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One rarely reads a contemporary account of war that does not also include a reference to rape. From Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s, to South Sudan and Syria today, armed conflicts have become inseparable from reports of sexual and gender-based violence. What was once dismissed as an inadvertent “spoil” of war is now recognized and prosecuted as a “weapon” of war. Despite the widely recognized gendered and sexualized underpinnings of rape, conflict scholars largely focus on understanding why actors use rape, i.e. what actors intend to accomplish by using rape, rather than understanding why rape, in particular, is used during war. To understand why rape is used during war, as well as why rape is efficacious during war, I argue, requires a more contextual approach. One that goes beyond a instrumentalist, means-ends account of actors’ intentions that assumes that all rape, if perpetrated intentionally and strategically, will be efficacious regardless of the context in which it is perpetrated; an approach that is attentive to what rape “is” and how it manifests, rather than treating rape as a uniform “weapon” of war. ,This project takes up and departs from existing work by rethinking what it means for rape to be efficacious during war. Rather than treating rape instrumentally as a weapon of war, this dissertation approaches wartime rape contextually, meaning it understands rape as a form of socially constructed violence whose understanding changes depending on the context. In particular, I examine how the context of violence changes the meanings, effects of, and responses to rape in three case studies—the Rwandan Genocide (1994), the Sierra Leone civil war (1991-2002), and the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in northern Uganda (1987-2007). Drawing on data from my fieldwork—interviews, ethnography, and original archival research—this dissertation stresses three main contributions. First, I show how instrumentalist approaches to wartime rape are devoid of the very gendered and sexualized dimensions that give rape its meanings and its power. As a result, instrumentalist approaches inadvertently equate rape with other forms of non-sexualized violence. In attempt to rectify this shortcoming, I present a new contextual approach that is attentive to the gendered and sexualized dimensions that its instrumentalist counterpart lacks. I find that it is not actors’ goals that render rape efficacious during war, rather it is the context in which rape is perpetrated that determines whether its use is illicit or permissible, prohibited or accepted, politically consequential or not. While these categories are not mutually exclusive, I find that rape is efficacious during war when it violates norms regarding where, who, and how rape should be used, regardless of whether the actor violates these norms intentionally. Finally, my contextual approach causally connects violence to the conflict and to the effects to show that even though all rape may not be efficacious during war, wartime sexual violence still may undermine long-term post-conflict security and recovery.


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