Rape as Terror: The Case of Bosnia


Benard, Cheryl. 1994. “Rape as Terror: The Case of Bosnia.” Terrorism and Political Violence 6 (1): 29–43.

Author: Cheryl Benard


Using Bosnia since 1992 as a case study, this article examines the significance of rape as a deliberate instrument of terror in the context of war. Political science has generally neglected to analyze this phenomenon, but has instead generally adhered to the popular view that rape is simply an inevitable by-product of war. The article therefore seeks first to differentiate contexts and functions of rape on the basis of socio-military ideology, intent and consequences. Four distinct configurations of wartime rape are identified: rape as bounty; rape as a formally forbidden but de facto tolerated outlet for the soldiers; rape as a breakdown of the command structure and the morale of the troops; and rape as part of the deliberate assault strategy. The Bosnian case is found to represent a combination of the first and fourth configurations. Based on data from 250 interviews with Bosnian refugees in Croatia and Austria, the tactical functions of rape as a part of 'ethnic cleansing' are described, and parallels are determined between rape and the terrorizing of other vulnerable civilians such as children. The interviews also yielded incidental reports of the efforts of individual dissenting soldiers to prevent rape. In conclusion it is noted that while a tactical interpretation of rape is illuminating, it leaves many questions concerning the willingness of large numbers of men to employ sexual violence.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Ethnic/Communal Wars, Combatants, Ethnicity, Gender, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Sexual Violence, Rape Regions: Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe Countries: Bosnia & Herzegovina

Year: 1994

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