University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne
11-12 May 2009
Rapes committed during armed conflicts are often assumed to have a kind of inevitability. Even the term in French, viols de guerre, makes them seem an intrinsic part of war in any period. For a long time the victims, for the most part women and civilians, were accorded only a secondary importance. They were marginal in relation to the fighting and ranked somewhere between a form of booty and the warrior’s reward. Since they had no effect on the outcome of the war, they figured only in relation to the satisfaction of male sexual needs, albeit in a particularly violent form.
Over the last thirty years, however, the subject has been studied in a number of different disciplines. The aim of this conference is to promote rape in wartime as an historical subject. The intention is not to claim in advance that it constitutes either a supreme form of wartime violence or a forgotten one, but rather, by taking account of the actors, the actions and the occasions on which rape occurred, to pose the question of its place in war. The idea is also to chart the visibility of rape both at the time and afterwards. The question will be posed of how rape could on some occasions symbolize the entire conflict and summarize the atrocities for which the enemy was condemned while on other occasions it was passed over in silence by both the private and the public narratives of the war.
Five themes will be emphasized:
1. The circumstances of war.
Does the nature and incidence of rape depend on whether the war is an international conflict, a war of independence or a civil war? What variations are due to the different phases of the war (invasion, occupation, retreat) and how do they compare with rape in peacetime or periods of domestic disturbance. Is rape more frequent in war only because of the increased opportunity for it – heightened mobility, the expectation of impunity, perceived anonymity – or because it is an integral part of the violence of war and accepted as such by military commands?
2. Customs and practices.
What acts constitute rape and in what circumstances? How do the definitions of rape evolve? What sanctions does it carry? How do these vary between criminal justice and military justice regimes and within different jurisdictions – civil, military, national or international? Is it deemed to be criminal behaviour on the part of the soldiers, and is it tolerated or punished? Can it be a form of reprisal, a policy of terror, a tool of ‚ethnic cleansing‘ or genocide?
3. The importance of the imaginary.
How do the mutual perceptions of rapists and their victims affect how the violence unfolds?
What is the relative importance of masculine and racial domination, or of a desire for revenge? Do the stereotypes projected onto the victim lower the threshold of transgression in committing rape or do they contribute to strategies of self-legitimization by the perpetrators, whether individual or collective?
4. The aftermath.
What happens after rape? What can be said about the physical and psychological consequences, the medical treatment and the legal and social status of the victims (ranging from ostracism to martyrdom)? What about the rapists‘ views after the war, their relations with their former victims or the eventual legal consequences of their acts? What is the place of rape in relations between the former belligerent powers, either as states or populations? The fate of the children born of rape appears to be a particularly unexplored topic and warrants our attention.
5. How to write this history.
Finally, we would like this conference to serve as a place of reflection on the relationship of the researcher with her or his subject. How written sources and eyewitnesses are approached, the style of writing and the choice of language – these are all matters that we should discuss collectively, comparing our experiences and engaging in a common epistemological consideration of the nature of the subject.
While the conference will be informed by a series of questions that arise from the history of the 20th century, all periods and approaches are welcome.
The languages of the conference are French and English. In order to allow the greatest possible exchange of views between participants, no more than twenty or so proposals for papers will be selected.
Proposals should be a maximum of 2,500 characters (360 words) and should be sent with a short biographical note before 1 June 2008 to: rapeinwartime#univ-paris1.fr
Organizing committee: Raphaëlle Branche (Centre d’histoire sociale du XXe siècle/CNRS – University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne), Isabelle Delpla (UMR CNRS 5206 Triangle/University of Montpellier III), John Horne (Trinity College Dublin), Pieter Lagrou (Université Libre de Bruxelles), Daniel Palmieri (International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva), Fabrice Virgili (Identités, Relations Internationales et Civilisations de l’Europe/CNRS – University of Paris I Panthéon- Sorbonne).