I‘ve talked before about rape as a weapon in war, particularly with regards to the Democratic Republic Of Congo. Usually discussions of sexual violence center around women and children as the victims. Now, a new study by Mervy Christian of Johns Hopkins School of nursing says that sexual violence against man by armed combatants is a growing problem. The study uses focus groups and interviews of male rape survivors in South Kivu. Christian found that the perpetrators of the sexual assaults were armed combatants.
The question that keeping coming to my mind is this: what were the motivations behind DRC’s sexual violence. One explanation often presented is that rapes in the DRC are conducted to force populations to flee areas. This is possible, but unsubstantiated through any academic research I have been able to find. Another motivation, described in Lisa Jackson’s remarkable documentary is that raping someone is a key component of the “magic potions” used by some armed groups:
Congo Soldier: “The magic potion worked in such a way that you’ve got to rape women in order to overcome the enemies who’ve invaded our country, the Congo.”
This superstition not just held by a few soldiers, the documentary goes on to describe how soldiers were sometimes ordered to rape. Since this belief is widely held, then sexual violence could be a strategy in two ways. First, whatever the reality, the soldiers believe they are acting strategically: raping improves combat effectiveness. That might be irrational, but it is no means irrelevant to believers. Second, political leaders could be promoting the “magic potion” superstition to motivate their fighters to conduct sexual violence which furthers the political and military goals. That is, these leaders could be strategically attacking populations by tricking their fighters into committing sexual crimes they might not otherwise do. Simply put, rape could be a weapon and the rapists do not even know it.
Christopher R. Albon is a political science Ph.D. specializing in armed conflict, public health, human security, and health diplomacy.