The rape of women by soldiers during wartime has occurred throughout history. It is used as a weapon of war where women are kidnaped, raped, gang-raped, and later murdered. And these rape does not finish with one, instead, hundreds and thousands of women in the conflict struck area bear the same fate. Rape is often the most common wartime crime reported and history has witnessed countless such events where women faced abomination first hand. During the Nanjing massacre of 1937, more than 80,000 women were raped or gang-raped by the Japanese troops. The women were repeatedly raped and murdered later. The invasion was later recognized as ‘The Rape of Nanjing’, such was the brutality of the event.
In one instance, a woman had her infant baby smothered by the Japanese troop who raped her before beheading her. During World War II, the Nazis raped Jewish women despite their concern for racial defilement. This shows that rape is something committed out of lust and to derogate the rival, thus proving- in the war of men, women suffer the most. More recent history provides more gruesome details of rape as a weapon of war. When Pakistan was trying to suppress Bangladesh’s independence in 1971, many women were raped, stacked, and transferred to barracks where they were repeatedly raped by the soldiers.
Similarly, Turkish troops during the 1974 invasion and occupation of Cyprus committed widespread rape of women and girls. In one instance, around 25 women who reported their rapes by Turkish soldiers to Turkish officers were then raped again by those officers.
But Why Rape?
This one question is particularly haunting, as no one can really understand a man’s greed and control over a woman’s body. Throughout history, we have witnessed continuous discrimination of women and prejudice against them. They are deemed unequal and are subjected as men ‘Property’, this, in turn, gives men full control over women’s bodies. Thus, it comes as no shock as to why rape is such a common wartime crime. Rape in conflict must be understood as abuse that targets women for political and strategic reasons.
To understand more in this context, let’s trace the history and relocate the loose traces of women objectification. Violence in wartime could assume many forms, such as murder or harassment, however, rape is often the only one to be targeted. Other crimes have long been identified as warzone crimes, but rape has been downplayed as an inevitable side effect of sending men to war. This way rape ends up in the list of human rights abuse and is called as unprecedented in their scale. While in reality, rape has never been limited to a certain area or time- it has persisted all along throughout history at every corner of the world.
Even during World War 2 Moroccan mercenary troops asked French forces in Italy to fight on terms that “included a license to rape and plunder in enemy territory.” If such types of prior commitments are listed before the war, what else can innocent citizens expect?
It is rather bizarre that not many people recognize rapes as wartime crimes at all. Even when rape is not a subject of the past, modern warfare too had walked the same path. For example, the growing tension between Ukraine and Russia has now heated up with the allegations of civilian rapes. Ukraine MP has recently claimed that women over 60 are being ‘raped and hanged’ by Putin’s troops who are targeting vulnerable people who do not have access or strength to resist.
Though rape isn’t a sex-specific crime yet it functions as a form of torture intended to punish and intimidate women. In a few cases, it also has served a strikingly sex-specific function when rapes were committed as a tool for ethnic cleansing by impregnating the women of a particular community. But this doesn’t mean that rape is only used to humiliate the enemy, it is also targeted towards the human need for sex. For example, Somali women refugees in Kenya were first robbed by the attackers and then raped as an additional bonus. This means that rape in this context is not only a weapon to terrorize people into complying with the attackers but also inflicted against women for sexual needs.
So, it is very much clear why rape is such a huge wartime crime, however, none could possibly answer why soldiers rape women? To put it bluntly, it is predominantly men who rape women during the war, like all rape, which reflects a gender-based prejudice. It is an assertion by men to objectify women and prove their power and accessibility over women.
It is therefore difficult to distinguish that do men rape women specifically for political motivations or men’s domination of women. In essence, international communities should now focus on ending wartime rapes. It should be focused on a commitment to not just punish rape in a conflict-struck area, but also anywhere it occurs.