chapter  4
What do we know about war rapes before the 1990s?
Pages 13

While the stories presented in the previous chapter are unique to the five women inter viewed, their ex peri ences are not. A look back on the his tory of war rape shows that sexual viol ence in war is as old as war itself. History has shown that the female body is treated as an exten sion of the battlefield, where victories and defeats can be manifest in different modes of sexual gratification by the male soldier. Enloe (2000: 108) writes that ‘rape evokes the nightmarishness of war, but it becomes just an indistinguishable part of a poisonous wartime stew called “lootpillageandrape” ’. Any attempt to untangle the ‘lootpillageandrape’ nexus to make the impact of rape clearer and more vis ible is a polit ical endeavour, warns Enloe, who con tinues by saying that such efforts are both difficult and complex, but urges us to try anyway. And so we will. If we look at how war has been depicted in the world of fine arts, liter at ure and poetry, rape in battle has been a leitmotif. The famous painting by the classicist painter Nicolas Poussin (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art) is a case in point: entitled ‘Abduction of the Sabine Women’, it depicts a battle in which all the women in the pic ture are seen attempting to escape the men, who are holding and grappling with them. There are two chil dren lying on the ground in the foreground of the pic ture and two elder women holding their heads in an attempt to protect themselves and the chil dren from the madness sur round ing them. Nicolas Poussin has depicted a mythologized episode from the early days in the his tory of Rome. It is said that criminals and people less law-abiding than one would have liked were granted cit izen ship in Rome at an early stage because they were thought to be fearless enough to win battles to expand the territory of Rome. There was a slight prob lem, how ever: there were so few women that the city would face a ser ious prob lem after a couple of generations because far too few chil dren would be born, par ticu larly boys. On one occasion, it is said that the neigh bouring people, the Sabines, were invited to Rome for a religious celebra tion of Neptune, and in the midst of the proceedings the Romans stormed the scene kidnapping and raping the Sabine women, who in turn were forced to marry their captors. When the Sabine men returned some time later to reclaim their women, the women had become accustomed to the situ ation and got between the warring men to stop the kidnapping. The Sabines and Romans were

united in the end and con tinued their struggle for an empire. According to legend, this is how Rome was estab lished (Brownmiller [1975] 1991: 34). In her seminal work entitled Men, Women and Rape, Brownmiller ([1975] 1991) writes that rape has always accompanied wars of religion and revolu tion; it has been a weapon of terror and revenge, as well as a way of relieving boredom. Unques tion ably there will be raping, says Brownmiller in the introduction to her outline of rape in war, quoting General George S. Patton (Brownmiller [1975] 1991: 31). Her ana lysis shows that the function of rape in war is multifaceted, but in all its forms a definitive charac ter istic is that it gen erally takes place unanswered: war creates oppor tun ities for rape to be carried out with impunity by the majority of its perpetrators. The power of the perpetrators lies not just in the fact that the likelihood of conviction for these crimes is lower in times of war than in times of peace, but also in the fact that the vic tims tend to remain silent about the ordeals they have suffered. Sexual taboos, feelings of shame and guilt and fear of being ostracized by the local com mun ity and immediate family members all con trib ute to keeping the vic tims of rape silent both in war and peace. The fact that women who have ex peri enced rape will most likely admit having suffered these crimes only long after the events have taken place has made it difficult to study the impact rape has on the sufferers and their surround ings other than from a his tor ical vantage point.