Free «Rape in the Military» Essay Sample


After the American war in Vietnam, many feminists started looking for evidence of sexual abuse. Since that time the researchers have gathered a mass of materials and archives of evidences. The historiography of violence against women has become a university research discipline. Feminist reflections motivated the researchers to re-read the historical sources, revealing constant facts of sexual abuse in all the wars of our civilization. It turned out that despite changing regimes, disappearing and reappearing cultures, the archetype of the Nietzsche’s principle “Man shall be educated for war, and woman for the recreation of the warrior” (Nietzsche, 1954, p. 178) is eternal.

Rape of women was recognized as the legitimate right of a soldier in the Roman wars of the 6th century, the Hundred Years War between France and England during the reign of King Edward II, Edward III, King George, etc. The historian Arnold Toynbee gathered a lot of detailed documents about the rape of women during the First World War: “from Liege to Louvain the German Army cut a swath of horror. Houses were burned down, villages were plundered, civilians were bayonetted, and women were raped” (Brownmiller, 1993, p. 41).

More recently a group of Korean women demanded the Japanese government to compensate for one hundred thousand Korean women taken into sexual slavery during the war between Korea and Japan at the Pacific Islands in 1930-40. According to their words, they had “to serve” up to 15 soldiers a day. During the occupation of Kuwait in 1990, the Iraqi soldiers raped and tortured women of all ages. Since abortion is banned in Kuwait, after the liberation those women were forced into child bearing, but the babies were killed by Kuwaiti men, because those were the children of the enemy. Even the armies of modern civilized countries commit such acts. Thus, several U.S. soldiers from 101 Airborne Division raped a 14-year old Iraqi girl and killed her and her family, including 5-year-old child. Other soldiers of this regiment helped to conceal the crime.

Facts of Rape

Although, rape is commonly considered as an interaction between two individuals through coercion of one by another, at all times it was also a kind of the war strategy. Numerous references can be discovered to the mass rape of women, since the times of ancient Greece and until recent atrocities in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia. Hundreds of thousands of women were raped during wars in the previous centuries. In the 1990s the cases of mass rapes committed by Serbian troops over thousands of Bosnian and Croatian women and girls led to the establishment of the social movement struggling to classify rape in wartime as a war crime. This movement was supported by reports of thousands of women and girls raped in 1994 in Rwanda (Flanders, 2000).

In 1996, the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia recognized rape in wartime as a criminal offense to be punished by strict criminal penalties. It was the first time in history when sexual assault was considered as a separate war crime. In March, 2000 the United Nations began its first trial specifically devoted to sexual crimes against women.

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Why do so many rapes occur during wars? According to Swiss & Giller (1993), besides the fact that during wars rape seeks to subordinate women, humiliate them and rule over them, the warring sides in this manner are trying to demoralize the enemy, “tearing his family and social ties” (p. 613). When a war breaks out on the basis of ethnic conflict, as it happened in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, mass rape becomes a military strategy of terror against the population. These actions are aimed at forcing the entire population to flee their homes. It is also a kind of ethnic cleansing. Therefore, rape is an act of war, an attack directed not only against female individuals, but also against their families and society as a whole.

It is a fact that mass rapes have always accompanied any war. Toda, the aggressive geopolitics has altered for the economic pressure and globalization policies, soldiers watch the TV right in the trenches; even in the midst of the military conflict the country, which is the object of aggression, uses a humanitarian aid in the camps and hospitals deployed by the Red Cross. The war has clearly “humanized”. Though, this impression is deceptive – it does not affect the essence of the military ethos: to capture the enemy’s land and his house, to rape his wife or daughter as a part of the enemy’s property.

Psychological Explanation

Humiliation and destruction of the enemy’s property raise the warrior’s morale, strengthen his confidence in his man’s power and superiority of his people or his army. Each of his companions does the same thing, strengthening the group solidarity and his own sense of aggression. Being an instrument of military machine, the soldier turns the practice of rape into an important institution of war in the heterosexual society. In this case, it is difficult to distinguish between rape and prostitution in the military. Coercion by force or money is equally the fruit of the militarist idea that a soldier has the right to possess the defeated enemy’s woman. “The trophy belongs to the winner!” was the motto of Ancient Greece. The Ancient Roman equivalent was “Woe to the vanquished”. The latter (“Vae victis”) is the motto of the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment (United States Army). This fact symbolizes the continuity of military traditions.

Perhaps, in time of war, the sense of close death awakens in people the archetypal dark reaction, compared to which all the cultural layers are unimportant. War as an extreme form of collective conflict creates a special “morale” space, at the conditional territory of which the Ten Commandments are not applied, although, they are relative by themselves. The usurpation of the divine right of life, and of social right of dignity leads to “death of God”, to denomination of prohibitions, especially concerning life, death, and sexuality as the foundations of life.

The philosophy of the 20th century discovered the affinity of destruction and consumption, which has extended beyond the boundaries of anthropological minimum. Excess, surplus, and limit, reflected in the phenomenon of military rape, which is committed in public in a very cruel manner, put violence into a symbolic model of consumer behavior displayed by a group. It is a sexual discharge as an instantaneous consumption and release of sexual energy.

From a feminist perspective, military rape is a collective action, during which personal authority is established, as well as the mental satisfaction of belonging to the group of “real men”. The notion of a “real man” in this context is essentially not a fate or predestination, but a social construction of emphasized hegemonic masculinity, based on the professionalization of violence. 

Specific Features

Does the rape in the military possess the features that distinguish it from thr rape during peaceful civilian life? Researchers (Burgess, 1999) name three distinctive characteristics.

First of all, it is a public act. The enemy must see what is going on with his “property”, therefore the violators often rape women in front of their home. It is an act against the husband (a symbolic father of the nation or leader of the enemy), and not an act against women. The fact of rape shows that the rapist considers the absence of the woman’s own will, her own body and desires. Since the humiliation of the enemy’s wife is the symbol of a victorious conquest, the humiliation is being committed as cruelly and theatrically as possible: women are pulled by hair, their body parts are cut off, they are tied with ropes, etc. (Flanders, 2000).

The second feature of the military sexual abuse is gang rape. Military comrades do it in a single agreement: everyone should be like the others. This reflects the need to strengthen and reproduce the group solidarity. Homosocial cohesion needs constant reinforcement, be it drinking alcohol, or understanding the same jokes, or sharing similar emotions. When “shooting and fucking” is a warrior’s life creed, the rape and death together form a paradigm, which reflects the role given to women in war.

And finally, the third sign of rapes in the military is the murder of a woman after sexual assault. As it is known, a woman is not a war hero, if it is killed by soldiers. However, the soldier is not honored for such act either. It would seem that the fact of rape is enough, and yet women are being killed. The narratives of the soldiers who killed their victims, nevertheless, contain a kind of discursive justification. Perhaps, self-justification during war is the common trait, which gives soldiers the right to rape and murder.


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