Research Portfolio Post 1: Research Interests

“Systematic sexual abuse and other forms of gender-based violence are often deployed as weapons in war.”[1]

Almost a month ago, Kashmir lost its special status as a state. For the weeks that have followed, there have been countless articles about the instability in Kashmir, with a significant increase in discourse around sexual violence in conflict zones like the valley.

Even outside the context of Kashmir, more and more researchers are looking into wartime sexual assault and the literature on the subject continues to grow tenfold every day. For my Olson Scholar’s research topic, I am interested in investigating the topic through my own perspective. However, the biggest problem that I perceive I will face is truly narrowing down my topic due to the fact that there is no dearth of different dimensions on this issue.

The two most commonly discussed are perhaps the idea of rape as a weapon of war and the ethicality of wartime crimes of sexual violence. However, something that I have particularly noticed as a personal point of curiosity is the public health impact of wartime sexual assault on populations.

The underlying reason under perceiving wartime sexual assault as a public health issue is that violence, in and of itself, is a public health issue. In their 2016 research[2]paper, Leana S Wen and Kathleen Goodwin posit that violence is an epidemiological problem for two main reasons: firstly, it “directly impacts the well-being of communities everywhere,” and secondly, the effect of violence on a community could mean increased “toll of the trauma of living in high-crime areas” on vulnerable populations. Since wartime sexual assault arguably falls under these two categories, it is important to discuss the nature and the implications of sexual violence on a population both during and following periods of conflict, especially when taking into considerations effects like increases in STIs and unwanted pregnancies. The public health implications of this go beyond the physical – the impact on mental health is significant and can be extremely damaging to vulnerable citizenries.

However, as aforementioned, narrowing down on a specific area of investigation will undoubtedly pose a problem. As a student of the social sciences, I am filled with questions about the different nuances of the topic. For example, despite the efforts of the international organisations to mitigate the issue of wartime through statements and conventions like the International Committee of the Red Cross’ 1992 aide-mémoire to the Geneva Convention[3], why has there often been little to no impact on the numbers of sexual assault in times of war? What role do local and regional governments play in both instigating use of sexual violence but also in the pacification of the same? Additionally, does political insecurity inherently lead to power complexes and grandiose behaviour in its military factions?

There are many questions to be asked and answered in the context of this issue, which makes the research of the same both stimulating and Sisyphean. However, in the same vein, I look forward to researching the topic and establishing a better understanding of the same.


[1]“‘Kashmir Women Are The Biggest Victims Of This Inhumane Siege'”. Al Jazeera, Last modified 2019.

[2]Wen, Leana S., and Kathleen E. Goodwin. “Violence Is A Public Health Issue”. Journal Of Public Health Management And Practice22, no. 6 (2016): 503-505. doi:10.1097/phh.0000000000000501.

[3]Sellers, Patricia V. “The Prosecution Of Sexual Violence In Conflict: The Importance Of Human Rights As Means Of Interpretation.”, 2007.

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  1. First of all, great project idea! This is getting me excited for you! I have to say that I am not familiar with impacts of sex crimes on populations from the public health perspective. However, if you want to look at a more military/ethnic cleansing perspective I would point you towards the Bosnian conflict. During the Bosnian war, Republika Srpska soldiers utilised rape to force Bosniak and Croatian women to leave their homes. A good, but not for the feint of heart, source to consider is the Black Book of Bosnia: The Consequences of Appeasement by Nader Mousavizadeh which documents this via first person accounts. This source could really only be used on the micro- instead of macro- level as it is basically a primary source but it still might be useful to you. I do have this book at my apartment if you want me to loan it to you. Best of luck!

  2. Echoing the comment above, I also think this is a great research topic for the social sciences. The Schwartz-Shae and Yannow reading would be a good source to further delve into the questions you brought forward, particularly regarding the effects (or lack thereof) that institutions such as governments, the Red Cross, or the UN have in preventing these crimes. Could the solution be approached differently, either as a small-n interpretive research project focusing on the context of conflicts with known crimes committed, or in comparison to conflicts in which there were fewer instances of sexual assaults?

    Or possibly if you find that there are few outliers in the cases you look at, approaching the project from a neopositivist lens seems attainable, but more difficult due to the stigma against reporting attacks. With such a universal problem, maybe try and find generalizations about the DV (attacks committed on female populations) and an IV. Does having a female leader decrease the frequency of such attacks? (India currently involved in a conflict could be a potential case study). Are there any historical examples of conflicts seemingly being free from sexual assaults, and if so, are there any similarities between them? I think viewing sexual assault as a public health issue is helpful in analyzing the mental and physical effects of the assaults seperate from the conflict, but I think it would be interesting in reading what psycologists have to say about the subject. It is also worth noting the extensive sexual assaults of prisoners in conflicts, ubiquitous of gender, and asking if you want to include it in your analysis.

    This project as a whole sounds so interesting! I’m excited to see where it goes. Also, the design of your website is awesome and I would love if you could teach me how to make mine look like yours…

  3. Hey Paroma, I think this is definitely a very important topic. Though the Kashmir case is especially relevant, I think you might also consider investigating it in tandem with other cases as well. Though this obviously involves the question of situated and transcendent knowledge that we are all thinking about, I think you could make a strong case for researching across cases and coming out with “generalizable” knowledge. Because sexual violence of course targets not just women, it is still definitely gendered. You could argue that because patriarchy and gendered hierarchies are not exclusive and are quiet universalized, your research can meaningfully come out with appropriate and valid transcendent knowledge. At the same time, you could also focus more intensely on the social constructions of meaning that are of course much more context-dependent. For instance, patriarchal cultures often intensely value the familial/marital proprietorship of women, where “shame” or “sin” by the women “reflects” on the man. In these contexts, you could look at how sexual violence could also include the demoralizing dimension of “shaming” men. Unfortunately, these are of course all too common. You could look at instances such as the “emasculating” torture in Abu Ghraib (“Gender Trouble at Abu Ghraib?” by Timothy Kaufman-Osbor or “Sexualized Torture and Abuse at Abu Ghraib Prison: Feminist Psychological Analyses” by Eileen Zurbriggen) or other cases ranging from the Japanese in Asia during WW2 to the current situation in Sudan to ISIS in the Levant. Also, you might be interested in SIS Professor Wigfall-Williams discussion about the use of sexual violence as an instrument of war here There’s so much you can do with this topic! I can’t wait to see where you take it! Also, as said above, your website looks amazing!

  4. Overall you have a very good start here, Paroma, and you’ve received some good feedback from your peers as well. Going forward, I would encourage you to start thinking in more specific terms about the actual empirical puzzles (the places, trends, outcomes, events, etc.) that you could investigate. As you do so, be sure to think well beyond Kashmir. That case/instance may end up being important to your research, but at the same time it is too soon to know whether that case is the most relevant or suitable one for research. Work on developing your knowledge on the “landscape” of the issue overall (timelines of key events, important cases, etc.) as you work on developing the empirical side of your research puzzle.

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