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Researcher Says Rape Can Be a Weapon of War

By Michelle Chun, Contributing Writer

Applied systematically, rape can be devastating tool of war, said researcher Mia Bloom yesterday during a speech at the Kennedy School of Government.

In her lecture entitled “Rape as a Weapon of War,” Bloom, a researcher at Princeton’s Center of International Studies, dismissed the view that rape is an inevitable fact of war, instead arguing that sexual violence is often applied quite methodically and effectively to demoralize civilians in a war zone.

She said rape was more complex than simple exploitation of “wartime spoils,” saying that the systematic use of rape is an “efficient” war tool.

In ethnic wars, especially during stalemates, Bloom argued, systematic rape can “implode the society from within,” targeting women as bearers of their society’s culture and identity.

The methods for implementing rape are also more complex and systematic than often assumed, she said. For example, Bloom termed one method “rape and kill,” which can consist of strategies such as spreading HIV and other diseases to victim groups.

Rape is also exploited to remove target groups from their homelands. In Bosnia, less than 8 percent of the population returned to places where rape was systematically enforced during the wars there.

The use of rape in war often permanently alters the affected community. Bloom explained that areas targeted with the tactic often experience a 500 percent increase in post-war calls to rape crisis centers—pointing to lasting domestic ramifications.

So far Bloom has gathered evidence for her research from victim testimonials and interviews from war tribunals. But since her research remains in the early stages, some in the audience of about 25 people pointed to a lack of “hard data” and weaknesses in her methodology during a question-and-answer session after the speech.

Bloom said she hopes to address such criticisms as her work advances, and also explained that since few people are working on the subject it remains an underdeveloped field.

The Women and Public Policy Program at the Kennedy School sponsored yesterday’s speech.

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