Rape as a War Tactic

After more than ten years of civil war in Sudan and a two-state solution, sexual violence is still an ongoing and pervasive problem. Women live in constant fear of being attacked. Originally, systematic rape was used as a means to “eliminate the Nuba identity,” in Sudan. Rape terrorized women and tore families apart; women were forced into marriage with Arab tribesmen in order to further destroy the Nuba identity. Meredeth Turshen notes that rape is a way for men to, “wrest personal assets from women,” both economic and political, which includes their productive and reproductive capacity as well as their possessions. But, in a country suffering through brutal and unrelenting conflict, rape may also be a way of humiliating not just women, but also their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons. Although Turshen touches on the rippling effect rape has on the husbands of women, she fails to acknowledge the impact rape has on entire families. Rape is a way in which rebels can prove their dominance over their enemy. Men may feel similar emotions to women, including shame, anger and fear. The total disregard for the integrity of the women in their communities also shows disrespect to the men themselves. The rebels wish to prove to their enemies that they can neither protect themselves nor their families. They want the men to feel just as powerless as the women. In civil war, any tactic that can bring dishonor and consequentially, intimidation, will be used.  

Civil war and genocide breed violence, destruction and death. It is generally accepted that casualties are by-products of war. However, within the last century, systematic rape has been added to the long list of tactics used by aggressors to weaken their enemies. Thus, systematic rape has become not only a by-product of war, but also a weapon. This form of total warfare, a relatively new concept in the history of war, has evolved over the last century. In the past, civilians, and women especially, were spared the horrors of war. In modern times, the line between combatants and civilians has become blurred. Through systematic rape, combatants oppress women by hindering their ability to provide for themselves and their family. When women are threatened when leaving the home, their independence and power are diminished. However, this powerlessness and independence is transferred to the men too. Men may feel that they failed their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters by virtue of not being able to protect them from rape. Through rape, rebels are sending a resounding message to those they consider their enemies. They are telling them that their integrity, independence and power are of great unimportance in the scheme of war.  

Today, women in Sudan continue to live in fear as gangs of men regularly rape women as they do their daily jobs. Gender inequality and unfair laws further complicate the issue of sexual violence. Even when rapes are reported, the accused rarely face consequences. For the most part, Sudan turns a blind eye to sexual violence and rape, with President Omar Al-Bashir going so far as to publicly deny its existence. Rape survivors are made to jump through hoops in order to convict their attackers in a process that seems to protect criminals while shaming their victims. Given the extent of sexual violence in Sudan, there should be many more resources for the women that live there. However, “women are silenced,” due to the failures of the Sudanese legal system. The shame that rape brings to women and their families makes it even more difficult to come forward. Without reform of the Sudanese legal system, the oppression of both women and effected families will continue.


Works Cited


Survivors Speak Out: Sexual Violence in Sudan. Publication. Ottawa: Nobel Women’s Initiative, 2013. http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/stoprapeinconflict/pages/292/attachments/original/1386282207/Survivors-Speak-Out-Sudan_web.pdf?1386282207.


Turshen, Meredeth. The Political Economy of Rape.


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