"Sexual violence in conflict needs to be treated as the war crime that it is; it can no longer be treated as an unfortunate collateral damage of war." -Ms. Zainab Hawa Bangura, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Amnesty International asserts that in modern conflicts, rape is used deliberately as a military strategy. It describes war rape as a ‘weapon of war’ or a ‘means of combat’. According to UNICEF, ‘systematic rape is often used as a weapon of war in ethnic cleansing’. In 2008, the United Nations Security Council argued that "women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group. The term ‘sexual violence’ involves a range of perilous crimes such as rape, sexual mutilation, sexual humiliation, mass rape, forced prostitution, abduction, and forced pregnancy. The deeply entrenched notion dovetailed in the commission of sexual offenses during wartime and conflict against the women is the objectification of women’s body as property/chattel by victorious warriors. Sexual violence may also be reckoned as a means of troop mollification, where women are excruciatingly forced into ‘military sexual slavery’. One of the core reasons for the occurrence of sexual violence is the destruction and ruination of the pride of men and thereby the community. Men who are unable to ‘protect their women’ are subjected to humiliation and they are considered weak and powerless, but this fact will always stay indispensable that women are the ultimate victim of these atrocious acts inflicted upon them which consumes their life, body, and soul. Therefore, this brutish practice is considered as a means of psychological warfare, rendering humiliation, and a major defeat of the enemy. Conflict-Related Sexual Violence is often deliberately used as a tactic of war or terror by both nonstate armed groups and state security forces, as it results in physical and psychological traumas, creating devastating and scourging effects that leave their impact far beyond the immediate victim of physical violence.

Victimization of Women - Victory in War

It is indisputable that women are victims of unbelievably horrific atrocities and injustices in the conflict which results in the ugliest form of exploitation of the body of the women. The psychology behind infliction of sexual violence against the women and her victimization is that it creates a sense of satisfaction and it reflects the sign of victory in war as it directly humiliates the men because they are unable to protect their women. In this process, women are merely used as a means and tool during the war, which spoils their life and exploits of their body. They rarely have the same resources, political rights, authority, or control over their environment and needs that men do. In addition, women are unable to protect themselves as they are physically not as strong as men and they are burdened with caretaking responsibilities which limit their mobility. The harm, silence, and shame which women experience in war are pervasive and their redressal is almost non-existent. The general breakdown in law and order which occurs during conflict and displacement leads to an increase in all forms of torturous and abusive violence. The victimization of the women, physically and mentally, is not only inflicted by the enemies during the war, but they are also subjected to domestic violence by their husbands due to the tensions of conflict and the frustration of powerlessness and loss of traditional male roles associated with displacement. Alcohol abuse may also become more common and exacerbate the situation. The nerve-wracking brutality foisted upon the women is the most heinous and poisonous crime during the war crimes of all times. ‘Their wombs are punctured with guns and they are repeatedly raped, tortured in front of their husbands and children. Rifles are forced into their vaginas. Pregnant women are beaten to induce miscarriages. Fetuses are ripped from wombs. They are kidnapped, blindfolded, and beaten on their way to work or school and used as sexual slaves to service troops and they are forced to cook for them, carry their loads from camp to camp. They are purposely infected with HIV/AIDS which acts as a slow and painful murder. Trafficking and sexual slavery are inextricably linked to conflict’.

In South Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), women had been buried alive by local villagers, because ostensibly they were believed to be witches, but the reality is that the women were exploited because they were suspected of providing food and medicine to armed groups that the villagers did not support. It has been reported by Human Rights Watch, concerning rape in the internal armed conflict that reported cases often involve the most inhumane act of inserting foreign objects into the vagina and anus combined with other forms of torture including electric shock to vagina and breasts and commission of rape of pregnant women and minors. Women go through the feelings of severe despair, traumatization, guilt, and shame, accompanied by the fear of rejection by husband and community. Some victims of rape are driven to commit suicide as the result of these consequences and others end up being prostitutes, as their only way of survival after rejection from their family. The occurrence of rape is particularly high in situations where male power has become unstable and it is committed not only as a sexual act but also as an aggressive act, to gain satisfaction from the helplessness and humiliation of the victim. It is considered as a symbolic rape of the body of the community. It is generally committed because the violation of the gender stereotype is perceived by the aggressor, i.e. women pose a threat to the men by being politically active, engaging in resistance movements and propaganda, so that rape essentially constitutes a sexual punishment for the trespass of a perceived gender boundary. Rape by enemy troops is also recognized as war propaganda.9 Not only women, but the rape of men by other men is also common in war. A 2009 study by Lara Stemple found that it had been documented in conflicts worldwide; for example, 76% of male political prisoners in the 1980s El Salvador and 80% of concentration camp inmates in Sarajevo reported being raped or sexually tortured. Stemple concludes that the “lack of attention to sexual abuse of men during conflict is particularly troubling given the widespread reach of the problem.”10 According to a survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2010, 30% of women and 22% of men from the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo reported that they had been subject to conflict-related sexual violence.

Though the acknowledgment and the redressal of the said issue are undoubtedly strenuous and challenging, it is the need of the hour that major reformative and security measures must be enforced to prevent the reoccurrence of such gruesome exploitation of individuals in general and women, in particular. The various humanitarian organizations and international NGOs must endeavor to design several protocols that comprise the preventive and rehabilitative measures to check and curb the said problem.

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