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There is still a Choice: Understanding Conflict-Related Sexual Violence

By Eunice Otuko Apio

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative sees sexual violence in conflicts not only as a crime committed by individuals, but as a problem of far greater magnitude. It is a cheap weapon of biological and psychological warfare. Studying the dynamics of militarized masculinity, using the example of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we see that the abuse of power over women or rape can destroy entire social structures and put new ones in their place. The spread of disease by means of sexual assault also plays a role. The goal of these war methods is not simply to harm individuals physically and emotionally, but also to tear apart the social fabric in the long term. A “successful” use of violence demonstrates the defenselessness of the community under attack, while also engendering a sense of humiliation among the families affected. Even in peacetime, signs of how armed conflicts will be conducted can be seen in social interactions. Influencing factors within groups of men include exaggerated harshness, the use of violence, and a thirst for conquest. Yet there is nothing inevitable about the behavioral development of all individuals in such social structures. There is room for maneuver, in which men decide for or against particular actions and so shape the moral character of warfare. The key to the successful prevention of sexual violence therefore lies in a well-founded ethical training for soldiers; there should also be suitable institutions to document, study and devise legislation against such acts, and ensure their consistent prosecution.

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