Although conflict-related sexual violence is practically as old as humanity and armed conflicts, until the end of the 20th century it was handled as a byproduct of wars (Bourke, 2007). We know about these atrocities from history, literature, and art. Such cases happened in Asia, Africa, Europe, North, Central, and South America and are still occurring in various conflicts in each continent. In 2018 Nadia Murad (Yazidi Kurd human rights activist, a survivor of sexual violence, committed by the ISIS) and Dr. Denis Mukwege (Congolese gynecologist who works with survivors of sexual violence perpetrated by uncountable militias in DRC) won the Nobel Peace Prize. Besides their efforts, the prize points out that conflict-related sexual violence still exists and is topical than ever; it is a common issue of women and men; CRSV is not committed by particular nationalities or religions, but by extremism. 

“While sexual violence occurs in all wars, its extent varies dramatically. It can be so systematic and widespread that it is a crime against humanity or the form of genocide. Yet sexual violence in some conflicts is remarkably limited despite other violence against civilians. The form of sexual violence varies as well. In some conflicts, it takes the form of sexual slavery; in others, state agents engage in sexualized torture of persons suspected of collaborating with insurgents; in others, combatants target particular groups during ethnic or political cleansing; in still others, individuals engage in it opportunistically; and in some conflicts, all or near all forms occur. In some wars, only females are targeted; in others, males as well. Some acts of wartime sexual violence are committed by individuals; many are committed by groups. Some acts occur in private settings, many are public, in front of family or community members.

In some settings, wartime sexual violence appears to magnify existing cultural practices; in others, patterns of sexual violence appear to be wartime innovations by armed groups. In some conflicts, the pattern of sexual violence is symmetric, with all parties to the war engaging in sexual violence to roughly the same extent. In other conflicts, it is very asymmetric as one armed group does not respond in kind of sexual violence by the other party. Sexual violence often increases over the course of the conflict; in some conflicts, it decreases. Sexual violence varies in extent and form among civil wars as well as interstate wars, among ethnic wars as well as nonethnic, and among secessionist conflicts (Wood, 2013).”

The discourse about peacetime and wartime rape started in 1975 by Susan Brownmiller, and throughout the last decades, several researchers from different fields argued about the main root of CRSV and various theories have been developed about it. But CRSV can stem from different roots, all of which are supposed to be analyzed within the context of the conflict. As Erin Baines summarizes in her paper: “For instance, sexual violence can be a form of socialization, leading to the internal cohesion of an otherwise internally diverse armed group, and a means to ‘bond’ soldiers to one another (Cohen, 2013a). In other instances or simultaneously, sexual violence can be used as a strategic weapon of war, humiliating and degrading the opponent (Farwell, 2004). In others, it may be merely a form of male opportunism, indicating a weak command and control of soldiers (Marks, 2013) and/or reflecting the inability of soldiers to live up to the impossible masculinity expected of them (Baaz&Stern, 2009). Across different war contexts and even within the very same context, the same actor may employ multiple forms of sexual violence with different motivations. Various factors influence the use or non-use of sexual violence, including the presence or absence of strong leadership, the internal cohesiveness of a group, and a group’s access to material resources (Wood, 2009).”

We strongly believe in the complexity of the topic of conflict-related sexual violence, therefore our website offers a wide variety of bibliography and complementary sources in the dedicated section.


Baines, Erin  (2014). Forced marriage as a political project: Sexual rules and relations in the Lord’s Resistance Army. Journal of Peace Research Vol. 51, No. 3 (May 2014), pp. 405-417

Bourke, Joanna (2007). Rape: Sex, Violence, History. Counterpoint, Berkeley.

Wood, Elisabeth Jane (2013). Rape is not Inevitable during War. Women & War pp. 37 – 63