Connect to share and comment
Wartime rape is underreported but hardly unusual.
It happens on a walk to collect firewood, or in the dead of night asleep at home. Five soldiers against one woman in a secluded cornfield or in the center of town. A daughter raped in front of her family. A 2-year-old girl or a 90-year-old woman.
"Any time, any place, that’s what sex terrorism is about," says Lisa F. Jackson, a filmmaker who documented wartime rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during 2006 and 2007 in "The Greatest Silence." "It slams into women as they’re just living their lives.”
Machetes, rifles and grenades are common weapons in the arsenal of war. One less recognized, yet no less potent, is rape.
Rape against women is a routine instrument of war used to shred the fabric of the the village, the family and the woman's or girl's standing in her community, said Megan MacKenzie, who studies wartime rape at Victoria University in New Zealand and the at the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University.
|A Congolese rebel talks about raping women in "The Greatest Silence."
(Courtesy of Lisa F. Jackson)
Yet the issue is often overlooked by the press, she says. In December 2009, more than 300 people were massacred, and women and children were forced into sexual slavery in Democratic Republic of Congo, but reports trickled out just this week, according to Human Rights Watch and the United Nations.
The civil war in Sierra Leone — notorious for its brutal amputations — was notable for its crimes against women, yet too little attention was paid, says the United Nations journal "Africa Renewal."
In Sierra Leone, a conservative estimate says that around 250,000 of the women in this small West African country were raped during the civil war from 1991 to 2002. Sons were forced to rape their mothers at gunpoint. Family members were gathered and threatened with death if they didn't watch, and victims were told they would be killed if they cried. Some were forced into sexual slavery in Sierra Leone and other African nations.
Democratic Republic of the Congo is the latest spot on the war map to garner international attention for systematic rape. Since civil war broke out in 1998, more than 5 million people have died. Jackson estimates that more than 200,000 women and children have been raped and re-raped by government and rebel forces during the conflict.
“The walking dead,” Jackson calls them.
Wartime rape is not limited to Africa. And it is not new. It has been reported in Sudan, Bosnia, Rwanda, Japan, Cambodia, Chechnya, Nepal, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Cyprus, Haiti, Liberia, Somalia, Uganda, Iraq and Afghanistan since the early 1900s.
The "Rape of Nanking" was infamous for the horrific forced prostitution of Korean, Chinese and Filipina women during World War II by Japanese imperialists. The International Military Tribunal of the Far East estimates that 20,000 women were systematically raped over six weeks during the 1937 Rape of Nanking, following the Japanese capture of that city when women, including infants and the elderly, were kidnapped from their homes, gang raped and explicitly mutilated when stabbed with bayonets or pierced by a bamboo stick.
Another 200,000 women were abducted and forced into prostitution as so-called "comfort women" in Japanese military brothels. Roughly 25 percent survived.
Seventy-three years later, the Rape of Nanking has been researched, documented and discussed in classrooms as one of the worst human rights abuses in history. It remains a serious source of controversy in Asian foreign relations today.
However, the weapon of rape persists.
In Colombia, the threat of rape against women and their daughters has been