The association between rape and war goes as far back as recorded history. Among all evil actions that human beings are known to commit, rape is only next to murder in terms of its barbarity and cruelty. It is also a sad fact that irrespective of widespread acknowledgement of the tendency of human beings to indulge in rape, no significant progress is made to prevent this social evil. Most instances of rape tend to coincide with war and its immediate aftermath. This has parallels in the animal kingdom when males of most species combat with each other to win access to females in heat. But the crucial distinction to be applied in this regard is that the animals are acting as per their nature. In the case of humans, they have a developed mental faculty that is capable of applying ethical principles to their actions. Hence there is no justification in mimicking animal behavior while at the same time undermining the faculty of reason and justice that is so uniquely human. While it is generally true that women from low socio-economic background are usually the victims of rape, there has been an increase of child rape (of both genders) in recent decades. This makes the problem of designing suitable preventative measures all the more urgent, as the potential for emotional and physiological damage is higher for minor girls and boys when compared to adults.
In recent years, instances of mass rape and murder have been witnessed in war-ravaged regions such as the Balkans and Iraq. In the case of the Balkans, the historic rivalries between neighboring ethnic groups have added to the scale and brutality of these rapes. In Iraq, the political chaos and the destruction of civil order has led to raping of vulnerable Iraqi women by American marines. Closer to home, rape has become a casual occurrence in this side of the Mexican border. Many illegal immigrants of Mexican origin are susceptible to be raped during their period of detention at the border. Given that rape in these cases were perpetrated by military personnel, it is imperative that more stringent standards of conduct are imposed on them. What makes matters worse is that the military is usually dominated by men and those women who find themselves in subordinate ranks in the military are themselves subject to rape and sexual abuse, making radical reforms very difficult. But as a first step toward preventing rape, women citizens can pressurize legislators to introduce laws that are favorable to women in distress. For example, the vast numbers of unreported rapes are a result of fear of social stigma faced by rape victims. By providing a dedicated law enforcement unit for handling rape cases and putting women officers in charge of these units, more women will be encouraged to come out in the open and report rape.
The more serious challenge to preventing rape is due to its militarization. All too often, political leaders have remained silent and complicit when the fielded military personnel indulge in systematic rape of women in occupied territories. This should not be allowed to continue and the best way forward is to draft and adopt universal standards for human rights, with special provisions made for the protection of women in war ravaged territories. The United Nations Declaration of Universal Human Rights is a useful document in this respect. One drawback with it is the lack of special clauses for the protection of vulnerable women. Nevertheless, it is a good starting point for national governments across the world. If all nations across the world would abide by this declaration (as they are meant to) then the United Nations would be empowered to monitor and rectify the situation globally.
But the primary obstacle to reaching an international consensus is the United States of America, which by the virtue of being the undisputed superpower in the world, does not take the United Nations seriously. It should also be remembered that the USA is at the forefront of many military engagements across the globe. Hence, if the USA flouts international law then one cannot expect smaller countries to abide by it. In this context, it is fair to say that if the United States practices principles of justice and universal human rights in all its foreign policy initiatives (military and otherwise) then the phenomenon of wartime rapes of women would be significantly reduced. Leading by example thus would also encourage other nations to follow suit. The present Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a huge opportunity in taking symbolic steps in this regard. Being a woman herself, it is imperative on her to take up this cause on behalf of less privileged women of the world. A strong statement of intent from her, and is suitably supported by policies and legislations in the Congress and Senate, would play a crucial role in helping prevent war-related rape.
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Falcon, S. (2001). Rape as a Weapon of War: Advancing Human Rights for Women at the U.S.-Mexico Border. Social Justice, 28(2), 31+.
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U.N. to Address Rape as a Tool of War; Clinton to Lead Session on Basest ‘Evil’. (2009, September 14). The Washington Times (Washington, DC), p. A01.