Explaining Sexual Violence During Civil War


Cohen, Dara Kay. 2010. “Explaining Sexual Violence during Civil War.” PhD diss., Stanford University.

Author: Dara Kay Cohen


Rape reportedly occurred on a mass scale during the Sierra Leone civil war. Yet existing theories of rape during conflict—including ethnic war and state breakdown—cannot account for the incidence and patterns of rape in Sierra Leone. In this paper, I develop a theory of rape as a socialization tool. I argue that rape during the Sierra Leone conflict served an essential intragroup function for members in some types of combatant groups—those with low levels of internal cohesion. Drawing on almost 200 original interviews of both non-combatants and ex-combatants collected during five months of fieldwork in Sierra Leone, as well as a newly available household survey of wartime human rights violations, I find that rape was an especially successful tool used by rank-and-file combatants to facilitate bonding within fighting units. I examine evidence for the theory using microlevel data in Sierra Leone and also explore the support for alternative explanations. 

Keywords: sexual violence, civil war

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Wars, Ethnic/Communal Wars, Combatants, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militaries, Sexual Violence, Rape Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2010

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