The most famous historical facts of mass sexual crimes are connected in the minds of ordinary people with the image of Nazis during World War 2, with the Japanese militarists who carried out the Nanjing Massacre or with the genocide of the population during the civil war in Rwanda. However, let’s put this theme in the context of the continuing war in Ukraine.
The topic of sexual violence is always sensitively perceived by people. It is particularly acute in situations of armed conflict. Propaganda always uses the loudest and most horrifying facts about raped women and children to dehumanize the image of soldiers of the opposite side, as well as to create panic and fear of the invaders among the civilian population. The most famous historical facts of mass rapes are connected in the minds of ordinary people with the image of Nazis during the Second World War, with the Japanese militarists who carried out the Nanjing Massacre, or with the genocide of the population during the civil war in Rwanda.
The Ukrainian Attempt
However, the theme is so effective that it is used by opposing sides in the conflict to dehumanize each other in virtually all hostilities. For example, at the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the British and American media launched a massive campaign to accuse Russian soldiers of the mass rape of the Ukrainian population. Doubts about the authenticity of such news began to appear almost immediately after its publication. To begin with, it is worth noting the formulaic nature and similarity in descriptions. For example, there were frequent stories about gang rapes of women or children by Russian soldiers, who were often under the influence of alcohol or drugs. At the same time, despite the shocking details, the names of the victims and the circumstances under which the crimes took place were almost never specified, and all sources reporting these cases were anonymous and had no official confirmation.
Of course, an act of aggression against a sovereign state cannot be justified in any way. However, the apparent attempts to demonize the image of the Russian military without sufficient argumentation have not been seriously successful. The wave of mass accusations that lasted from March to May 2022 began to subside after almost no evidence of the atrocities committed was provided. The main proof that such accusations were far-fetched was the dismissal by representatives of the Ukrainian Parliament of ombudsman Lyudmila Denisova, who had been the main distributor and supplier of such news to the Western media, for unconfirmed publications about the crimes. It is worth mentioning that another official representative of the government who was found guilty of making unsubstantiated accusations against the Russians was the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten.
Can such a policy be justified? Obviously, it was necessary for the media to influence the consciousness of the Ukrainians and citizens of other states and arouse feelings of hatred, disgust, and Russophobia. In the case of Ukrainian citizens, it was also necessary to stimulate the population to volunteer more actively at the front and refuse to cooperate with Russia. However, it was not possible to achieve the desired result either because of the lack of sufficient factual evidence or because of the formed image of the high professionalism of the Russian army.
Violence in war and violence in peace
It is worth noting that despite the particular susceptibility of people to this topic during the war, sexual crimes committed by servicemen against civilians are also a disturbing factor during peacetime. The most notable examples are U.S. military bases abroad and especially in Asia. The standoff that has been going on for more than 70 years between the residents of the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa and rotating American servicemen in Japan is especially noteworthy. The US military bases have been there since 1945, after the full occupation of Japan by US troops. During that time the number of sexual crimes committed by US servicemen against civilians has reached hundreds, according to the All Okinawa Council for Human Rights (30th January 2022). And such cases, becoming a trend, do not raise the level of prestige of the American armed forces at all.
There is no judging who wins
Perhaps this somewhat taboo topic of rape in war and peacetime will continue to be one of the main avenues that will be used by the warring parties to smear each other for a long time to come. It is important to understand that it is the existence of real facts, rather than unsubstantiated statements by authorized individuals, that creates a long-term negative image of sexual rapists among the soldiers of the invaders. And whoever ends up stronger on the battlefield will end up writing their most correct and final version of the events that took place.
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