chapter  3
Victim and survivor: narrated social identities of women who experienced rape during the war
Pages 22

It is commonly believed that, when utilized in ethnic conflicts, as in the Bosnian case, sexual viol ence is employed as a weapon of demoralization against entire soci eties (Coneth-Morgan 2004: 22). The demoralization is characterized by a violent invasion of the interior of the vic tim’s body, which thereby constitutes an attack upon the intimate self and dignity of the indi vidual human being (Goldstein 2001: 362-363). By giving a voice to women who have ex peri enced such an ordeal and letting them position their ex peri ences, we gain insight into the diverse impacts that war rapes have on different vic tims, their fam il ies and relationships. This chapter therefore presents inter views with five women who were vic tims of war rape during the Bosnian war. Research liter at ure on these crimes emphas izes that sexual viol ence was carried out in order to humiliate, or destroy, the identity of the vic tim, and that this was the way in which the viol ence constituted a weapon of war (see, for instance, Gutman 1993; Stiglmayer 1994b; Allen 1996; Nikolic-Ristanovic 2000). Inherent in this argument is the notion that the female body constitutes yet another battlefield where ethnic conflict can be fought, where a woman’s sexual identity – in conjunction with her polit ical and religious national identity – is the main target for the actions being carried out. Consequently the ways in which women’s vic timization takes form is crucial in order to understand the ways in which sexual viol ence has polit ical impact during and after a conflict. On the schol arly liter at ure of battered women Hydén argues that there is a risk of confining abused women to their sufferings and thereby constructing a homogenous and monolithic conceptualization of female vic timhood (Hydén 2005: 172). The liter at ure on sexual viol ence in war clearly runs this risk. Hydén (2005:173) argues that in each story of oppression and suffering there runs a parallel his tory of opposi tion. The aim of this chapter therefore, is to ana lyse lived ex peri ences as narrated by five protagonists and also show how they employ different strat egies for war rape survival and identity construction. Because the war rapes happened under extra ordinary violent and potentially fatal circumstances, it has been im port ant to find an ana lyt ical format that makes it pos sible to ana lyse the war rapes separately from other horrific events that happened to these women during the war. By structuring the ana lysis as a nar rat­ ive and analysing the inter views with the vic tims as nar rat ives, we come closer

to an understanding of how the war rapes have affected the vic tims in unique ways. In this scen ario, it is the war rapes that serve as the valued endpoint, and other events and accounts are selected and ordered as they are seen as rel ev ant to these experiences. The nar rat ive ana lysis that follows is based on seven inter views with five different women eight years after the conflict ended. Names have been changed and details withheld to protect the anonymity of the inter viewees. Three of these women – ‘Azra’, ‘Ceca’ and ‘Danira’ – were in their mid 40s at the time of the inter view, and were married and had chil dren before the war. They had remained married to their husbands after the war. ‘Berina’ was in her mid 20s at the time of the inter view; she is a widow and has one child. ‘Emila’ was also in her mid 20s at the time of the inter view and has no chil dren. These women all identi fy themselves as Bosniak. While it is a well estab lished fact that Serb and Croat women were also vic tims of sim ilar forms of sexual viol ence during the war, this study draws its empirical findings from inter views with Bosniak women. There are pragmatic reasons for this choice. Though many of the local organ iza tions I contacted aim to be multi­ ethnic, there are simply more Bosniak women members of such organ iza tions than members from other nationalities. It was therefore easier to get in touch with Bosniak women who were willing to talk than to contact women with sim ilar ex peri ences from other nationalities. Further, the study does not aim to compare the impact of sexual viol ence in a crossnational per spect ive, but rather focuses on im plica tions for notions of the self as vic tim and survivor. The inter viewees are therefore not prim arily regarded as ethnic/national subjects. Each of the inter views lasted about one and a half hours, and they were all structured along them atic lines.2 However, the inter view format was sufficiently open to permit a great deal of flex ib il ity and changes of topic and focus according to the wishes of the interviewees. In order to estab lish a common point of ref er ence, it was im port ant to ask the inter viewees to talk about their rape ex peri ences. However, this was nat urally a very delicate endeavour. Both the inter viewees and I knew that the reason I wanted to talk to them was because of their war rape ex peri ences, but at the same time it seemed highly inappropriate to begin the inter views with questions about those par ticu lar events. It had been made clear to the inter viewees that they should not feel obliged to recount details of their ordeals, yet some sort of ac know ledgement of their ex peri ences had to be estab lished in the inter view situ ation in order to be able to link the traumatic events they had ex peri enced to their accounts of post­ conflict life. I therefore began each inter view with factual questions on such issues as the inter viewee’s age, educational background, where they had lived before the war, and what their family situ ation had been like. Gradually, the inter views would move toward the rape issue through questions about their current relationships (does your husband/mother know what happened to you during the war?), their mater ial life con ditions in the past (would you mind telling me what happened to you when your village was destroyed/your house was burned?), pos sible bodily pains (do you sometimes have dif ficult ies sleeping/remembering things?). It was hoped that this would

estab lish a degree of rapport between the in ter preter, the inter viewee and myself, which in turn would make the inter viewee feel more comfortable talking about her traumas. Nevertheless, despite my careful pre para tions, the ways in which the rape issue was disclosed was surprising and very different in each case, as will be shown below.