Recognizing Rape as a Method of Torture

Introduction

A twelve-year-old girl in Bosnia-Herzogovina is selected from among seventy detainees in a Serbian detention camp. She is raped over nine consecutive nights by various Serbian soldiers; one soldier raped her and her mother on the same night. In Kashmir, India, members of the police forcibly enter a family’s home. They beat the male occupants and rape the seventeen-year-old daughter. In Peru, soldiers enter a village in an emergency zone and round up the villagers. They separate the women and children from the men. They beat or abduct the men; the women are raped. Guerrillas rape a young Salvadoran woman, forcing her to watch as they brutally murder her uncle and male cousins. The guerrillas later threaten to kill the young woman if she reports the incident. Subsequently, she is denied asylum in the United States because a judge concludes that she lacks a well-founded fear of persecution.

Until recently, the atrocities committed against the female victims described above were not defined as torture. The acts perpetrated against the male victims, however, were consistently defined as such. This dichotomy between rape and torture illustrates the reluctance in the international community to recognize rape by a public official as a politically motivated offense against a woman. While acts of rape have been condemned as violations of human rights, they have rarely been identified as acts of torture, even when committed by a public official during an interrogation or as part of a governmental plan.

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