Reports of the rape of Ukrainian women by Russian soldiers show the chilling violence war enables. Last week Ukrainian prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova said on Facebook that a Russian soldier killed an unarmed civilian and then repeatedly raped his wife.
The woman’s account is a disturbing story of powerlessness and humiliation caused by rape and invasion. And stories of men waiting at the borders to trick women into sex slavery show the vulnerability of those forced to flee. Sexual violence is a horrifying symptom of women’s oppression, and war results from capitalist competition on a global scale. Both are characteristics of a violent system.
Brought together, sexual violence is used as a tactic in war to spread fear and try and coerce the so-called “enemy.” In preparation for war soldiers are trained to kill, maim, and torture for the glory of victory. The dehumanisation of “the enemy” means an invaded country’s population is brutalised on order. For women this means increased sexual violence with even fewer means of seeking protection than in peacetime.
Sexual violence and war are part of the same system. In class society women’s bodies are not considered to be their own and can be seen and treated as passive objects. So acts of violence against women often take the form of sexual assaults.
In the late twentieth century rape was categorised as a weapon of war, and after the Second World War was deemed a crime against humanity. As late as 1993 the United Nations declared systematic rape as a violation of human rights and in 1995 as a war crime. Rape and sexual assault can also be part of broader, more calculated schemes to control, spread disease, or ethnically cleanse a population.
Women’s oppression is rampant in society, and it can be at its most violent during war. But this violence is used hypocritically by the West. Governments justify their wars by painting their enemies as monstrous while also carrying out the barbarity they accuse their enemies of.
While they act as heroes for women, the true extent of their own crimes is often covered up. During World War Two, rapes by allied soldiers occurred during the 1945 invasion of Japan and then military occupation until 1952.
At the Battle of Okinawa US Marines found no Japanese forces. So instead they started “hunting for women”, dragging them from hiding places. After the battle was won, armed marines would visit villages weekly to rape the local women. As many as 10,000 Okinawan women were raped.
During the Spanish civil war of 1936-39 sexual violence was a key tactic of right wing forces led by general Francisco Franco. Women, especially socialists and women fighters, would be raped and tortured in cemeteries, hospitals, farmhouses, and prisons and faced death if they refused.American soldiers also used rape in the Vietnam war.
In one case a group of soldiers kidnapped, raped and killed a young woman as it would be “good for the morale of the squad”. The Bosnian war from 1992 to 1995 saw some 50,000 women raped. The majority were Muslim women raped by Serbian soldiers in an attempt to ethnically cleanse the population.
Sexual violence has also been used against male prisoners of war to humiliate and dominate. During the Iraq war at the US’s Abu Ghraib prison, boys and men were raped by soldiers, interrogators and translators as well as being tortured. And female prisoners in Iraq were also raped, often in front of children. Capitalism creates the need for imperialist rivalry and violence against women to keep profits flowing, and devastation spreads when the two come together. The way to overcome and remove the need for either is to smash the system perpetuating them.
Protesters told Socialist Worker why they were marching