Sexual Torture

Rape as an Act of Genocide


Russel-Brown, Sherrie. 2003. “Rape as an Act of Genocide.” Berkeley Journal of International Law 21 (3): 350-73.

Author: Sherrie Russel-Brown


Like all rape, genocidal rape is particular as well as part of the generic, and its particularity matters. This is ethnic rape as an official policy of war in a genocidal campaign for political control. That means not only a policy of the pleasure of male power unleashed, which happens all the time in so-called peace; not only a policy to defile, torture, humiliate, degrade, and demoralize the other side, which happens all the time in war; and not only a policy of men posturing to gain advantage and ground over other men. It is specifically rape under orders. This is not rape out of control. It is rape under control. It is also rape unto death, rape as massacre, rape to kill and to make the victims wish they were dead. It is rape as an instrument of forced exile, rape to make you leave your home and never want to go back. It is rape to be seen and heard and watched and told to others; rape as spectacle. It is rape to drive a wedge through a community, to shatter a society, to destroy a people. It is rape as genocide.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Ethnicity, Gender, Gendered Power Relations, Genocide, Sexual Violence, Male Perpetrators, Rape, Torture, Sexual Torture

Year: 2003

The Body of the Other Man: Sexual Violence and the Construction of Masculinity, Sexuality and Ethnicity in Croatian Media


Zarkov, Dubravka. 2001. “The Body of the Other Man: Sexual Violence and the Construction of Masculinity, Sexuality and Ethnicity in Croatian Media.” In Victims, Perpetrators or Actors? Gender, Armed  Conflict, and Political Violence, edited by Caroline Moser and Fiona Clark, 69–82. London: Zed Books.

Author: Dubravka Zarkov


In this chapter, I examine newspaper articles covering the wars through which former Yugoslavia disintegrated, with the intention of showing how gender, sexuality and ethnicity constitute each other in the media respresentations of sexual violence. I begin from a somewhat unusual point: men as victims of sexual violence, not as perpetrators.

It may be a surprise to many readers that men were victims of sexual violence during the wars in former Yugoslavia, which became notorious for making the rape of women one if its most effective weapons. In the gruesome reality of war, men are usually seen as rapists and not as raped. Of course, this is not only a perception. In most wars and conflicts, as well as in times of peace, the reality is that men are rapists of women. I do not wish to deny that fact. However, I do wish to show that perceiving men only and always as offenders and never as victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence is a very specific, gendered narrative of war. In that narrative, dominant notions of masculinity merge with norms of heterosexuality and definitions of ethnicity and ultimately designate who can or cannot be named a victim of sexual violence in the press.


The author examines male sexual victimization in the Balkans War. She argues that “perceiving men only and always as offenders and never as victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence is a very specific, gendered narrative of war.” In that narrative, dominant notions of masculinity merge with norms of heterosexuality and definitions of ethnicity and ultimately designate who can or cannot be named a victim of sexual violence in the national press. Zarkov examines how male sexual victimization was presented in Croatian and Serbian mass media, after first passing through the filter of nationalism. In the press the author examined, sexually assaulted men were all but visible. An investigation of the Croatian and Serbian Press from November 1991 to December 1993 found only six articles in the Croatian press, compared to over 100 about other forms of torture experienced by Croat men and over 60 about the rape of women. The Serbian press did not publish a single text about sexual torture of men. In the Croatian press the only visible male victim of rape and castration was a Muslim man, while the Croatian man was never mentioned as either being raped/castrated or raping other men. Serbian men, on the other hand, were mentioned as sodomists who rape (Muslim) men. The author argues that, the need of the newly emerging Croatian state to have its symbolic virility preserved through the preserved virility, power, and heterosexuality of Croatian men was crucial for the representation of the sexual violence against men.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Ethnicity, Gender, Men, Masculinity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Media, Torture, Sexual Torture, Sexuality, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against Men Regions: Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe Countries: Croatia, Serbia

Year: 2001

Sexual Violence, a Method of Torture Also Used against Male Victims


Van Tienhoven, Harry. 1992. “Sexual Violence, a Method of Torture Also Used against Male Victims.” Nordisk Sexologi 10 (4): 243–9.

Author: Harry Van Tienhoven


Among large groups of male refugees in Europe, sexual violence as an aspect of torture has been recognized. Definitions of sexual violence, ways in which it occurs, and the effects on the victim are discussed. The individual cultural context of the refugee is taken into account. Survey responses from 17 reception centers documents that 129 clients had experiences of sexual violence. It is suggested that fear, anger, and/or powerlessness (feelings evoked by the discussion of violent experiences) may restrain both client and care provider.

Topics: Displacement & Migration, Refugees, Gender, Men, Sexual Violence, Sexuality, Sexual Torture

Year: 1992

The Sexual Politics of Abu Ghraib: Hegemony, Spectacle, and the Global War on Terror


Tétreault, Mary Ann. 2006. “The Sexual Politics of Abu Ghraib: Hegemony, Spectacle, and the Global War on Terror.” NWSA Journal 18 (3): 33–50.

Author: Mary Ann Tétreault


Revelations of the torture, murder, and maltreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq came with sensational photographs of U.S. military personnel torturing Iraqi prisoners and forcing them to perform sexualized acts. Evidence of gross violations of international law, the photographs have been used by U.S. elites to construct a discourse not about war crimes but "prisoner abuse, " some referring to the activities recorded as analogous to fraternity hazing. In this essay, I argue that the photos reflect complex reactions to the attacks of September 11, 2001, including a need to assert U.S. global dominance by punishing those who are, in American eyes, an inferior oriental enemy. The photographs are analyzed in the context of orientalism in the U.S. chain of command, a phenomenon linked to what feminists call "the politics of the gaze" - the vulnerability of women and other subalterns to virtual as well as actual violation by those in positions of domination. They are compared to evidence of other rituals of violence, such as lynching, orchestrated by elites and imitated by popular-culture entrepreneurs. The sexual politics of Abu Ghraib includes the deployment of female figures to brand, scapegoat, and repair the damage from discovery of the photographs, thereby trivializing the policies and behaviors of U.S. officials and eliding the American public's responsibility for the continued U.S. failure to condemn, much less to halt, the torture carried out in their name.

Keywords: hegemony, Torture, war crimes, orientalism, pornography, rituals of violence

Topics: Combatants, Gender, Justice, War Crimes, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militaries, Sexual Violence, Male Perpetrators, Rape, Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, Torture, Sexual Torture Regions: MENA, Americas, North America, Asia, Middle East Countries: Iraq, United States of America

Year: 2006

Gendered, Racialized and Sexualized Torture at Abu-Ghraib


Nusair, Isis. 2008. “Gendered, Racialized And Sexualized Torture At Abu-Ghraib,” In Feminism and Wars: Confronting US Imperialism, edited by Mohanty and Riley, 179-93. London: Zed Books.

Author: Isis Nusair


This chapter examines the gendered, racialized and sexualized torture at Abu-Ghraib within the larger context of the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, and torture and mistreatment of detainees in other parts of Iraq; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and Afghanistan. [Nusair] argue[s] that what took place at Abu-Ghraib is not an exceptional and isolated case perpetrated by few bad apples but part of an Orientalist representation that aims to shame and sexually humiliate detainees and reinforce their difference as racially inferior Others. Within this phallocentric binary logic of opposition where the East is represented as backward and barbarian and the West as civilizing and modernizing the naturalness and for-granted authority to dominate the Other is established. It is within this framework that [Nusair] analyze[s] the connection between militarist hyper-sexuality, feminization, and racialization at Abu-Ghraib. In addition, [Nusair] analyze[s] the silence around the rape of women at Abu-Ghraib, and the unveiling and stripping naked of detainees as they relate to the larger system of domination currently at play in Iraq. [Nusair] conclude[s] by analyzing current modes of feminist resistance in Iraq and the strategies used by activists to shape their lives within this highly masculinized and militarized system of control. 

Topics: Gender, Masculinity/ies, Femininity/ies, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militaries, Militarism, Militarization, Race, Sexual Violence, Rape, Sexuality, Torture, Sexual Torture Regions: MENA, Americas, Caribbean countries, North America, Asia, Middle East, South Asia Countries: Afghanistan, Cuba, Iraq, United States of America

Year: 2008

War and Rape: Analytical Approaches


Seifert, Ruth. 1993. War and Rape: Analytical Approaches. Geneva, Switzerland: Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

Author: Ruth Seifert


With the establishment of camps in the middle of Europe, for the single purpose of committing rape and sexual torture, violence against women has reached a new stage. In the following I shall attempt to open up an analytical perspective on these events. First, the question of the purpose of rape in general will be posed. Second, five explanations of the function of rape in war will be developed. Finally, some light will be thrown on the logic of silence that is characteristic of war crimes against women to this day.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Justice, War Crimes, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against Women, Torture, Sexual Torture

Year: 1993

Embodiment of Terror: Gendered Violence in Peacetime and Wartime in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina


Olujic, Maria B. 1998. “Embodiment of Terror: Gendered Violence in Peacetime and Wartime in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 12 (1): 31–50.

Author: Maria B. Olujic


Gendered violence is not a special type of torture used only in war. Its roots are well established in peacetime. This article discusses parallels between the patterns of everyday domination and aggression during times of peace and war. Further, it discusses how metaphors and acts of rape in peacetime are transformed into symbols and acts of rape for wartime purposes. During peacetime the individual body, especially its essence--sexuality and reproduction--becomes the symbol of everyday domination and aggression. Wartime transforms individual bodies into social bodies as seen, for example, in genocidal rapes or ethnic cleansing, which are thought to purify the bloodlines. Then, institutions--that is, medical, religious, and government establishments--further reinforce the wartime process by manipulating the individual/social body into the body politic by controlling and defining "human life" and using political rapes to entice military action by the West. The final transformation (at the war's conclusion) is the reformation of the social body back into the individual body, making the individual body once again the focus of dominance and aggression as the acceptable social "order."

Topics: Armed Conflict, Ethnic/Communal Wars, Gender, Gender-Based Violence, Religion, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against Women, Sexuality, Torture, Sexual Torture Regions: Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe Countries: Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia

Year: 1998

Women and War: Militarism, Bodies, and the Practice of Gender


Riley, Robin L. 2008. “Women and War: Militarism, Bodies, and the Practice of Gender.” Sociology Compass 2 (4): 1192-1208. 

Author: Robin L. Riley


Women around the world, in various geographic spaces, social and cultural contexts, as partners, wives, sisters, daughters, mothers, mourners, and victims experience war. Women's experience of war and their participation in it, either as actors or resistors, victims or perpetrators (Moser and Clark 2001), cheerleaders or critics, are always influenced by the construction of gender operating in and around their lives. While constructions of masculinity and femininity are always circulating in and around militarism and war, women's bodies are sometimes primary considerations for military and state leaders; this creates a visibility/invisibility/hyper-visibility problem for women in wartime. In this essay, women's participation in war as soldiers, refugees, prisoners, jailers, activists, and suicide bombers and the accompanying shift in the practice of femininity and masculinity is explored.

Keywords: refugees



"The capabilities of women's bodies are used to expand ideas about femininity in order to support military recruiting goals without calling into question masculine supremacy at the same time that ideas about femininity are used to justify militarized masculinity and obfuscate men's actions in wartime." (Riley, 1193-1194)

"In the build-up to the attack on Afghanistan in 2001, the liberation of Afghan women was used by the US government as part of the justification for the attack (Ayotte and Hussain 2005; Cooke 2002; Spivak 1988; Young 2003). This justification for US imperialism -- white men saving brown women from brown men (Cooke 2003; Spivak 1988) -- was insincere and positioned Afghan women as helpless and in need of rescue -- a popular narrative that upholds notions of militarized masculine supremacy in wartime (Young 2003). Not surprisingly, US military might did not end the oppression of women in Afghanistan." (Riley, 1196)

"In Iraq, women, who constitute 65 percent of the population (Sandler 2003b), had enjoyed a relatively free way of life for the region under Saddam Hussein's police state, which included safety on the streets, if not safety from Saddam Hussein's repressive tactics (Brown and Romano 2006). Since the USA has occupied Iraq, however, the rate of rapes and kidnappings within Iraq has skyrocketed. This is particularly notable given the social and legal discouragement for reporting rapes (Human Rights Watch 2003). Within their society, Iraqi women have become hypervisible. Afraid to leave their homes because of the threat of rape, they are being pressured, sometimes through open harassment on the street, to cover their heads with a scarf, hijab, or abaya (Colson 2003)." (Riley, 1196)

"While the images of the men abused at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq have been seen around the world, less is known about what happened to the women prisoners who were made invisible (Harding 2004, Eisenstein 2007)." (Riley, 1200)

"This gender confusion, where women need protecting but fight alongside men, where they are comrades but not equal comrades, where they want to be treated equally but are not expected to achieve equal standards, leads to what Sheila Jeffreys calls 'double jeopardy' where women in the military, hyper-visible within the ranks, are in danger from both the enemy and their own colleagues." (Riley, 1202)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Displacement & Migration, Refugees, Gender, Women, Masculinity/ies, Gender Analysis, Femininity/ies, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militarism, Political Participation, Sexuality, Sexual Torture

Year: 2008


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