What War Does to Women: new book highlights the plague of conflict-related sexual violence

17.03.2020 ( Last modified: 18.03.2020 )

In a searing, angry reckoning of a book, Christina Lamb, Chief Foreign Correspondent at The Sunday Times, exposes the unheard stories of women victims of conflict-related sexual violence. Her research includes the Kavumu case (DRC), in which TRIAL International took part.

Rape and war have a long and painful history and today, the story hasn’t changed”says Christina Lamb. ©WilliamCollins

Christina Lamb has worked in combat zones for over 30 years and has seen many atrocities. Her latest book, Our Bodies, Their Battlefield: What War Does to Women, is an effort to amplify the voices and stories of women in war. It is a call to bring justice against the perpetrators of war rape, and a demand not to turn away from hard truths.

Rape became an international war crime in 1919, yet the International Criminal Court has not made one single conviction and the issue continues to be marginalized” says Lamb. “Rape and war have a long and painful history and today, the story hasn’t changed. Rape is a cruel, insidious and growing part of war, used against hundreds of thousands of women – often as part of barbaric military strategy.


A harrowing example from DRC

Among many other examples, Christina Lamb’s book revisits the crimes committed in Kavumu (DRC) and the role TRIAL International and its partners played to bring the perpetrators before justice.

The chapter opens with a harrowing account of the repeated rape of very young children, and the parents’ powerlessness to stop them. It then describes how actors came together to build a case and bring it to court, from Nobel Peace Prize Denis Mukwege to the NGOs Physicians for Human Rights and TRIAL International.

One problem was that, because of their young age, the brutality of the crime and the fact it took place in the dark, only one of the children could identify her perpetrator. No evidence had been taken at the time and in some cases three years had passed. However, through small details – such as the size, language and clothing of perpetrators – they were able to establish some important connections.(From Our Bodies, Their Battlefield, p. 342)

See all resources on the Kavumu case

The ongoing battle

Although the case ended with a positive verdict, Lamb emphasizes the irrevocable trauma the young victims still suffer. Some families still feel endangered, despite the main culprit’s arrest.

The mother of a raped girl recalls: “I was very happy when those people were convicted and I hope they stay forever in jail, but since that day my daughter is always sick, complaining about womb pain. I don’t think she will have a good future as everyone knows what happened to her.” From Our Bodies, Their Battlefield, p. 344)

By shedding a light on the families’ situation post-trial, Lamb makes a fundamental point: what happens after a verdict, especially access to reparations, is an often-overlooked aspect of justice.

Yet reparations are fundamental to victims’ reconstruction, both symbolically and physically. For the girls of Kavumu, they may make the difference between a life of dignity and one as outcasts. TRIAL International remains involved with the affected families to help them obtain the reparations ordered by the court.

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