Rape ... no matter how much I'd heard about it, nothing prepared me for the actual experience. It lives on inside me. I still bleed a lot. It was done not just by one man, but by a group of them. They stifled my screams and protests. I had to give in. And it was a side show; lots of people came to watch.

Thus echoes yet another victim of wartime rape. Although women usually have little or no part in a nation's decision to go to war, they suffer its most severe consequences. The reason?

Some argue that rape of women is an incidental atrocity of war - women's bodies the legitimate spoils. Others don't buy this.

Borislave Herak, a 21-year old soldier, admitted raping seven Muslim women, two of which he also killed. He says, "We were ordered to rape so our morale would be higher. We were told we would fight better if we raped the women."

Could it be true that, rather than an inhumane urge on the part of the perpetrators, rape is actually organized, systematized and used as a weapon of war? The United Nations seems to think so: "rape was being used as a political instrument of ethnic cleansing ... designed to terrorize the whole population." (in a report on the conflict in the former Yugoslavia).

Don't act so shocked. This isn't new news. Throughout history warfare has entailed the rape and forced impregnation of women as a way of propagating the victorious tribe and extinguishing the defeated one. It has also served to dehumanize the enemy, and to reign by fear.

Reports of rape have come from nearly every modern situation of armed conflict. The East Timorese women, our neighbors, endure rape and forced sterilization as a part of Indonesia's integration program. The Tutsi refugee women, brutally raped and left to die slowly - pieces of wood thrust into their vaginas. This violence continues. It is unacceptable, and it is telling us something.

A disease plagues every society, whether warring or peaceful. It objectifies, dehumanizes, and controls women. It is called discrimination, and it is as much a human rights violation as the wartime atrocities it encourages.

Heidi Bentz Ashe

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