Rape as a political tool

I shared a link on Twitter to an article in The Age today: Five men rape journalist, 22, in Tahrir Square: reports. A couple of paragraphs towards the end of the article particularly caught my eye:

Although sexual harassment is not new to Egypt, suspicions abound that many of the recent attacks are organised by opponents of various protests in a bid to drive people away.

Amnesty International said in a report last year that such attacks appeared to be designed to intimidate women and prevent them from fully participating in public life.

This strongly suggests, to me, the deployment of rape as a political tool. Restricted by the character limit of Twitter, I tacked on the end “Rape as a political tool? MUST BE STOPPED”.

I did not expect to start a (small) firestorm, quite frankly, but it seems I did.

Unconstrained by 140 characters, this is my view. Feel free to agree or disagree.

There has been much discussion about rape of late. Not everyone agreed with my article Victim blaming or proactive precautions – trigger warning and that is OK. I don’t write hoping everyone will agree with me, I write to give voice to issues sometimes too easily avoided: it is why I published Love versus Goliath (the book).

I specifically did not use the term “weapon of war” in my tweet because in our society “weapon” carries an air of legitimacy.  Rape is a crime. So is the taking of a life. My personal belief is that in a truly civilised society war would not exist. In my view, whether a life is taken in war or not, it is still murder. Yes, my father served in World War II and yes, he killed enemy soldiers. I still loved my father dearly.

Drop bombs on Pearl Harbour, people were murdered. Drop a bomb on Hiroshima, people were murdered. I don’t give a damn whose side is doing the killing, it is wrong. Is war still necessary? A topic I’m not prepared to argue.

I accept that the human species has not yet evolved beyond fighting wars and as such the word “weapons” carries the aforementioned air of legitimacy. As I wanted to avoid connecting the crime of rape with the legitimate use of weapons, I chose to use the term political tool.

Rape is rape, I was told. I am sorry, I disagree. We will never eradicate rape from society, sadly. As much as we can teach our sons not to rape, as much as we can change sexist attitudes through education, we cannot control the mental health of all individuals. We can minimise the number of events, but we will never eradicate it.

There is a massive difference between one individual committing the crime of rape due to mental health issues or social inadequacy and the systemic deployment of the crime of rape as a political tool on a large scale. The former is a crime, a terrible crime: but the perpetrator is a lone wolf and the number of victims is, if our justice system works at all, limited.

If we have political entities indoctrinating young followers to believe rape is NOT a crime but a “legitimate weapon of war”, then society is going backwards at a rapid rate.  I quote from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Rape has been a dishonourable camp follower of war for as long as armies have marched into battle. In the 20th century, perceptions of rape in war have moved from something that is inevitable when men are deprived of female companionship for prolonged periods to an actual tactic in conflict. The lasting psychological harm that rape inflicts on its victims has also been recognized: Rape is always torture, says Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.


We have seen Australia’s own defence force face a particular culture which David Morrison is doing his utmost to clean up. Sadly, we have to accept this is the military and we also know this is a global problem. If the military of any country cannot respect their own women, what is likely to be the attitude towards the women of the enemy in a war? We all know the answer to that, but we are perhaps too squeamish to voice it in what we consider to be our “polite society”.  Here is some breaking news: society is not polite. We still fight wars. While we, as a species, consider it normal, acceptable or appropriate to murder our fellow man we are far from a polite society.

Systemic or institutionalised rape is something truly abhorrent for it legitimises a crime in war and for some that may extend beyond the years of service. Are these men in Egypt using rape as a political tool now going to turn off that switch when the political cause is closed? Whether we consider the cause legitimate or not is not the issue: those men consider their cause legitimate therefore they have a high belief in their strategies.

I was also charged with taking too simplistic a view. Maybe, maybe not. We tend to make many issues way more complicated than they need be. Read If this is feminism, you can keep it – Warning: discussion of rape and swearing and see how the very (to me) simple concept of gender equality gets complicated beyond belief in certain circles. It isn’t that hard. It isn’t a complicated concept. KISS principle, folks.

Encouraging rape, training men to rape as a battle strategy, building up rape as a legitimate “tool of trade” is wrong. It IS that simple. Does it mean women are treated as objects? The wives, daughters, sisters, mothers are highly valued by the men of the enemy – in the olden days the women themselves were not the target, the targets were their men. In this sense the women became the bullets to injure the enemy. This has changed. Now the women have become the target. If women have a voice in public life, can vote, can stand for office without fear, life will change in many countries.  Women have become the enemy too, rather than a chattel of the enemy. The paradigm has shifted and we need to be sure we don’t suffer paradigm paralysis.

Rape is a violent, physical crime against the person.  Societies such as Australia or the USA consider themselves too “advanced” to stoop to using rape as a political tool. Yet those same societies will tear down women who dare to challenge the status quo in other ways – psychologically rather than physically violent. Those societies will deem it appropriate to pass legislation controlling women’s bodies while NO legislation is passed to control men’s bodies. Wendy Davis and a time-stamp, anyone?

The basic premise IS very simple. Rape in any context is wrong.

Rape as a political tool or a weapon of war is something the human species must never embrace, anywhere in the world. The UN took steps in 2008: we need to build on those steps.

6 comments on “Rape as a political tool

  1. I wished it was possible to give the UN more power all over the world!


  2. It saddens me the way we excuse the most disgraceful behaviour to cover our sins against others. This was a great piece Robyn…a really great piece.


  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and analysis on this very sad, abhorrent but unfortunately rather common occurrence. I see rape, sexual harassment and violence against women as the collective responsibility of men (not to be confused with collective guilt), will be writing something on this viewpoint in weeks to come. Anyway keep up the good work, and awareness is always something.


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