It was once assumed that rape was committed as a result of sexual desire. Recent scholarship however shows that rape has a greater significance—it is used as a weapon of war. Though the international recognition of systematic sexualized violence against women during wartime as a crime against humanity has been a great advancement in the feminist movement, people should also focus on the rape during the peacetime, for example on campuses. What differences are there in the motives of rape in wartimes in comparison to rapes on everyday college campuses? It is important to highlight the functions of rape specifically in wartime before indulging its similarities with cases on college campuses.
Perpetrators in wartime use rape to humiliate the enemy. For example, during the Rwandan Genocide, the raping of Tutsi women served to symbolically devalue the Tutsi honor. In a country where the value of a woman was based on her virtue, virginity and cleanliness, a victim of rape was considered a disgrace to her family and hence the perpetrators used rape to destroy the Tutsi families and communities. Rape was also used as a method of ethnic cleansing—in the case of Rwanda, the cleansing of the entire Tutsi ethnicity. Hutu militiamen raped Tutsi women (and Hutu women married to a Tutsi man) to terminate an existing pregnancy of an enemy child, or to create a pregnancy with a Hutu child (More information on womenunderseigeproject.org).
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, there was a widespread belief that raping women would give militiamen more power and invincibility (Women Under Seige). Raping also served as a method of controlling natural resources. As explained in Merideth Turshen’s paper, “The Political Economy of Rape […],” the perpetrators would take their victims as their ‘wives’ and through what she termed “bogus weddings,” the perpetrators would receive self-granted access to their victims land and resources.
The preceding reasons for rape are specific to wartime. So once again, what are the similarities between rape on college campuses and rape during conflict? Though wartime and campus life are two completely different contexts, rape occurs surprisingly for similar reasons. One main similarity is that in most cases, rape has historically been used as a systematic tool for domination and power. This is seen in David Lisak’s study and interviews on rape incidents on college campuses and how undetected rapists (college students) strategically plan out how to make a girl vulnerable in order for them to make easier sexual advances on them. Lisak argues that men, both undetected and incarcerated, rape in order to reaffirm their position in society as superior to women. Similarly in wartimes, rape is used as a way for the enemies to manifest their superiority over women, especially women affiliated with their enemies. Another important similarity is that most rapists are repeat offenders. Lisak discovered in his research that 76% of the 120 undetected rapists on campus were repeat rapists, having raped an average of 6 women. Similarly in wartimes, most of the perpetrators are repeat rapists, some of which having raped up to 10 women as seen in the case of the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Rape on college campuses turns out to be similar to rape during wartime in the sense that the men involved commit these crimes to assert their superiority over women. Likewise in wartimes, most rapists on college campuses are repeat offenders, and some are even unaware of it. This shows that though women have succeeded in moving up the social ladder, many men have found it difficult to digest the idea of gendered equality. Therefore, the best way to change this perception of women deeply ingrained in both men and women’s minds is through education at an early age for a person educated on gendered equality will most likely grow up regarding both sexes with equal respect.