chapter  1
Pages 10

My inter est in sexual viol ence in war grew out of a research pro ject that looked at how living in a highly masculine setting – namely war – shaped women’s sense of identity. That par ticu lar pro ject focused on how a group of women de scribed their war ex peri ences in Vietnam, El Salvador and Croatia. The one common factor that lurked in the background of all their stories was the fear of being raped or other wise sexually abused. These women instinctively knew that the war-zone was a place where they were rendered vulner able in par ticu lar ways and where lawlessness ruled. Had they been raped, the perpetrators would most likely remain at large, unpunished. The research for that pro ject was carried out in 1995. As I was finalizing my findings and writing up my work, the Bosnian war was coming to an end. The peace agreement negotiated in Dayton, Ohio, was signed by the warring par ties in Paris on 14 Decem ber 1995. This war had been marked by numerous accounts of rape and sexual viol ence. I therefore became very curious about this par ticu lar aspect of war and started looking for studies, books and theories which could enlighten me on the subject. To my great surprise, or perhaps this was a reflection of my own naïveté, there was not much to be found. The words ‘rape’ and ‘sexual viol ence’ were seldom seen in the subject index of war accounts or theor et ical works on peace and conflict. You might find it used in metaphorical ways as a means to de scribe par ticu larly horrific battles, such as the ‘rape of Nanking’ in 1937 or the ‘rape of Berlin’ in 1945, but it was seldom noted that these metaphors reflect a cruel reality. I decided that I would like to study this war phenomenon in more detail and applied for research funding, only to find that the funders were initially reluct ant to sup port studies on this theme. They were concerned that it might be too traumatic to ask vic tims and others affected by this par ticu lar form of viol ence about these war ex peri ences. While I believe the funders were genu inely concerned about the research subjects, choosing to not fund research this topic on the basis of these ethical concerns had the detrimental effect of rendering these ex periences in vis ible and insufficiently studied, once again. I therefore went to visit some women’s NGOs in the former Yugoslavia to see whether they thought it would be pos sible to study the effects of sexual viol ence during the Bosnian war, and whether they thought that those who had worked with the sexual viol ence

vic tims, or those who had ex peri enced sexual viol ence themselves, would be willing to talk about it. The response was clear: these women wanted to let others know. I reapplied to the rel ev ant funding sources and presented the arguments from the NGOs I had visited in the former Yugoslav region and managed to convince various funders that studying sexual viol ence in armed conflict, including talking to the vic tims of these forms of viol ence, was not only pos sible but also feasible. In addition, this was a timely theme to study and extremely im port ant to hear the accounts of those affected by these acts of viol ence. The result of these efforts is what constitutes this book. With secure funding and a network of people I could contact, I was still faced with numerous dif ficult ies to resolve. In this book, therefore, I devote con sider­ able time discussing not only the them atic issue of sexual viol ence in armed conflict, but also the theor et ical, methodo logical and polit ical concerns which I have had to grapple with and which might be rel ev ant to other studies on the issue of sexual viol ence in war.