 1994, hundreds of thousands of women and girls were raped and/or became the victims of other forms of sexual violence.[110] Although no explicit written orders to rape and sexual violence have been found, evidence suggests that military leaders encouraged or ordered their men to rape Tutsi, as well as condoned the acts taking place, without making efforts to stop them.[122] Compared to other conflicts the sexual violence in Rwanda stands out in terms of the organised nature of the propaganda that contributed significantly to fuelling sexual violence against Tutsi women, the very public nature of the rapes and the level of brutality towards the women. Anne-Marie de Brouwer concludes that considering the massive scale and public nature of war rape during the Rwanda genocide, "it is difficult to imagine anybody in Rwanda who was not aware of the sexual violence taking place."[123] In 1998, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda made the landmark decisions that the war rape during the Rwanda genocide was an element of the crime of genocide. The Trial Chamber held that "sexual assault formed an integral part of the process of destroying the Tutsi ethnic group and that the rape was systematic and had been perpetrated against Tutsi women only, manifesting the specific intent required for those acts to constitute genocide."[33]

In his 1996 report the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Rwanda, Rene Degni-Segui stated that "rape was the rule and its absence the exception." The report also stated that “rape was systematic and was used as a "weapon" by the perpetrators of the massacres. This can be estimated from the number and nature of the victims as well as from the forms of rape.”[110] A 2000 report prepared by the Organisation of African Unity’s International Panel of Eminent Personalities concluded that “we can be certain that almost all females who survived the genocide were direct victims of rape or other sexual violence, or were profoundly affected by it”.[110]

The Special Rapporteur on Rwanda estimated in his 1996 report that between 2,000 and 5,000 pregnancies resulted from war rape, and that between 250,000 and 500,000 Rwandese women and girls had been raped.[110] Rwanda is a patriarchal society and children therefore take the ethnicity of the father, underlining that war rape occurred in the context of genocide.[123]

Within the context of the Rwanda genocide victims of sexual violence were predominantly attacked on the basis of their gender and ethnicity. The victims were mostly Tutsi women and girls, of all ages, while men were only seldom the victims of war rape. Women were part of the anti-Tutsi propaganda prior the 1994 genocide. The December 1990 issue of the newspaper Kangura published the “Ten Commandments”, four of which portrayed Tutsi women as tools of the Tutsi community, as sexual weapons that would be used by the Tutsi to weaken and ultimately destroy the Hutu men.[122] Gender based propaganda also include cartoons printed in newspapers that portrayed Tutsi women as sex objects. Examples of gender based hate propaganda used to incite war rape include statements by perpetrators such as “You Tutsi women think that you are too good for us” and “Let us see what a Tutsi woman tastes like”.[122] Victims of war rape during the Rwanda genocide also included Hutu women considered moderates, such as Hutu women married to Tutsi men and Hutu women politically affiliated with the Tutsi. War rape also occurred regardless of ethnicity or political affiliation, with young or beautiful women being targeted based on their gender only. Sexual violence against men occurred significantly less frequently, but frequently included mutilation of the genitals, which were often displayed in public.[122] The perpetrators of war rape during the Rwanda genocide were mainly members of the Hutu militia, the “Interahamwe”. Rapes were also committed by military soldiers of the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR), including the Presidential Guard, and civilians.[122]

Sexual violence against women and girls during the Rwanda genocide included: rape, gang rape, sexual slavery (either collectively or individually through "forced marriages"), rape with objects such as sticks and weapons often leading to the victim’s death, sexual mutilation of, in particular, breasts, vaginas or buttocks, often during or following rape. Pregnant women were not spared from sexual violence and on many occasion victims were killed following rape. Many women were raped by men who knew they were HIV positive and it has been suggested that there were deliberate attempts to transmit the virus to Tutsi women and their families. War rape occurred all over the country and was frequently perpetrated in plain view of others, at sites such as schools, churches, roadblocks, government buildings or in the bush. Some women were kept as personal slaves for years after the genocide, forced to move to neighbouring countries after the genocide along with their captors.[123]

The long-term effects of war rape in Rwanda for the victims include social isolation (social stigma attached to rape meant some husbands left their wives that had become victim of war rape, or that the victim became unmarriageable), unwanted pregnancies and babies (some women resorted to self-induced abortions), sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis, gonorrhoea and HIV/Aids (access to anti-retroviral drugs remains limited).[123]

Sri Lanka civil war[]

During the Sri Lankan Civil War, multiple Human Rights Organizations have reported cases of rape, violence and disappearance of women in the 1990s, claiming to be committed by security forces. Amnesty International, for instance, believes that these actions might have been just a fraction of a widespread violence, claiming that many women have avoided giving testimony about the forces' treatment.[124] Government officials, including the president, have denied the claims and agreed to co-operate with the investigations and prosecute whomever they find guilty.[125] The UN Special Rapporteur, on the other hand, have reported that individual investigations and proceedings relating to these cases have started at the local magistrates courts.[126]

Some of the notable cases of murdered raped victims and the massacres associated with the rape incidents are – Krishanti Kumaraswamy, Arumaithurai Tharmaletchumi, Ida Carmelitta, Ilayathambi Tharsini, Murugesapillai Koneswary, Premini Thanuskodi, Sarathambal, Thambipillai Thanalakshmi, Kumarapuram massacre and Vankalai massacre.

Recent occurrences[]

According to Amnesty International recent documented cases of war rape include ongoing conflicts in Colombia, Iraq, Sudan, Chechnya, Nepal, and Afghanistan.[47]

Commenting on the rape of women and children in recent African conflict zones, UNICEF said in 2008 that rape was no longer just perpetrated by combatants but also by civilians. According to UNICEF rape is common in countries affected by wars and natural disasters, drawing a link between the occurrence of sexual violence and significant uprooting of a society and the crumbling of social norms. UNICEF states that in Kenya reported cases of sexual violence doubled within days of recent post-election conflict erupting. According to UNICEF rape was prevalent in conflict zones in Sudan, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.[127]

Democratic Republic of the Congo[]


South Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo


Democratic Republic of the Congo

Main article: Sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

In eastern Congo, the prevalence and intensity of rape and other sexual violence is described as the worst in the world.[128] A 2010 study found that 22% of men and 30% of women in Eastern Congo reported conflict-related sexual violence.[9]

Since fighting broke out in 1998 tens of thousands of people have been raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo.[129] It is estimated that there are as many as 200,000 surviving rape victims living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo today.[130][131] War rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo has frequently been described as a "weapon of war" by commentators. Louise Nzigire, a local social worker, states that “this violence was designed to exterminate the population.” Nzigire observes that rape has been a "cheap, simple weapon for all parties in the war, more easily obtainable than bullets or bombs."[45] The rape of men is also common. Men who admit to being raped risk ostracism by their community and criminal prosecution, because they may be seen as homosexual, which is a crime in 38 African countries.[9]

Despite the peace process launched in 2003, sexual assault by soldiers from armed groups and the national army continues in the eastern provinces of the country.[129] Evidence of war rape emerged when United Nations troops move into areas previously ravaged by war after the peace process started. Gang rape and rape with objects has been reported. The victims of war rape may suffer from incontinence and vaginal fistula as a result of particularly violent rape.[43] Witness accounts include an instance of a woman who had the barrel of a gun inserted into her vagina, after which the soldier opened fire.[43] Incontinence and vaginal fistula leads to the isolation of war rape victims from her community and access to reconstructive surgery is limited in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[43]

More than 500 rapes were reported in eastern Congo in August 2010, leading to an apology from Atul Khare that the UN peacekeepers had failed to protect the population from brutalisation.[132]

Darfur region in Sudan[]

File:Map of Darfur 2011.png

Map of Sudan. The Darfur region is shaded.

See also: War in Darfur

An 19 October 2004 UN News Centre article[133] titled "UNICEF adviser says rape in Darfur, Sudan continues with impunity" reported:

Armed militias in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region are continuing to rape women and girls with impunity, an expert from the United Nations children’s agency said today on her return from a mission to the region. Pamela Shifman, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) adviser on violence and sexual exploitation, said she heard dozens of harrowing accounts of sexual assaults – including numerous reports of gang-rapes – when she visited internally displaced persons (IDPs) at one camp and another settlement in North Darfur last week. “Rape is used as a weapon to terrorize individual women and girls, and also to terrorize their families and to terrorize entire communities,” she said in an interview with the UN News Service. “No woman or girl is safe.”

In the same article Pamela Shifman was reported to have said that:

every woman or girl she spoke to had either endured sexual assault herself, or knew of someone who had been attacked, particularly when they left the relative safety of their IDP camp or settlement to find firewood.

Iraq war[]

Male prisoners of war may be subject to rape and sexual violence, which some commentators have interpreted as a way for captors to feminise the captive. Imposing sexual humiliation has been described as expression of masculine domination. Sexual violence against male prisoners of war gained wide publicity after graphic photos documented such abuses on male Iraqi prisoners by US guards at Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq.[134] Prisoners were forced to humiliate themselves. More generally, it has been observed that captured military personnel of both sexes are vulnerable to explicitly sexual humiliation, including rape.[134]

2011 Libyan civil war[]

Main article: 2011 Libyan rape allegations

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, claimed that there's enough evidence that Gaddafi's troops have used rape as a weapon during the Libyan civil war. He also said, "Apparently, he (Gaddafi) decided to punish, using rape," while witnesses confirmed that the Libyan government has also purchased a large number of Viagra-like drugs. The Libyan government, in the other hand, does not actually recognize the ICC's jurisdiction.[135]

Haiti 2011 UN Peacekeeping Forces[]

In recent years, several UN soldiers in Haiti have been accused and convicted of raping men as young as 14 years old. In one instance BBC NEWS reports that Uraguayan soldiers raped a young man. In other instance, Pakistani UN soldiers were recently convicted of raping a 14 year old Haitian boy sparking protest for the end of UN peacekeeping forces.

Rape camp[]

A rape camp is a detention facility that is designed for or turns into a place where authorities regularly rape the detainees.

Hundreds of thousands of women were kidnapped by the Japanese military and used as sex slaves during World War II. These were called comfort women.

Rape camps are a common theme in Nazi exploitation cinema.[136]

Rape camps have also been extensively documented in Bosnia:[137][138]

Notable examples[]

  • Vilina Vlas
  • Keraterm camp
  • Omarska camp

See also[]


Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
[[Commons: Category:War rape

| War rape

  • Allied war crimes during World War II
  • Soviet War Crimes
  • Japanese War Crimes
  • Nanking Massacre
  • White Terror (Spain)
  • Comfort women
  • Genocide
  • International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
  • Joy Division (World War II)
  • Military sexual trauma
  • Navanethem Pillay
  • Raptio, the historic term for the abduction and assault of women during war
  • Sociobiological theories of rape
  • Total war
  • UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict
  • War crime
  • Women's rights
  • Rape during the Bangladesh Liberation War

Further reading[]


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  6. Susan Brownmiller was the first historian to attempt an overview of rape in war with documentation and theory ((Brownmiller. Susan, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, Simon & Schuster, 1975, isbn=0-671-22062-4, pp 31–139)). Brownmiller's thesis is that "War provides men with the perfect psychological backdrop to give vent to their contempt for women. The maleness of the military—the brute power of weaponry exclusive to their hands, the spiritual bonding of men at arms, the manly discipline of orders given and orders obeyed, the simple logic of the hierarchical command—confirms for men what they long suspect—that women are peripheral to the world that counts." She writes that rape accompanies territorial advance by the winning side in land conflicts as one of the spoils of war, and that "Men who rape are ordinary Joes, made unordinary by entry into the most exclusive male-only club in the world."
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