The Rock Ethics Institute


Global Perspectives

Discourses of Sexual Violence in a Global Framework

Linda Martín Alcoff
Philosophical Topics 37 (2): 123-139 (2009)

In this paper I make a preliminary analysis of Western (or global North) discourses on sexual violence, focusing on the important concepts of “consent” and “victim.” The concept of “consent” is widely used to determine whether sexual violence has occurred, and it is the focal point of debates over the legitimacy of statutory offenses and over the way we characterize sex work done under conditions involving economic desperation. The concept of “victim” is shunned by many feminists and nonfeminists alike for its apparent eclipse of agency. Putting these concepts into a global framework sheds light on their limitations. Bringing in the debate over the concept “honor crime” reveals contrasting assumptions about the nature of sexual violence. The comparative analysis used in this paper shows how we can avoid universalizing from specific frameworks, but also how we can learn from the discourses elsewhere toward developing an account of commonalities across contexts. Ultimately I argue that in applications to sexual violence, “consent” has intrinsic limitations, “victim” has context-based dangers, and “honor crime” makes both correct as well as incorrect assumptions. Abstract retrieved from philpapers.

Alcoff, Linda Martín (2009). Discourses of sexual violence in a global framework. Philosophical Topics 37 (2): 123-139.

Exploiting the Dignity of the Vulnerable Body: Rape as a Weapon of War

Debra Bergoffen
Philosophical Papers, 38 (3): 307-325 (2009)

When the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia convicted the Bosnian Serb soldiers who used rape as a weapon of war of violating the human right to sexual self determination and of crimes against humanity, it transformed vulnerability from a mark of feminine weakness to a shared human condition. The court's judgment directs us to note the ways in which the exploitation of our bodied vulnerability is an assault on our dignity. It alerts us to the ways in which the body of human rights law is a law of bodies; to the ways in which our desire for intimacy creates communal ties that ground our personal and social identities; to the ways in which the symbolic meanings of our bodies are integral to our sense of integrity and worth; and to the ways in which gender structures which position men as protectors of women make it possible for rape to be used as an effective and criminal weapon of war. Abstract retrieved from philpapers.

Bergoffen, Debra (2009). Exploiting the dignity of the vulnerable body: Rape as a weapon of war. Philosophical Papers, 38 (3): 307-325.

Atrocity, Harm, and Resistance: A Situated Understanding of Genocidal Rape

Sarah Clark Miller
In Andrea Veltman and Katherine Norlock (eds.), Evil, Political Violence and Forgiveness (2009)

Rather than focusing on political and legal debates surrounding attempts to determine if and when genocidal rape has taken place in a particular setting, this essay turns instead to a crucial, yet neglected area of inquiry: the moral significance of genocidal rape, and more specifically, the nature of the harms that constitute the culpable wrongdoing that genocidal rape represents. In contrast to standard philosophical accounts, which tend to employ an individualistic framework, this essay offers a situated understanding of harm that features the importance of interdependence and relationality and that conceptualizes harms as embodied and contextual. The paper ultimately reveals what is distinctive about this particular crime of sexual violence by exploring the logic of genocidal rape: genocidal rape involves the harm of forced self-betrayal unleashed relationally, causing victims as representatives of their group to participate inadvertently in the destruction of that group. Abstract retrieved from philpapers.

Miller, Sarah Clark (2009). In Andrea Veltman and Katherine Norlock (eds.), Evil, political violence and forgiveness. Lanham: Lexington Books: 53–76.

Moral Injury and Relational Harm: Analyzing Rape in Darfur

Sarah Clark Miller
Journal of Social Philosophy 40 (4): 504-523 (2009)

Rather than focusing on the legal and political questions that surround genocidal rape, in this paper I treat a vital area of inquiry that has received much less attention: the moral significance of genocidal rape.  My aim is to augment existing moral accounts of rape in order to address the specific contexts of genocidal rape. I move beyond understanding rape primarily as a violation of an individual's interests or agential abilities. The account I offer builds on these approaches (as well as on a pluralist approach), by arguing that rape, as a moral injury, negatively affects the very human dignity of victims. My account also emphasizes the relational harm that marks genocidal rape. 

Miller, Sarah Clark (2009). Moral injury and relational harm: Analyzing rape in Darfur. Journal of Social Philosophy 40 (4): 504-523.

“These Women, They Force Us to Rape Them”: Rape as Narrative of Social Control in Post-Apartheid South Africa 

Helen Moffett
Journal of Southern African Studies, 32 (1): 129-14 (2006)

South Africa has the worst known figures for gender-based violence for a country not at war. At least one in three South African women will be raped in her lifetime. The rates of sexual violence against women and children, as well as the signal failure of the criminal justice and health systems to curtail the crisis, suggest an unacknowledged gender civil war. Yet narratives about rape continue to be rewritten as stories about race, rather than gender. This stifles debate, demonises black men, hardens racial barriers, and greatly hampers both disclosure and educational efforts. As an alternative to racially-inflected explanations, I argue that contemporary sexual violence in South Africa is fuelled by justificatory narratives that are rooted in apartheid practices that legitimated violence by the dominant group against the disempowered, not only in overtly political arenas, but in social, informal and domestic spaces. In South Africa, gender rankings are maintained and women regulated through rape, the most intimate form of violence. Thus, in post-apartheid, democratic South Africa, sexual violence has become a socially endorsed punitive project for maintaining patriarchal order. Men use rape to inscribe subordinate status on to an intimately known ‘Other’ – women. This is generally and globally true of rape, but in the case of South Africa, such activities draw on apartheid practices of control that have permeated all sectors of society. Abstract retrieved from philpapers.

Moffett, Helen (2006). “These women, they force us to rape them”: Rape as narrative of social control in post-apartheid South Africa. Journal of Southern African Studies, 32 (1): 129-14. 

Just War Theory, Crimes of War, and War Rape

Sally Scholz
International Journal of Applied Philosophy, 20 (1): 143-157 (2006)

Recent decades have witnessed rape and sexual violence used on such a massive scale and often in a widespread and systematic program that the international community has had to recognize that rape and sexual violence are not just war crimes but might be crimes against humanity or even genocide. I suggest that just war theory, while limited in its applicability to mass rape, might nevertheless offer some framework for making the determination of when sexual violence and rape constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide. In addition, just war theory can provide the normative justification individual soldiers need to resist orders and actions that demonstrate egregious moral breakdown as found in instances of mass rape and systematic use of sexual violence, and just war criteria demonstrate that the use of rape and sexual violence in war time can never be legitimated, especially in the case of prisoner interrogation. Abstract retrieved from philpapers.

Scholz, Sally (2006). Just war theory, crimes of war, and war rape. International Journal of Applied Philosophy, 20 (1): 143-157.

Human Rights, Radical Feminism, and Rape in War

Sally Scholz
Social Philosophy Today, 21: 207-224 (2005)

This paper looks at some prominent discussions of rape in war as a violation of human rights within Radical Feminism. I begin with a brief overview of United Nations declarations and actions on the subject of rape in war. I then look at some radical feminist accounts of rape in war as a violation of human rights with particular emphasis on the discussions of Susan Brownmiller and Catharine MacKinnon. I conclude the paper with a critical analysis of these radical feminist accounts and show how our human rights talk must distinguish between types of rape in war situations or risk silencing the individual victims. Abstract Retrieved from philpapers.

Scholz, Sally (2005). Human rights, radical feminism, and rape in war. Social Philosophy Today, 21: 207-224.

The Duty to Protect Women From Sexual Violence in South Africa

Sibongile Ndashe
Feminist Legal Studies 12 (2): 213-221 (2004)

In 1998 Ghia Van Eeden was sexually assaulted by a serial rapist who had escaped from police custody due to the negligence of the South African police authorities. Claiming that the State owed a common law duty of care to potential victims to protect them from violent crimes, Van Eeden sought damages for the harm she had suffered. In a path-breaking decision, the Supreme Court of Appeal (S.C.A.) found that a duty of care did indeed exist and that its execution had to be considered in line with the constitutional requirement to protect women's right to be free from violence and the constitutional obligation to develop the common law so as to promote the spirit, purport and objects of the South African Bill of Rights. Examining the Van Eeden decision in terms of its substantial development of the circumstances in which the State may be judged liable for a wrongful omission, this note positions the S.C.A.'s decision in the context of the evolving case law of the Constitutional Court on sexual violence and ultimately questions its practical significance for addressing the prevalent abuse of women in South Africa. Abstract retrieved from philpapers.

Ndashe, Sibongile (2004). The duty to protect women from sexual violence in South Africa. Feminist Legal Studies 12 (2): 213-221.

Addendum to “Rape as a Weapon of War”

Claudia Card 
Hypatia, 12 (2): 216-218 (1997)

Learning about martial sex crimes against men has made me rethink some of my ideas about rape as a weapon of war and how to respond to it. Such crimes can be as racist as they are sexist and, in the case of male victims, may be quite simply racist. Abstract retrieved from philpapers.

Card, Claudia (1997). Addendum to “rape as a weapon of war.” Hypatia. 12 (2): 216-218.

Rape as a Weapon of War 

Claudia Card
Hypatia,11 (4): 5-18 (1996)

This essay examines how rape of women and girls by male soldiers works as a martial weapon. Continuities with other torture and terrorism and with civilian rape are suggested. The inadequacy of past philosophical treatments of the enslavement of war captives is briefly discussed. Social strategies are suggested for responding and a concluding fantasy offered, not entirely social, of a strategy to change the meanings of rape to undermine its use as a martial weapon. Abstract retrieved from philpapers. 

Card, Claudia (1996). Rape as a weapon of war. Hypatia, 11 (4): 5-18.

Mass Rape: The War Against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina 

Alexandra Stiglmayer (Ed.)
University of Nebraska Press (1994)

Alexandra Stiglmayer interviewed survivors of the continuing war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in order to reveal, to a seemingly deaf world, the horrors of the ongoing war in the former Yugoslavia. The women—primarily of Muslim but also of Croatian and Serbian origin—have endured the atrocities of rape and the loss of loved ones. Their testimony, published in the 1993 German edition, is bare, direct, and its cumulative effect overwhelming. The first English edition contains Stiglmayer's updates to her own two essays, one detailing the historical context of the current conflict and the other presenting the core of the book, interviews with some twenty victims of rape as well as interviews with three Serbian perpetrators. Essays investigating mass rape and war from ethnopsychological, sociological, cultural, and medical perspectives are included.

New essays by Catharine A. MacKinnon, Rhonda Copelon, and Susan Brownmiller address the crucial issues of recognizing the human rights of women and children. A foreword by Roy Gutman describes war crimes within the context of the UN Tribunal, and an afterword by Cynthia Enloe relates the mass rapes of this war to developments and reactions in the international women's movement. Accounts of torture, murder, mutilation, abduction, sexual enslavement, and systematic attempts to impregnate—all in the name of "ethnic cleansing"—make for the grimmest of reading. However brutal and appalling the information conveyed here, this book cannot and should not be ignored. Abstract retrieved from Amazon.

Stiglmayer, Alexandra (Ed.) (1994). Mass rape: The war against women in Bosnia-Herzegovina. University of Nebraska Press.