Women and Public Policy Program Seminar Series

Explaining Rape During Civil War with Dara Kay Cohen

August 21, 2014

Why do some armed groups commit massive wartime rape, while others never do? Using an original dataset, I describe the substantial variation in rape by armed actors during recent civil wars and test a series of competing causal explanations. I find evidence that the recruitment mechanism is associated with the occurrence of wartime rape.
Specifically, the findings support an argument about wartime rape as a method of socialization, in which armed groups that recruit by force— through abduction or pressganging—use rape to create unit cohesion. I examine observable implications of the argument, based on months of fieldwork, in case studies of the conflicts in Sierra Leone, El Salvador and Timor-Leste, and consider some of the longterm consequences of conflict-related mass rape. Speaker: Dara Kay Cohen, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School