Sexual Slavery in the Bosnian Genocide

By Andrea Dworkiny
Los Angeles Times
Andrea Dworkin is the author of “Letters From a War Zone” (Lawrence Hill Books).
5 September 1993.

In Bosnia, women and children are 75% of the more than 2.5 million people driven from their homes — not by the random violence of war but by forced expulsion and mass killings–in the Serbian military effort called “ciscenje prostora,” or what Americans have learned to call “ethnic cleansing.” Ethnic cleansing, enunciated as policy by Serbian political and military leaders at the highest levels of authority, is genocide. It requires the removal or killing of all non-Serbs from the new republics of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, both formerly part of Yugoslavia.

The Serbian military has killed an estimated 200,000 people [note: 200,000 also refers to the missing] in Bosnia alone, perhaps 80% Bosniak, in massacres, mass murders and bombings aimed at civilians. Serbian military policy has mandated the systematic gang-rape of Bosniak and Croatian women and girls, their imprisonment in schools, factories, motels, arenas and concentration camps for ongoing serial rape, rape followed by murder, sexual torture and sexual slavery.

In addition to the estimated 90 concentration camps set up throughout Bosnia, there are more than 20 rape/death camps. Some hold 15 to 25 women and look like brothels; others hold more than 1,000. More than 7,000 women were held as prisoners in a Serbian-run prison-brothel near Brcko in northern Bosnia, and Bosniak women are reportedly held in sexual slavery in the Sarajevo suburb of Grbavica. Young girls just reaching puberty appear to be specially designated targets for gang-rape.

And then the Serbian soldiers started making pornography: Well, why not? Are we Americans going to understand that the war against women — including the genocidal Serbian war of aggression against women in Bosnia and Croatia — is rape, prostitution and pornography? Or do we think that Serbian nationalist thugs are “expressing themselves” in the pornographic landscape of sex and murder with which our still-male government–not to mention the United Nations — is loathe to interfere? Are the films of rapes being made now in the Serbian-run rape/death camps in occupied areas of Bosnia and Croatia — even of rapes staged in order to be filmed — trivial compared with the rape itself, which later will be blamed on the victims and called prostitution?

Most prostitution everywhere in the world begins with rape: a child raped by her father; a teenager gang-raped by half the number of men involved in a typical Serbian military gang-rape (six instead of 12 at a time); a female child sold into sexual slavery; any girl or woman driven out of her home by male aggression, then pushed up against a wall or down on a slab of earth and used.

The aggressor spits “whore” and moves on to the next victim while the raped woman, her ties to a place and people destroyed, meets the next aggressor. She will be an exile, a stigmatized, shunned refugee, polluted — in ordinary language, a whore. His invective becomes her life.

Before this war, the pornography market in Yugoslavia was, according to critic Bogdan Tirnanic, “the freest in the world.” Whatever the communists suppressed, it wasn’t pornography–yet another example of folks who can tell the difference between pornography and literature.

The pornography was war propaganda that trained an army of rapists who waited for permission to advance. An atavistic nationalism provided the trigger and defined the targets — those women, not these women. The sexuality of the men was organized into antagonism, superiority and hatred. The lessons had been learned — not an ideology but a way of being: dehumanization of women; bigotry and aggression harnessed to destroying the body of the enemy; invasion as a male right; women as a lower life form.

In this war, pornography is everywhere: plastered on tanks; incorporated into the gang-rapes in the prostitution-prison brothels. Soldiers have camcorders to do the military version of “Beaver Hunt” — women tortured for the camera, raped for the camera, knifed and beaten for the camera; and of course, for the man behind it, the rapist-soldier turned–in American parlance — into an expresser. Of what? Oh, ideas.

In fact, acts of hatred often do express ideas; it is the American pathology to euphemize aggression by calling it speech. This may be why the U.S. press — with the exception of Ms. — has largely ignored the pervasiveness of the pornography used by the Serbian rapists and now being made by them. There is rape; that’s bad. There is pornography; that’s fun — adolescent, innocuous, endearing, as one writer in Harper’s represented it.

Serbian soldiers using pornography reminded that writer of “a wretched teen-age camping trip;” the pornography they had he described as “ours.” He and the soldiers played poker with “nudie cards.”

Even during genocide, there is affectionate tolerance for a boys-will-be-boys behavior so close to the American heart.

The world of women is different. Azra, 15, a Bosniak, was raped by eight men while conscious, “and I don’t know what happened after that.” Her breasts were cut by a man who “seemed to be playing,” while another was still on top of her. Enisa, 16, also gang-raped, said, “In my world, men represent terrible violence and pain. That feeling is stronger than me. I cannot control that feeling.”

And what will the land of the free and the home of the brave do when the pornography of genocidal rape reaches our own home-grown men–no strangers to aggression against women by all statistical representations?

The men will invoke their constitutional rights and consume it. The courts will protect it. Rape will travel with that pornography, as it does with all pornography: The rape of the women used to make it, now flattened and two-dimensional to be enjoyed in perpetuity, whether the women are alive or dead; and the rape of new targets, three-dimensional and present in the flesh–nominally citizens but not so that anyone has to notice.

If the Constitution is ever to be women’s too, it cannot protect– de jure or de facto — war on our bodies, the devastation of our dignity, the slow murder of so many of us through rape, prostitution and pornography, the true trinity of woman-hating atrocity.

It is perhaps too horrific to wonder, but: Were the 200,000 “comfort” women, raped by Japanese soldiers during World War II, lucky because the Japanese didn’t have camcorders? They were turned into living pornography through gang-rape–the condition of all prostituted women. And they were turned into necrophiliac pornography–no one knows how many were murdered.

But the Japanese didn’t make movies, put a woman’s violation into a permanence beyond her own will to remember or not. They didn’t pass her on –on tape — to laughing groups of boys to be enjoyed again and more, in peacetime, too. Piece-time.

This matters to women. The shame of rape — including in Asian and Muslim societies–pales next to the shame of being made into filmed pornography: The violation of you becoming a male legacy, a documentary record of being split open in the deepest humiliation; the pornography of you outliving you.

Can’t we care about this? Can’t we stand up for the rights of women – in Bosnia, in Croatia and here, too — by repudiating this pornography of genocide? Or will the Serbian military be able to put U.S. dollars in the bank: The spoils of war, profits made from our appetite for the filmed remains of raped women?

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