Weaponization of rape: Civil and military relations

Weaponization of rape: Civil and military relations

Rape, used as a “weapon of war”, is a tactic and practice for many purposes: to exert power, fulfill a political strategy, and foster group behavior/ military unity. Rape is not collateral damage, but rather an effective tool when employed systematically.

*Content warning: consistent discussion and detailing of sexual violence*


There has been a growing discussion regarding the relationship between military forces and sexual violence. Specifically, the “rape as a weapon of war” narrative gained importance in the twentieth century, arguing that rape is often state-sponsored, strategically employed by the military where the aim is to inflict pain and suffering on the enemy side. The main motive is to fill the gap in the conventional wisdom where rape is seen as collateral damage and an unwanted consequence of wars. This paper looks at this narrative from a feminist perspective, supporting that rape is a tool and has a much wider agenda when it is employed systematically.


When a soldier rapes a woman from the enemy side, he shows that he is more powerful and dominant than the men on the defeated side. Especially in the context of marriage, this destroys the dignity and honor of the losing side’s men, being that, raped woman’s body becomes a “ceremonial battlefield”. As a symbol of brutality, rape makes it possible to see which side wins and which side loses. Thus, women become rewarding figures that can be used by the winning army’s soldiers. In Rwanda, there were more than two hundred thousand women raped and sexual torture victims, while in Bosnia, there were almost sixty thousand women and girls impregnated and forcedly kept in rape camps until they could not get an abortion. Furthermore, there is also a medical side to rape. An eminent example of this would be the Democratic Republic of Congo; armed forces who rape the civilian population of the enemy side deliberately attempt to infect their victims with HIV/AIDS to demoralize and terrorize the public. As a result, passing on these viruses, combatants are therefore likely to infect the fetuses as well. In turn, through rape, the winning side is able to push the victims out of their social community by demonstrating its dominance. Altogether, rape by state-armed forces is influential in performing strength.

Political strategy

Rape is ordered, tolerated, and strategic. It is also “systematic and group-based”. It is a practice, that is employed, and exercised deliberately by state armed actors. Rape does not occur randomly or individually, but instead, collectively. There is a political agenda behind rape. Concerning military operations, states use rape to torture their captives and civilian population for their interests . In fact, some conditions militarise rape: recreational rape, national security rape, and systematic mass rape. Recreational rape implies that if soldiers are not provided with sex work, they will be likely to rape civilians. This logic aligns with the Japanese “comfort women” policy during the Second World War where the Japanese army forced women and girls to be sex slaves who were entitled to fulfill soldiers’ sexual desires. Therefore, in the absence of women, the soldiers can become recreational rapers. In light of the comfort women policy, this is simply to say that military engagement in sexual violence is a necessary evil. Secondly, national security rape means the governmental use of rape to humiliate, degrade and punish women who do not want to obey. Lastly, systematic mass rape entails hostility towards the other ethnic group. It is merely based on destroying the identity and symbolic norms of that distinct group by the perpetrator group.

Group behavior/military unity

Military environment is a social place where commanders communicate with the soldiers through a chain of command. The hierarchical structure of the military, thus, entitles the soldiers to obey their commanders’ orders. Therefore, soldiers, while delivering these orders, engage in activities regardless of how violent they are. Because if they are unable or unwilling to do so, they become socially excluded from the military. This took place in Bosnia where the Serbian militia forced a young (Serbian) boy to rape a woman in front of her family and the boy could not perform the act because he was not sober enough to do it. As a consequence, the militia members ridiculed the boy and socially shunned him. Soldiers become more inclined to perform these acts just because they do not want to be ostracised. Concerning this group behavior, when rape is supported by the top chain of command, it strengthens military solitary among the soldiers. As the fighting power of the military increases, success in war becomes more likely. The fear of being left out of the military establishes group bonding and the creation of unity becomes possible through conducting sexual violence.


Sexual violence is a tool, practice, and strategy that influences people’s minds. It can be used to demonstrate the power and superiority of a certain state or an ethnic population, a form of political strategy, and finally, a way of unification