Publisher web: Polity Press

With her work Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict, Leatherman attempts to address a wide-scale - yet underreported and underestimated - banality and brutality of sexual assaults which thousands of women face on a daily basis in war-torn areas around the world. The book aims to raise readers’ attention to sexual violence in armed conflict and highlight the link between sexual violence and profit-making in the global marketplace. Leatherman explores sexual violence and rape; studies its roots, nature as well as consequences. She highlights the phenomena of globalisation and “new wars,” which create “ideal” grounds for sexual violence to become one of the vital parts of the international political economy of war.

The first chapter introduces the topic by a short historical depiction of sexual crimes, mainly targeted against women, during the course of the history of warfare. It conceptualises sexual violence by defining the term, and analyses the place where sexual violence in armed conflict happens, together with types of violent acts, perpetrators, victims, survivors and impacts ranging from the health of the victim to social consequences. It also briefly introduces the essential terms connected to sexual violence that are further explored throughout the entire book: taboos and norms; silence; gender-based violence; regionalism and weak states; globalisation; legal protection; patriarchy; and global political economy of war; and connects them to sexual violence problematic. Three theoretical approaches are explored, each very different on their theoretical presumptions of sexual violence in war. These are: Essentialism; Structuralism; and Social Constructivism. The problem of consent and proving rape together with developments in law are also studied. Chapter Two provides an in-depth analysis of the norms and taboo breaking of sexual violence, together with the argument that through the emergence of so called “new wars,” sexual violence has been facilitated by more localised and intimate war-fighting. Labelled as a “runaway norm,” sexual violence takes many forms in war, rape being the one most commonly associated to it. The organised nature of sexual violence in the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides represents examples of sexual violence being transformed into a tool of ethnic extermination. From a social constructivist perspective, women, both as victims and perpetrators, are studied in connection to the concept of the banality of evil. Taboo-breaking is another vital part of the institution of sexual violence, as often very young girls, pregnant, breastfeeding or elderly women are not spared and, in some cases, even preferred victims. Oppressed agency is another essential threshold of the sexual violence in armed conflict, which is defined by threat, fear and coercion and a perpetrator’s emotional, physical and sexual control over a victim, that takes many forms, such as sexual slavery; forced marriage; survival sex; trafficking; child soldiers; (etc). The final threshold is the loss of neutrality and safe space, where these features are denied by the localisation of violence. The third chapter explores pre-conflict conditions and local contexts of cultural norms in relation to gender. The concept of structural violence is key for the analysis as it is gendered in its very nature. Closely related to feminist debates, the power of gender is argued to operate through mechanisms that normalise or depoliticise certain categories; dichotomised categories; and hierarchical (most often patriarchal) arrangements. The illiteracy of women, together with social and cultural practices directed against women, are causes of later campaigns of mass violence during armed conflict. The fourth chapter is dedicated solely to the topic of safe space denial and its scarcity in new wars, which are major factors increasing women’s vulnerability during conflicts, where sexual violence is one of the organising and disciplinary tools. Importantly, international aid workers’ role of perpetrators is analysed and examples are offered. In new wars, sexual violence knows no physical or psychological boundaries. The next chapter explores the case study of the Democratic Republic of Congo in its relation to the global political economy of war. It also studies the concept of hegemonic masculinity in greater depth, applying it on the case, together with taboo violations, hyper-masculinity and the loss of women’s bodily integrity. The last chapter analyses levels of accountability of perpetrators and critical protection of vulnerable civilians.

The book is an essential work dealing with sexual violence in armed conflict, as its argumentation is very strong and does not leave much space for doubting the danger of the phenomenon and the necessity of action. Theoretical analyses conducted in the first chapter however seem to be rather unsound compared to the in-depth Feminist debate conducted in subsequent chapters. Also, the case study of the DRC, possibly one of the strongest examples of sexual violence during armed conflict and its negative repercussions, is conceptualised more from an international political economy perspective than from a victim-oriented feminist approach. Contrarily, the theoretical analysis of thresholds breaking and, specifically, denial of neutrality and safe space is very convincing and inspiring.

Leatherman’s work comes highly recommended for a wide range of readers as a crucial contribution to both feminist and security debates. Definitely a ‘must have’ work for scholarly libraries focused on of contemporary security studies as it offers a fresh perspective on a previously omitted phenomenon that threatens to develop into a cheap and highly effective weapon of mass destruction if not dealt with immediately and on an international basis. An essential read for everyone interested in international political dynamics and trends.