A Nobel Prize is Not Enough

Layla Abi-Falah is a second-year law student at William & Mary Law School earning her J.D. with a concentration in International Law. She graduated from the College of William & Mary with a B.A. in International Relations with a concentration in human rights in the Middle East and Africa. She is committed to a future as a human rights lawyer. Layla had the opportunity as an undergraduate student to conduct policy-relevant research as a part of the Project on International Peace & Security and Center for African Development, and continues such research goals today in her comparative legal work for USAID Jordan CITIES.

On October 5, 2018 the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad the Nobel Peace Prize for their dedication to the end of mass wartime rape as a weapon of armed conflict. In the midst of devastating, never-ending conflicts in the Congo and Iraq, Dr. Mukwege’s work with Panzi Hospital has led to the treatment of thousands of rape survivors and Murad’s rejection of social responses to rape by speaking openly of her rape and abuse under Islamic State (IS) captivity has brought greater visibility to the systematic use of rape by IS militants throughout the Middle East.[1]

However, Nadia Murad and Dr. Denis Mukwege deserve more than a Nobel Peace Prize. They deserve reform of U.S. post-conflict reconstruction efforts to incorporate the reintegration of female survivors of mass wartime rape in post-conflict society. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraqi Kurdistan, and many other states experiencing mass wartime rape will never be able to avert state failure if Washington does not make the reintegration of female survivors of mass wartime rape a priority in U.S. post-conflict reconstruction efforts.

Mass wartime rape is an overlooked obstacle to successful post-conflict reconstruction and long-term stability. State failure stemming from failed reconstruction processes is a significant source of U.S. insecurity. Female rape survivors, exiled from their families and communities due to social stigmas surrounding rape, are not only excluded from participation during reconstruction, but can ultimately turn to terrorist and criminal networks such as drug trafficking and prostitution.[2] Their exclusion diminishes the chance of a stable post-conflict society while threatening U.S. military objectives in post-conflict reconstruction.[3]

Since World War II, the U.S. has pursued post-conflict reconstruction processes in allied countries.[4] Obstacles—from inadequate manpower and funding to overemphasis on physical reconstruction at the cost of institutional reconstruction—have led to continued instability in countries like Kosovo, Bosnia, and Iraq, among others.[5] Because these obstacles to successful post-conflict reconstruction are well known, they have received attention by the policy-making community.[6] However, mass wartime rape also impedes stability and has received little attention.

Preventing mass wartime rape from stalling or obstructing successful post-conflict reconstruction requires a tailored policy response–one beyond the typical strategies of infrastructure building and democracy promotion.

Instability from mass wartime rape can affect three levels of society: the individual, the family, and the community. The female survivor of wartime rape suffers long after her attack from a wide range of negative health consequences. Additionally, she may suffer from economic insecurity, rejection, exile, and abuse by her family and the greater community due to social stigmas against rape victims.[7] The family unit breaks down as men, namely fathers, brothers, sons and husbands, are indirect victims of rape, facing social stigma from having failed in their traditional role as protector of the family.[8] Thus, male family members see the rejection of survivors as a justified response to their shame.[9] Finally, with the loss of so many women—once an integral part of the community, filling roles from child rearing to crop cultivation to symbolizing community values—the result is overall communal instability, cementing the power of rape as a strategic weapon of war.[10]

How can the U.S. help societies that experience mass wartime rape?  Here we can learn from the past. After reviewing every case of mass wartime rape since before World War I, including Murad’s home of Iraqi Kurdistan and Mukwege’s home of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the U.S. should adopt a three-pronged response.

First, the U.S. must empower local leaders as agents to reshape societal attitudes toward rape survivors. Local leaders can create an environment that encourages the return of survivors to the community, while advocating for the necessity of accepting them back into society.[11] For example, Iraqi Yazidi spiritual leader Khurto Hajji Ismail issued an edict instructing Yazidi families and communities in Iraq to accept and reintegrate rape survivors who, like Murad, returned home after being abducted by the IS slave trade and forced to convert to Islam (an unpardonable sin in the Yazidi religion).[12]

Second, the U.S. should promote campaigns that redefine local, cultural understandings of rape by undergoing mediation between the survivor and her family. Educating the family unit about rape and the nature of rape as a tool of war enables women to receive the support they need to recover from their rape.[13] These mediation campaigns can thereby facilitate survivor reintegration, as the familial response largely determines the community’s response.[14] This approach is similar to the work Murad has done throughout Iraqi Kurdistan.[15]

Finally, the U.S. should encourage communities to incorporate sexual and gender-based violence care into local primary health care facilities. Doing so will allow survivors to overcome the stigma of seeking medical treatment for their rape.[16] For example, in Dr. Mukwege’s Panzi Hospital, survivors were more likely to be reintegrated into their communities (or avoid rejection in the first place) if they were able to get treatment.[17]  Survivors could subsequently show that they are not infected with HIV/AIDS, could conceive with their husbands after rape, and receive effective emergency contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies.[18]

The U.S. should stand with Nadia Murad, Dr. Denis Mukwege, and survivors of mass wartime rape. Spending billions on post-conflict reconstruction efforts in allied countries, it is in the interest of the U.S. to focus efforts in part on the reintegration of mass wartime rape survivors to achieve a more successful reconstruction process that ensures long-term peace and stability.




[1] The Nobel Peace Prize 2018, The Nobel Prize (Oct. 5, 2018), https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2018/press-release/.

[2] See, e.g., Corin Bailey, Exploring Female Motivations for Drug Smuggling on the Island of Barbados: Evidence from Her Majesty’s Prison, Barbados, 8 Feminist Criminology 117, 129 (2013); Brittany A. Olwine, One Step Forward, But Two Steps Back: Why Gacaca in Rwanda is Jeopardizing the Good Effect of Akayesu on Women’s Rights, 17 Wm. & Mary J. of Women & L. 639, 655 (2011); Katharina Von Knop, The Female Jihad: Al-Qaeda’s Women, 30 Stud. in Conflict and Terrorism 397, 400 (2007); Susan Bartels, Now the World Is Without Me: An Investigation of Sexual Violence in Eastern DRC, Harv. Humanitarian Initiative (Apr. 2010), https://hhi.harvard.edu/publications/now-world-without-me-investigation-sexual-violence-eastern-democratic-republic-congo.

[3] Contra Jamille Bigio & Rachel B. Vogelstein, How Women’s Participation in Conflict Prevention and Resolution Advances U.S. Interests, Council on Foreign Rel. (Oct. 2016), http://www.cfr.org/peacekeeping/womens-participationconflict-prevention-resolution-advances-us-interests/p38416; Heather B. Hamilton, Rwanda’s Women: The Key to Reconstruction, The J. of Humanitarian Assistance (May 10, 2000), http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=; Patricia Morris, Time to Break the Silent and Stop the Violence: Why Ending War Rape in the DRC Should be a Top Global Priority, Ctr. for Strategic and Int’l Stud. (Apr. 15, 2008), https://www.csis.org/analysis/time-break-silence-and-stop-violence-why-ending-war-rape-drc-should-be-top-global-priority; Brigitte Sorensen, Women and Post-Conflict Reconstruction: Issues and Sources, United Nations Res. Inst. for Soc. Dev. (Jun. 1, 1998), http://www.unrisd.org/80256B3C005BCCF9/(httpPublications)/631060B93EC1119EC1256D120043E600; After the Peace: Women in Post-Conflict Reconstruction,  Promoting Women in Dev. (Nov. 1998),  https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/bitstream/handle/10822/551499/Peace_women_post_conflict.pdf?sequenc e=1.

[4] See generally James Dobbins et al., America’s Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq, (2003) https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1753/MR1753.sum.pdf.

[5] Marcus Cox, State Building and Post-Conflict Reconstruction: Lessons from Bosnia, Ctr. for Applied Stud. in Int’l Negot. (Jan. 31, 2001), https://reliefweb.int/report/bosnia-and-herzegovina/state-building-and-post-conflict-reconstruction-lessons-bosnia; Polona Mal et al., Post Conflict Reconstruction of Bosnia, Intn’t Inst. for Middle East and Balkan Stud. (Dec. 12, 2007), http://www.ifimes.org/en/8125-post-conflict-reconstruction-of-bosnia; Patrice C. McMahon & John Western, The Death of Dayton: How to Stop Bosnia From Falling Apart, Foreign Aff. (Sept.-Oct. 2009), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/bosnia-herzegovina/2009-08-17/death-dayton; Robert C. Orr, Winning the Peace: an American Strategy for Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Ctr. for Strategic and Int’l Stud. (July 2004); Jonathan Pickering, Policy Coherence in International Responses to State Failure: The role of the United Kingdom in Sierra Leone, London School of Economics Dev. Stud. Inst. (July 2009), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237294926_Policy_Coherence_in_International_Responses_to_State_Failure_The_role_of_the_United_Kingdom_in_Sierra_Leone. See also Lucy Scott, Successful Intervention? Critical reflections on the legacy of British military intervention in Sierra Leone, 22 Peace, Conflict, & Dev.: An Interdisc. J. 179 (June 2016) (detailing British intervention in Sierra Leone).

[6] Dobbins et al., supra note 4; Polona Mal et al., supra note 5; McMahon & Western, supra note 5; Orr, supra note 5; Pickering, supra note 5; Scott, supra note 5.

[7] Sarah E. Casey et al., Care-Seeking Behavior by Survivors of Sexual Assault in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 101 American Journal of Public Health 1054, 1054-55 (June 2011); Jocelyn Kelly et al., Experiences of Female Survivors of Sexual Violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo: a Mixed-Methods Study, 5 Conflict and Health 1, 4-7 (Nov. 2, 2011); Jocelyn Kelly et al., “If your husband doesn’t humiliate you, other people won’t: Gendered Attitudes Towards Sexual Violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, 7 Global Public Health 285, 288-96 (Mar. 2012); Megan Mackenzie, Securitizing Sex? Towards a Theory of the Utility of Wartime Sexual Violence, 12 Int’l Feminist J. of Pol. 202, 208-9; 212-14  (May 2010); Mary V. Carter, Exile and Reintegration among Rape Survivors in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Factors Influencing Rejection and Acceptance, UNC Sch. of Nursing (2011); Aryn Baker, The Secret War Crime, Time Mag., http://time.com/war-and-rape/; Bartels, Now the World Is Without Me, supra note 2; Cassandra Clifford, Rape as a Weapon of War and its Long-term Effects on Victims and Society, 7th Global Conference on Violence and the Contexts of Hostility (May 2008), https://www.peacewomen.org/assets/file/Resources/NGO/vaw_rapeasaweaponofwar_stopmodernslavery_may2008.pdf; Nicola Jones et al., The Fallout of Rape as a Weapon of War: the Life-Long and Intergenerational Impacts of Sexual Violence in Conflict, Overseas Dev. Inst. (June 2014), https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/8990.pdf; Jeanne Ward & Mendy Marsh, Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls in War and its Aftermath: Realities, Reponses and Required Resources, Symposium on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Beyond (June 2006), http://www.svri.org/sites/default/files/attachments/2016-01-15/CCEF504C15AB277E852571AB0071F7CE-UNFPA.pdf; Madrespeaks, Women Confronting ISIS: How Can We End Rape as a Weapon of War?, YouTube (Mar. 2015), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzlBPKwbPJM.

[8] Bartels, Now the World Is Without Me, supra note 2; Megan Bradley et al., Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence in Conflict: Next Steps in a Global Struggle, The Brookings Insti. (Oct. 2013), https://www.brookings.edu/events/preventing-and-responding-to-sexual-violence-inconflict-next-steps-in-a-global-struggle/.

[9] Bartels, Now the World Is Without Me, supra note 2; Bradley et al., supra note 8.

[10] Carolyn Nordstrom, Rape: Politics and Theory in War and Peace,11 Austl. Feminist Stud. 147, 152-53 (1991); Clifford, Rape as a Weapon of War and its Long-term Effects on Victims and Society; LaShawn R. Jefferson, In War as in Peace: Sexual Violence and Women’s Status, Human Rights Watch (2004), http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/402bac094.pdf;  Jones et al., The Fallout of Rape as a Weapon of War; Mackenzie, Securitizing Sex? at 208-9; 212-14  ; Ward & Mendy, Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls in War and its Aftermath; Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War, UNICEF, 1996, https://www.unicef.org/sowc96pk/sexviol.htm; Madrespeaks, Women Confronting ISIS.

[11] See, e.g., Ending Violence Against Women in Eastern Congo: Preparing Men to Advocate for Women’s Rights, Women for Women Int’l (Winter 2007), http://www.endvawnow.org/uploads/browser/files/mensleadershipfullreport_002.pdf.

[12]Susannah George, Yazidi Women 18 Welcomed Back to the Faith, UNHCR (June 15, 2015), http://tracks.unhcr.org/2015/06/yazidi-women-welcomed-back-to-the-faith/; Madrespeaks, Women Confronting ISIS. See also Swanee Hunt, The Rise of Rwanda’s Women: Rebuilding and Reuniting a Nation, Foreign Aff. (May/June 2014), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/rwanda/2014-03-30/rise-rwandas-women (explaining how Paul Kagame was a norm entrepreneur in Rwanda).

[13] Baker, The Secret War Crime; Carter, Exile and Reintegration among Rape Survivors in the Democratic Republic of Congo; Kelly, Experiences of Female Survivors of Sexual Violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo at 4-7; Kelly et al., If your husband doesn’t humiliate you, other people won’t at 288-96; J.K. Reimer et al., The Road Home: Toward a model of ‘reintegration’ and considerations for alternative care for children trafficked for sexual exploitation in Cambodia, Hagar/World Vision Cambodia (March 2007), http://hagarinternational.org/international/files/The-Road-Home.pdf.

[14] Baker, supra note 13; Carter, supra note 13; Kelley, supra note 13 at 4-7; Kelley et al., supra, note 13; Reimer et al., supra note 13.

[15] See Nadia Murad, I was an ISIS sex slave. I tell my story because it is the best weapon I have, the Guardian (Oct. 6, 2018), https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/06/nadia-murad-isis-sex-slave-nobel-peace-prize.

[16] Casey et al., Care-Seeking Behavior by Survivors of Sexual Assault at 1054-55; Kate Cronin-Furman, What’s New in Sexual Violence in the DRC (An Interview with Jocelyn Kelly), Wronging Rights Blog (June 2016), http://www.wrongingrights.com/2010/06/whats-new-in-sexual-violence-in-the-drc-an-interview-with-jocelynkelly.html.

[17] Casey et al., supra note 16; Cronin-Furman, supra note 16.

[18] Kelly, Experiences of female survivors of sexual violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo at 4-7.


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