Rape as a strategy in war.


Many people would argue it is laudable that celebrity Angelina Jolie should speak out as she has done recently, on behalf of victims of rape. In particular she emphasises those women who have been raped in war torn countries. She and her UK cohort Foreign Secretary William Hague have recently brought together people from across the world and hosted a summit calling for rape to be made a war crime.

William Hague held the gravest expression as he solemnly announced that rape has been used as a weapon of war over the past few decades and he is, in my view hopelessly optimistic as he recently spoke on BBC`s Radio 4…..

“If we can show militias and armies that they cannot do this, even in a conflict in the future, that will affect how men treat women or any vulnerable person in the future,” he told BBC`s Woman’s Hour.

Well I hate to be a kill joy Mr. Hague but rape has been used as a war strategy to demoralise entire continents since the dawn of time. In fact every single historical era documents rape as a weapon of warfare back as far as the Roman Republic.

Years ago, I worked for Birmingham Rape Crisis Centre and frequently engaged in public awareness-raising about the myths and facts surrounding rape. I would bring up this very topic with every public speaking engagement I attended, it isn`t anything new. Rape Crisis centres were talking about this way back in the nineteen seventies. Few people took any notice of us forty years ago and I doubt if many will take any proper notice of William Hague and Ms. Jolie now. Some may offer a tokenistic viewpoint but we can all of us guess at what goes on behind closed doors in other countries as well as in our own. I can`t honestly see leaders in Yemen, Somalia. Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Colombia scratching their chins and smilingly comment,

“Blimey it`s Angelina Jolie and William Hague oh well, in that case…..”

I do realise that Ms. Jolie is a wealthy and powerful woman whom some people admire however, I fail to see how even her influence will sway the army leaders of Africa and many other countries to alter their strategy. If we haven`t changed attitudes since 500 BC then I am under no illusion that we will change them now.

I get cross. Rape Crisis Centres the world over are still struggling for much needed funding to continue the marvellous work that they do. In the UK men who are found guilty of rape (unless they are of African or Caribbean origin of course when they will be over represented in Britain`s prison system) are still more likely to be acquitted. It puzzles me that William Hague should be debating measures to punish those found guilty in foreign lands and I wonder – what is Mr. Hague doing to support those men and women who have survived rape and other sexual offences, here at home?

We have made some progress globally, In 2008 the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution which noted that rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In 2013 the U.N. Security Council adopted a broad resolution on rape in war, demanding the complete and immediate end of all acts of sexual violence by all parties to armed conflict. The resolution noted that sexual violence can constitute a crime against humanity and a contributing act to genocide, it called for improved monitoring of sexual violence in conflict, and urged the U.N. and donors to assist survivors.

Many recommendations have been made and yet very little changes. Very little has changed since I and my liberated sisters first began raising awareness of rape way back in the 1970`s.

Some women survivors of Africa say that it would be good if countries would fund them after such crimes so that they can recover and move on. It would be good if Rape Crisis centres in Britain could be funded too.

The World Health Organisation reports that every year 150 million women and girls are raped in other countries. 73 million men and boys and we must assume that is a conservative number since many will not report the crime, so we have a long, very long way to go. What punishment would you suggest Mr. Hague, Ms Jolie and how would you administer it with such unimaginably high numbers as these?

I can`t help feeling that William Hague and Angelina Jolie appear to be just a tiny bit conceited, a little bit vainglorious but perhaps I am being my usual, cynical self…..

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