Since the 1990s, sexual violence in conflict zones has received much media attention. In large part as a result of grassroots feminist organizing in the 1970s and 1980s, mass rapes in the wars in the former Yugoslavia and during the Rwandan genocide received widespread coverage, and international organizations—from courts to NGOs to the UN—have engaged in systematic efforts to hold perpetrators accountable and to ameliorate the effects of wartime sexual violence.
Yet many millennia of conflict preceded these developments, and we know little about the longer-term history of conflict-based sexual violence. Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones helps to fill in the historical gaps. It provides insight into subjects that are of deep concern to the human rights community, such as the aftermath of conflict-based sexual violence, legal strategies for prosecuting it, the economic functions of sexual violence, and the ways perceived religious or racial difference can create or aggravate settings of sexual danger.
Essays in the volume span a broad geographic, chronological, and thematic scope, touching on the ancient world, medieval Europe, the American Revolutionary War, precolonial and colonial Africa, Muslim Central Asia, the two world wars, and the Bangladeshi War of Independence. By considering a wide variety of cases, the contributors analyze the factors making sexual violence in conflict zones more or less likely and the resulting trauma more or less devastating. Topics covered range from the experiences of victims and the motivations of perpetrators, to the relationship between wartime and peacetime sexual violence, to the historical background of the contemporary feminist-inflected human rights moment. In bringing together historical and contemporary perspectives, this wide-ranging collection provides historians and human rights activists with tools for understanding long-term consequences of sexual violence as war-ravaged societies struggle to achieve postconflict stability.