When researching the definition of the word “war” you may come across the explanation that war is a state of hostility, conflict, or antagonism. It’s not just a declared conflict between states or nations, but it’s a state of turmoil that strikes numerous targets. One, not being so commonly spoken about, is women. 

There have been prevalent documentations of rape noted throughout history, dating all the way back to Ancient Times. If we look at the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament we can see the proof of rape. It describes that rape was a reward to the victors. In the New Living Translation of Lamentations 5:11 it states “Our enemies rape the women in Jerusalem and the young girls in all the towns of Judah.” Another example examining how rape has been evident in war is that if the Greeks or the Romans conquered a city they would then rape and enslave women from the city they conquered. 

In more recent times, there have been accounts of rape within and during war. If we look at World War I, alleged rapes were citied during the Imperial German advance through Belgium. If we examine Anthony Beever’s book entitled “Berlin – The Downfall 1945” it documents evidence of rape by Russian soldiers during World War II.

“It started as soon as the Red Army entered East Prussia and Silesia in 1944, and in many towns and villages every female aged from 10 to 80 was raped.”

During World War II, there was more than just rape forced upon women. There were also forms of sexual slavery. Even before World War II, Asian women, about 200,000 to be exact, were forced and drafted into sexual slavery, more specifically military brothels. The majority of these 200,000 women were from Korea, China, Japan, and the Philippines. The areas that these brothels were located in were Japan, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaya, Thailand, Burma, New Guinea, Hong Kong, and Macau. 

Not all women were forcefully made to work in these brothels. Some of the women that were “working” at these stations were prostitutes already, although it’s hard to say if these women willingly got into prostitution or were pressured into it. What’s disturbing about these women being forced into sex slavery and servitude by the Japanese Imperial Army is that the majority of these women were tricked by offers of employment. Once these women, which many were of teenage years, were tricked or abducted to “comfort houses.” They were confined there and were obligated to please their captors. Pleasing their captors wasn’t just a one-time traumatic deal. Some had to please more than one at a time and up to several times a day. God forbid any of the women tried to resist their captor’s demands, if they did resist this meant beatings, torture, and sometimes even death.

Examining how brutal uniformed men acted towards these “comfort woman” is examining the story of a young girl, only 14 named Felicidad de Los Reyes who was tricked into thinking that she was going to receive a gift for her performance at her school by soldiers, yet to only find out to her horror that three men caught her, forced her to the ground, and took turns to rape her. She was just an innocent young girl with no knowledge or interest in sex. She claimed that she told them to stop, but they would just laugh. If she struggled or tried to yell out they would assault her more by punching or kicking her. In the same night that these soldiers took turns raping her; three more soldiers came and raped her. Felicidad was constrained to the next three days of an unimaginable amount of assault physically, emotionally, and sexually. 

Not only did women have to suffer through the terrifying abuse but they were affected long after all the damage was done. It’s calculated that around twenty-five percent of “comfort women” survived. The majority of women who did survive had a hard time having children or even being able to have children at all. A large number of women ended up having sexually transmitted diseases, along with gaining notable psychological and sexual issues. Some people might say that these women are victims and some might have agreed they felt the exact way, but there is a number of “comfort women” who describe themselves as survivors, as fighters, rather than just a victim. 

The comfort women who survived didn’t just go down without a fight. A number of women who worked in these comfort houses ended up filing lawsuits against the Japanese government. When they did this it opened doors and raised awareness that caught the attention of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Shockingly, there was a time when there was a shortage of official documentation that involved comfort houses and women. It has been noted that by orders from the Japanese government, any material that related to war crimes were to be destroyed. Not until 1992 were there papers that were discovered that showed recruitment tactics by the military for these comfort houses. There have been multiple accounts of surviving comfort women being offered unofficial apologies and financial awards but the majority of these women have refused. They want Japan to acknowledge this horrific event in history and take responsibility. 

The tragic history of comfort women is just one of many incidences where women are abused and taken advantage of in times of war. Look at today’s age and what issues our world is facing when it comes to conflict and war. By examining what is apparent in today’s age, we can look closer at how these unfortunate events affect women throughout the world. One major issue that pops into mind regarding women and war is the ongoing conflict in Congo, Africa. Despite the fact that there was a peace accord signed in 2003 to end a devastating civil war, violence still reigns here and unfortunately women are one of the main sufferers from violence still being so prevalent here. 

The conflict in Congo has been the deadliest conflict since World War II. More than five million people have died due to the conflict and the number of causalities keeps rising. During the past ten years, thousands of women have been raped. A large majority of these women were gang raped. The hospitals that exist here in Congo, which is very few, are mainly filled with these women. The predators that attack and rape these women aren’t just zeroing in on a target age group but are raping children as young as three years old to women reaching the age of seventy-five. The women that have not been raped yet are as much of a prey as a gazelle would be to a lion. The women know that they are extremely lucky, but they know they are just waiting to be another helpless victim. 

We can even look at the War that’s going on in Iraq. Women in Iraq are being assaulted, raped, and sometimes even killed, over nothing that is their fault. They are just civilians living in a country that is in turmoil. They are simply trapped in the middle of it all. Within three months of the fall of Baghdad, the HRW (Human Rights Watch) have documented at least seventy solid cases of rape and also abduction of Iraqi women. Iraqi women live in constant fear because of incidences of rape increasing. Not only do these women have to live in silence but live with a restless sense of fear. Majority of women around the world would agree that they have some basic knowledge of rape. For example, the stranger lurking in the shadows at night, the violent husband at home, these are examples of what women hear and fear. Unfortunately, not all women take these instances seriously. But for Iraqi women, another one of their fellow female citizens being kidnapped and raped is a situation that could very well happen to them. In their eyes, this situation happening is just a matter of time before it happens to them.

It’s important to realize the correlation of rape and war. A vast amount of people would say that they define history as knowledge of dealing with past events. If anything is to be observed of with history and rape it is clear that the sick practice and use of rape during war is clear. Not only the United States but other countries in the world are not working diligently enough to try and stop, or at the very least get a handle on abuse when it comes to women during times of conflict. Routinely and regularly there have been U.S. troops and Allied troops from out of every nation that have raped women during war. 

It seems to be that when rape occurs it’s the idea of raping the “other side’s” women that is a way used to humiliate, often another way of using scare tactics. It’s another way to try and take a jab and upset the “other side’s” country and civilians. Up until recent times, rape in war was just considered something that just would just happen, something brushed under the rug, rather than a war crime. Rape is just another weapon that armed forces use to attack their enemies. It may not be a weapon such as an AK-47 but it’s most certainly psychological warfare. Not only is it a weapon, but just as raping a woman on the street; it’s a motivator for power. This was the exact case for comfort women. 

War appears to imply that when one erupts, the rules, ethics, and morals that we as human beings have adapted and learned, seem to no longer apply. The ideas that lives and properties are purposeful go out the window in the beliefs that devastation and havoc is acceptable. Most can agree that when it comes to war one of the main goals is to defeat the enemy. The general thought appears to be defeat, defeat, defeat, until we win, even if that means to act inhumane. It’s not uncommon that an act during war may be regretted or frowned upon. But it is more likely to be justified if the belief is that the cruel act helps us become victorious. 

Emotions being repressed are encouraged in times of war. We see this commonly in military forces, where soldiers are trained to repress any feeling of emotion. Instead of emotions being embraced it is preferred that violence is embraced instead. This is because of the idea that it’s needed to help be a stronger solider, military, or just civilian in the midst of turmoil. 

Rape upon a woman is a conquest. It’s the conquest over a woman’s body. It’s a man’s way of trying to validate his physical strength and manhood. Raping an enemy’s woman is another way to say “I’m a stronger, more equipped solider than you. Fear me.” It’s yet another way used to intimidate the opponent. 

It is no surprise that rape would be used as a weapon during war because if we look at the idea that women are the vital resource of reproduction, we can see why another country’s man raping another country’s woman would affect the whole idea of women reproducing for that country. This is undoubtedly an offense to a nation or country. We can see this type of action among Nazism. Nazism used the method of rape as a way to further establish their master race by damaging the purity of others such as the Polish or the French. It’s the thought process that a woman is a possession. Whether it’s to a man, or to a civilization, she is a possession. This means that she is a thing to be conquered. She is thought of to be a tangible reward.

America is no better than Japan or Iraq when it comes to cruel acts towards women and the guilt that comes in hand with that. A prime example of this is observing the American experience in Vietnam. During the time American soldiers spent in Vietnam, sexual exploitation and abuse of Asian women was strongly apparent. One historical piece of evidence proving this type of abuse is examining the My Lai Massacre. My Lai was the mass murder conducted by a single unit of the United States Army in South Vietnam during the year of 1968. The innocent civilians were mainly women, children, and the elderly. A large number of the victims were sexually abused, mutilated, beaten, tortured, or just killed.

Rape does indeed serve as a specific military purpose. Rape helps achieve the goal of intimidating and demoralizing all at the same time. Not only does rape wound the victim but it wounds a country’s identity and pride. Raping the women of an enemy’s country is just part of the plan and effort to destroy them. The notion that rape is used as a weapon opens many doors for questions and theories.

One of these theories could be that - when war occurs are women representations of the enemies they are fighting against, or are women targeted specifically because they are just women and considered to be a weak target? Another theory could be sexual aggression. Is rape just an occurrence of sexual aggression rather than a cruel activity during war? There’s no question when it comes to the association and comparison of masculinity and the military. Rape in war can be seen as just another manifestation of patriarchy, a way for male dominance to stay apparent. It’s hard to specifically pinpoint that motive of rape in war. The motive is the biggest unanswered question. Is it a way of intimidation? Is it an act of out of control men or men under control? 

What needs to be taken into consideration is that rape during war not only hurts a country’s woman or women but it hurts the victim’s husbands, sons, and fathers. It’s in terms a disgrace to the men who were unable to protect their loved ones. Regardless of the negative outlook on women’s current overall status when it comes to rape and war, there have been some strides made to try and improve the position and safety of women during war times. We’ve seen this more in the twentieth century. We can see this from the United Nations Decade for Women, to even the Beijing Conference on Women that happened during 1995. 

There have been improvements when it comes to focusing on issues pertaining to war and woman on a global scale. But there are still women who are trapped in conflict zones such as in Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Chechnya, Lebanon, Iran, and much more that the hopes of significant danger, assault, and sexual abuse dwindling, is running low. There are still numerous women who are trapped. Trapped to the abuse and trapped to the silence they must keep themselves in. Not only for their safety but because their voices are not being heard by their fellow people and their government. 

Considering all the countries that are still in times of conflict and there is still injustice for the women in those countries, it’s hard to believe that rape in war will cease. As long as war and conflict continues so does the loss of innocence for girls and women. It seems to be a pipe dream to say that we need to work towards ending wars for not only the malfeasance on women but for all the catastrophes and devastation war causes. We all as human beings, men and women, need to learn and become more aware of what rape in war actually means and the type of damage it creates. It is more serious and evil of an issue then we assume it to be. Continuing this practice as we’ve seen in history is detrimental to our lives as human beings, for generations, and civilization as we know it. 

- Thea