Sexual Violence in Sierra Leone’s Civil War: ‘Virgination’, Rape, and Marriage

Citation:

Marks, Zoe. 2014. “Sexual Violence in Sierra Leone’s Civil War: ‘Virgination’, Rape, and Marriage.” African Affairs 113 (450): 67–87. doi:10.1093/afraf/adt070.

 

Author: Zoe Marks

Abstract:

Rape and sexual violence loom large in the study of civil war in Africa. Sierra Leone has been one of the most prominent cases for establishing rape as a ‘weapon of war,' yet little is known about how sexual violence was understood by commanders or combatants within the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Mainstream analyses of armed groups and civil war rarely engage with gender dynamics, despite their centrality to war making, power, and violence; and research that does focus on sexual violence tends to overlook the complex internal dynamics of the groups responsible. This article examines the internal gender dynamics of the RUF from the perspective of male and female members in seeking to understand the perpetration of sexual violence. It shows that both formal and informal laws and power structures existed to regulate gender relations and control sexual behaviour within the group. It identifies four categories of women – non-wives, unprotected wives, protected wives, and senior women – and shows that women's interests and experiences of sexual violence were not homogeneous, but were instead shaped by their status within the group. In this way, sexual violence, examined in social context, provides an entry point for understanding how power, protection, and access to resources are brokered in rebellion.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Wars, Class, Combatants, Gender-Based Violence, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against women Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2014

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