Rape is common during wartime, but even within the context of the same war, some armed groups perpetrate rape on a massive scale while others never do. In Rape during Civil War, Dara Kay Cohen examines variation in the severity and perpetrators of rape using an original dataset of reported rape during all major civil wars from 1980 to 2012. Cohen also conducted extensive fieldwork, including interviews with perpetrators of wartime rape, in three postconflict counties, finding that rape was widespread in the civil wars of the Sierra Leone and Timor-Leste but was far less common during El Salvador's civil war.
Cohen argues that armed groups that recruit their fighters through the random abduction of strangers use rape—and especially gang rape—to create bonds of loyalty and trust between soldiers. The statistical evidence confirms that armed groups that recruit using abduction are more likely to perpetrate rape than are groups that use voluntary methods, even controlling for other confounding factors. Important findings from the fieldwork—across cases—include that rape, even when it occurs on a massive scale, rarely seems to be directly ordered. Instead, former fighters describe participating in rape as a violent socialization practice that served to cut ties with fighters’ past lives and to signal their commitment to their new groups. Results from the book lay the groundwork for the systematic analysis of an understudied form of civilian abuse. The book will also be useful to policymakers and organizations seeking to understand and to mitigate the horrors of wartime rape.
Which armed groups have perpetrated sexual violence in recent conflicts? This article presents patterns from the new Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict (SVAC) dataset. The dataset, coded from the three most widely used sources in the quantitative human rights literature, covers 129 active conflicts, and the 625 armed actors involved in these conflicts, during the period 1989–2009. The unit of observation is the conflict-actor-year, allowing for detailed analysis of the patterns of perpetration of sexual violence for each conflict actor. The dataset captures six dimensions of sexual violence: prevalence, perpetrators, victims, forms, location, and timing. In addition to active conflict-years, the dataset also includes reports of sexual violence committed by conflict actors in the five years post-conflict. We use the data to trace variation in reported conflict-related sexual violence over time, space, and actor type, and outline the dataset's potential utility for scholars. Among the insights offered are that the prevalence of sexual violence varies dramatically by perpetrator group, suggesting that sexual violations are common – but not ubiquitous. In addition, we find that state militaries are more likely to be reported as perpetrators of sexual violence than either rebel groups or militias. Finally, reports of sexual violence continue into the post-conflict period, sometimes at very high levels. The data may be helpful both to scholars and policymakers for better understanding the patterns of sexual violence, its causes, and its consequences.
Much of the current scholarship on wartime violence, including studies of the combatants themselves, assumes that women are victims and men are perpetrators. However, there is an increasing awareness that women in armed groups may be active fighters who function as more than just cooks, cleaners, and sexual slaves. In this article, the author focuses on the involvement of female fighters in a form of violence that is commonly thought to be perpetrated only by men: the wartime rape of noncombatants. Using original interviews with ex-combatants and newly available survey data, she finds that in the Sierra Leone civil war, female combatants were participants in the widespread conflict-related violence, including gang rape. A growing body of evidence from other conflicts suggests that Sierra Leone is not an anomaly and that women likely engage in conflict-related violence, including sexual violence, more often than is currently believed. Many standard interpretations of wartime rape are undermined by the participation of female perpetrators. To explain the involvement of women in wartime rape, the author argues that women in armed group units face similar pressure to that faced by their male counterparts to participate in gang rape. The study has broad implications for future avenues of research on wartime violence, as well as for policy.
Wartime rape is neither ubiquitous nor inevitable. The level of sexual violence differs significantly across countries, conflicts, and particularly armed groups. Some armed groups can and do prohibit sexual violence. Such variation suggests that policy interventions should also be focused on armed groups, and that commanders in effective control of their troops are legally liable for patterns of sexual violence they fail or refuse to prevent.
Wartime rape is also not specific to certain types of conflicts or to geographic regions. It occurs in ethnic and non-ethnic wars, in Africa and elsewhere.
State forces are more likely to be reported as perpetrators of sexual violence than rebels. States may also be more susceptible than rebels to naming and shaming campaigns around sexual violence.
Perpetrators and victims may not be who we expect them to be. During many conflicts, those who perpetrate sexual violence are often not armed actors but civilians. Perpetrators also are not exclusively male, nor are victims exclusively female. Policymakers should not neglect nonstereotypical perpetrators and victims.
Wartime rape need not be ordered to occur on a massive scale. Wartime rape is often not an intentional strategy of war: it is more frequently tolerated than ordered. Nonetheless, as noted, commanders in effective control of their troops are legally liable for sexual violence perpetrated by those troops.
Much remains unknown about the patterns and causes of wartime sexual violence. In particular, existing data cannot determine conclusively whether wartime sexual violence on a global level is increasing, decreasing, or holding steady. Policymakers should instead focus on variation at lower levels of aggregation, and especially across armed groups.
Why do some armed groups commit massive wartime rape, whereas others never do? Using an original dataset, I describe the substantial variation in rape by armed actors during recent civil wars and test a series of competing causal explanations. I find evidence that the recruitment mechanism is associated with the occurrence of wartime rape. Specifically, the findings support an argument about wartime rape as a method of socialization, in which armed groups that recruit by force—through abduction or pressganging—use rape to create unit cohesion. State weakness and insurgent contraband funding are also associated with increased wartime rape by rebel groups. I examine observable implications of the argument in a brief case study of the Sierra Leone civil war. The results challenge common explanations for wartime rape, with important implications for scholars and policy makers.
Transnational advocacy organizations are influential actors in the international politics of human rights. While political scientists have described several methods these groups use – particularly a set of strategies termed ‘information politics’ – scholars have yet to consider the effects of these tactics beyond their immediate impact on public awareness, policy agendas or the behavior of state actors. This article investigates the information politics surrounding sexual violence during Liberia’s civil war. We show that two frequently-cited ‘facts’ about rape in Liberia are inaccurate, and consider how this conventional wisdom gained acceptance. Drawing on the Liberian case and findings from sociology and economics, we develop a theoretical framework that treats inaccurate claims as an effect of ‘dueling incentives’ – the conflict between advocacy organizations’ needs for short-term drama and long-term credibility. From this theoretical framework, we generate hypotheses regarding the effects of information politics on (1) short-term changes in funding for human rights advocacy organizations, (2) short-term changes in human rights outcomes, (3) the institutional health of humanitarian and human rights organizations, and (4) long-run outcomes for the ostensible beneficiaries of such organizations. We conclude by outlining a research agenda in this area, emphasizing the importance of empirical research on information politics in the human rights realm, and particularly its effects on the lives of aid recipients.