The Political Strategy of Rape

High levels of sexual violence during times of war and conflict are a common phenomenon all over the world.

Political rape continues to be used to intimidate political opponents and reach political goals.

Women have historically been perceived and treated as the possession of men and this perception continues in many areas today, particularly rural areas. When a woman is raped in one of these areas – especially if the act is committed in public – it is viewed as a direct attack against the man whom the woman ‘belongs’ to. The effect of the rape on the female victim is not considered important. In such settings, women are considered empty shells, mere representatives of their husbands’ interests.

Political rape is a tool for men to attack other men, a tragic illustration of the fact that in these settings, men still grip the socio-political reigns and women are just a means to a specific political end, namely the emasculation of political opponents.

Rape, especially during times of conflict, is a way of constructing the male identity. Many combatants believe that raping a woman will make them ‘invincible.’ Others believe they can attain invincibility by raping certain categories of women, such as virgins or pregnant women. Combatants also use gang rapes to forge male unity, cohesion and ‘brotherhood.’

Women victims of political rape suffer a series of physical, social and psychological consequences, which have short and long term effects. One of the primary social consequences is that their families and communities reject them. They epitomise the homeland’s inability to protect them and are no longer suitable, ‘pure’ marriage partners.


See: Claudia Forster-Towne, Charlotte Sutherland – Sexual violence as a weapon of war: Political rape and the Zimbabwean crisis (April 2010).



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