chapter  10
The political psychology of war rape
Pages 4

The aim of this book has been to show how the indi vidual ex peri ence of a vic tim of rape has to be understood within the polit ical con text in which the events occur. More specifically, the studies presented began from the view that sexual viol ence in war is best understood within a social constructionist framework, because it would be empirically wrong to argue that sexual viol ence in war is simply an outcome of male biological drives (essentialist position) or of the war sys tem itself (structuralist position), but is instead, at the very least, a combination of the two. The social constructionist approach, which is categorized as post-structuralist by most textbooks (Guba and Lincoln 1994; Lincoln and Guba 2000), provides a framework for conceptualizing the ways in which femininity, masculinity and violent polit ical power struggles interact in constructing the meaning of sexual viol ence in armed conflict. In this pro cess, it has been im portant to create a polit ical framework from which the indi vidual ex peri ences examined are understood. One major conclusion that emerges across the various chapters in this book is the finding that war rape must be understood as a violent relationship in which the perpetrator is masculinized and the vic tim feminized. In this pro cess, other identities linked to the masculinized perpetrators and the feminized vic tims are sexualized in a hierarchical fashion, where power follows masculinization and powerlessness follows feminization. This means that the use of rape in war not only represents a violent hierarchical relationship between the male perpetrator and the female vic tim, but also situates other identities in the polit ical power struggle in a sim ilar way. The pro cess of masculinization and feminization on which war rapes are based confirms the claim made by fem in ist scholars within peace and conflict studies that war polarizes gender relations in hierarchical and pat ri archal ways, but takes the argument one step further. The ways in which masculinization and feminization polarize other identities are intimately linked to the overall conflict structure, and it is this mech an ism which can make rape a power ful weapon of war. The implication of this understanding of sexual viol ence in armed conflict is that the intersectionality of gender and other identities in conflict become the barometer for understanding sociopolit ical change at large. In Bosnia, it seems that this conceptualization of sociopolit ical struggle, first violently manifested in

the war rapes, was sub sequently carried over to the post-war era. Examples of these forms of change would be the fact that the discourse of a backlash, increasing religious dominance, and traditional modes of life in post-war Bosnia is narrated as increasing restriction of mobility for women in pub lic space, restrictions on abor tions and increasing do mestic viol ence. Likewise, the discourse of a trans ition towards increasing Westernization and a market eco nomy is narrated as an increasing openness about human rights abuses against women, an increasing use of female prostitutes and trafficked women by civilian males, and a sexualization of pub lic spaces through blatant advertisements for places where sex can be bought and sold. The finding that rape sexualizes sociopolit ical change in war and post-war leads to a conclusion that is different from the arguments of scholars like Allen (1996), Nordstrom (1996) and MacKinnon (1993). They have argued that we recog nize the impact and con sequences of rape in times of war because we know its impact and con sequences in times of peace. The main reason this claim has not been debated within the schol arly liter at ure on war rape has to do with the fact that little research, if any, has focused on the social impact that war rape might have in the aftermath of a given conflict beyond the harm it inflicts on its indi vidual vic tims. I will argue, how ever, that we cannot recog nize the impact and con sequences of rape in times of war solely based on the impact of rape in times of peace because rape in war sexualizes other gendered as well as nongendered identities for polit ical purposes and thereby alters the ways in which masculinization and feminization are perceived. What we can as sume is that rape in war alters the intersectionality between gender and other polit ical identities, and thereby situates gender as the optic though which other forms of sociopolit ical changes are viewed and understood. If the use of rape in war alters the intersectionality between gender and other polit ical identities, what does this mean for local understandings of the Bosnian war rapes and for the indi vidual war rape sufferers? The Bosnian health workers discuss at great length how the polit ical nature of the war rapes changed local per spect ives on sexual viol ence against women. The war rapes were clearly construed as a polit ical phenomenon with polit ical im plica tions and intent. One of the health workers de scribed how, paradoxically, the war created a ‘good basis’ for therapy with rape sufferers because the situ ation para meters for the crime were so different from post-war rapes. To some extent, the ways in which sexual viol ence became politicized took the stigma away from the female vic tim. Her eth ni city determined whether she was ‘eli gible’ for attack. Through the situating of vic tims of sexual viol ence as ethnic subjects, a sense of unity was created between men and women within the same ethnic group. For the local health workers, this unity created a basis for therapy, because vic tims of sexual violence received sup port and understanding from their fam il ies and com munit ies. In the post-war con text, sexual viol ence and its vic tims are situated differently. The polit ical con text shifted, and sexual viol ence became more a question of male and female power relations, less a question of eth ni city. For the health workers, both lines of argument have led to various changes in terms of work

methods (more focus on long-term abuse and family therapy), choice of clients (more focus on the role of men in fam il ies and ado les cent beha vi our), and outreach target groups (more focus on reaching boys and girls of school age). For the indi vidual war rape sufferers, the intersectionality between gender and other polit ical identities that the war rapes brought about has meant different possib il ities for situating their war rape ex peri ences in the post-war setting. The five different nar rat ives from women who ex peri enced war rape showed that rape in the Bosnian war has an impact upon and violates the social identity of its vic tims in at least two distinct ways: it targets both the ethnic and the gendered identity of its vic tims, and this dual identity violation creates a pos sib il ity for dual identity construction in the aftermath. Through their accounts, the five women created two distinctly different nar rat ive plots, within which their primary positioning in the stories varied. As ethnic vic tims, the elements of their stories created a survivor plot characterized by absence of guilt, sup port from family members, and active engagement in getting their perpetrators convicted. As female vic tims, how ever, the elements of their stories created a vic tim plot characterized by feelings of guilt and shame, hiding their stories from imme diate family members, and bodily pains and immobility. These observations show: (1) that the vic tims have power to redefine their social identities in the post-conflict sociopolit ical space; (2) that their abil ity to do so, how ever, depends on the mater ial, social and polit ical con text in which they find themselves in the post-conflict setting, as well as the ways in which their ‘sup porting cast’ plays its part; and, finally, (3) that positioning oneself mainly as a vic tim as opposed to a survivor (or the other way around) has different impacts on intrapersonal, interpersonal and societal relations. The studies presented in this book also show that there are methodo logical ways of circumventing the prob lem that many war rape vic tims choose to remain silent about their ex peri ences. First, it is clear that there will be people in a given conflict setting who will have extensive know ledge of ex peri ences of war rape though they are not direct war rape suffers themselves. The study with local health workers showed that, as li aisons between war rape sufferers and the Bosnian com mun ity at large, health workers were able to provide in valu able insights into both the social and the indi vidual im plica tions of wartime rape. Second, the use of in ter preters in the inter views with war raped women also proved to be a way of giving voice to local women and their ex peri ences in ways that might other wise have been disregarded. On the issue of long-term effect, the studies show that rape in the Bosnian war was an effect ive weapon. Not only did it have a signi fic ant polit ical impact during the conflict from 1992 to 1995, it also con trib uted to changing pre-war modes of social and gendered inter action. For indi vidual war rape sufferers, the harm and trauma inflicted is undisputable, but the ways in which these individuals live with their war rape ex peri ences in the aftermath take diverse forms. One of the reasons for these vari ations is the fact that the use of rape in war transforms notions of femininity and masculinity by sexualizing other (polit ical) identities. Tragically, male war rape against female members of opposing

warring groups does achieve its polit ical ob ject ive of destroying the existing social fabric, but by doing so war rape has an unintended potentially pos it ive side-effect in that it creates new spaces for the social construction of gender. This change of social constructions of femininity and masculinity shows that rape in war has societal con sequences that extend beyond the harm and dev astation these acts of viol ence inflict on indi vidual vic tims, and it also shows that these larger societal changes have im plica tions for psychological therapy with war rape vic tims and for the ways in which indi vidual vic tims regard their wartrauma ex peri ences. Against this backdrop, then, an op tim istic potential for policy makers and psychological therapists comes into relief, in that an increased focus on the sociopolit ical nature of war rapes and notions of femininity and masculinity can counteract the stigmatization of rape vic tims, because it lifts the indi vidual ex peri ence out of the indi vidual sphere of private suffering. Finally, this study has shown that policy makers aiming to assist war raped com munit ies and sufferers must be aware of several factors. First, they must not as sume that war rape has uni ver sal effects on its sufferers, but realize that this par ticu lar form of war viol ence has multifaceted outcomes. Close coopera tion with local partners (such as the health workers in this book) is crucial in assessing the impact of war rape in the given conflict setting. Second, the fact that war rapes have polit ical significance in conflict settings means that there is a potential for transforming the traditional stigma normally attached to rape vic tims. Local authorities in a par ticu lar conflict setting (for instance, religious and commun ity leaders in Bosnia) can counteract the stigma normally ascribed to a rape vic tim by talking pub licly about how these acts of war are polit ical forms of viol ence and by pointing out that no form of guilt or respons ib ility should be ascribed to indi vidual sufferers. When this is done with authority, repeatedly and compas sion ately, the rape ex peri ences will be made vis ible in ways that can have a pos it ive effect on the self-perception of the indi vidual war rape sufferer and her ways of living with the trauma. Future research in this field must have as a premise that the con sequences of acts of sexual viol ence are not given. The effects and con sequences of such violence will most likely vary according to time, culture and the nature of the conflict. It is only through inter action with the female vic tims and male perpetrators, as well as an understanding of the nature of the conflict and culture in which the acts of sexual viol ence took place, that the researcher can explain the impact and con sequences of wartime sexual viol ence in any given conflict con text. Generalizations about the impact of sexual viol ence on indi vidual vic tims and their respective sociopolit ical com munit ies can only be made by comparing mul tiple local studies, simply because one cannot adequately assess the indi vidual impact without an appreciation and understanding of the wider sociopolit ical con text in which given acts of war rape occurred and in which the war rape sufferers live in the aftermath of the events. We thus need more in-depth and case-based ana lyses of war raped women and com munit ies in order to compare situ ational para meters and local variations.