Intended for healthcare professionals


Rape as a weapon of war in modern conflicts

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 24 June 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c3270
  1. Coleen Kivlahan, volunteer forensic physician 1,
  2. Nate Ewigman, graduate student2
  1. 1Volunteer Physician Human Rights Clinic, Healthright International, 80 Maiden Lane, Suite 607, New York NY 10038, USA
  2. 2Department of Clinical and Health Psychology, University of Florida, PO Box 100165, Gainesville, FL, 32610-0165, USA
  1. ckivlahan{at}

    Families and communities are victims, as well as individuals

    Rape is deployed as a weapon of war in countries throughout the world, from Bosnia to Sudan, Peru to Tibet.1 Rape includes lack of consent to sex as well as provision of sex to avoid harm and obtain basic necessities. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court recognises that rape and other forms of sexual violence by combatants in the conduct of armed conflict are war crimes and can constitute genocide.2 Sexual violence such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and rape as a precursor to murder constitute torture under international law and are breaches of the Geneva Convention.2 Rape, as with all terror warfare, is not exclusively an attack on the body—it is an attack on the “body politic.” Its goal is not to maim or kill one person but to control an entire sociopolitical process by crippling it. It is an attack directed equally against personal identity and cultural integrity.2

    Rape has long been perpetrated during war. Since the second world war, however, rape has assumed strategic importance, and is now a deliberate military strategy.3 Women are now not only raped but physically scarred and mutilated.4 In recent conflicts, rape has been used as a reward for victory in battle, a boost to troop …

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