Added: December 6, 2014 – Last updated: October 3, 2015


Author: Kristin A. Bell

Title: Victims' Voices

Subtitle: Sexual Violence in the Armenian and Rwandan Genocides

Thesis: Ph.D. Thesis, Northeastern University

Advisor: Nicole Hahn Rafter

Year: November 2014

Pages: 169pp.

Language: English

Keywords: 20th Century | African History, Rwandan History; Asian History: Turkish History | Types: Genocidal Rape / Armenian Genocide, Rwandan Genocide


Link: DRS: Digital Repository Service of the Northeastern University (Free Access)



The objective of this study is to examine the phenomenon of sexual violence as genocide by performing a comparative historical analysis of narratives of survivors of the Armenian and Rwandan genocides. Specifically, this study seeks to answer the following questions: 1) How and to what extent is sexual violence a part of the narratives of survivors of the Armenian genocide of 1915-1923, survivors of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and across these two cases of genocide? 2) What was the impact of sexual violence on individuals within and across these two genocides? 3) What was the impact of sexual violence on the targeted groups within and across these two genocides? 4) How does survivor discourse of sexual violence as genocide compare to the legal framework of sexual violence as genocide? To answer these questions, this project, which is situated in the frameworks of phenomenology, narrative analysis, and feminist standpoint scholarship, used both qualitative and quantitative methods to analyze oral history interviews with survivors of both genocides.
Over half of the survivors in my sample (n=97, 54%) discussed sexual violence in their narratives of the Armenian and Rwandan genocides. In terms of types of sexual violence, rape was discussed most frequently across cases (24.5% of all discussions of sexual violence) and in Rwandan interviews (39%). Forced marriage was the most common type of sexual violence discussed in Armenian interviews (29.2%). I found that forms of sexual violence that do not necessarily require physical contact, such as forced nudity and harassment, also represent a large part (24.5%) of survivor narratives. In addition, sexual violence reached beyond those who experienced it personally, with many survivors who witnessed (49%) or heard about (21.6%) sexual violence including it in their genocide narrative.
In terms of consequences of sexual violence, Armenian survivors more often described consequences in cultural terms. Women and girls were frequently “taken” from the deportation routes and forcibly married to Turkish men. Survivors discussed how these women were assimilated into Turkish culture and how Armenianism is lost with each subsequent generation. Rwandan survivors focused more on physical and psychological consequences, which may be due, at least in part, to their closer temporal proximity to the events. Rwandan survivors of sexual violence experienced pregnancy and infection with HIV/AIDS as a result of their victimization. They also experienced an inability to be sexually intimate and spoke of being suicidal. The challenges these survivors faced trying to survive in post-genocide Rwanda were compounded by the consequences of sexual violence victimization.
I make two recommendations based on my findings. First, given that survivors more often spoke about non-physical forms of sexual violence and secondary exposures to sexual violence, I conclude that the International Criminal Court should adopt the definition of sexual violence developed by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and incorporate it into the crime of genocide. The definition from the Rwandan Tribunal is broader than the current definition of the International Criminal Court in that it does not require sexual violence to include physical contact. The current legal framework of sexual violence as genocide subsumes sexual violence under the act of “serious bodily or mental harm,” but I found that survivor narratives of sexual violence as genocide also focused on cultural and social consequences of genocide. Therefore, I also conclude that the legal definition of genocide should be revised to include the social and cultural harms that result from sexual violence in genocide.« (Source: Thesis)


  Abstract (p. 2)
  Acknowledgements (p. 5)
  List of Tables (p. 9)
  Introduction (p. 10)
  Chapter 1: Background and Literature Review (p. 12)
    Terminology (p. 15)
    Overview of Sexual Violence in Conflict and in International Law (p. 17)
    Background (p. 23)
      The Armenian Genocide (p. 23)
      The Rwandan Genocide (p. 25)
      Comparative Research (p. 27)
  Chapter 2: Conceptual Framework (p. 29)
    Feminist Legal Theory (p. 29)
    Feminist Legal Framework of Sexual Violence as Genocide (p. 31)
    Feminist Legal Critique of Sexual Violence as Genocide (p. 36)
    Integrated Framework (p. 39)
  Chapter 3: Research Design and Analysis (p. 45)
    Research Questions (p. 45)
    Comparison and Selection of Cases (p. 45)
    Sources of Data (p. 47)
    Data Analysis Strategy (p. 53)
    Research and Data Integrity: Validity, Reliability, & Triangulation (p. 58)
    Ethical Considerations: Data Management and Confidentiality (p. 61)
  Chapter 4: Quantitative Results: Nature and Extent of Sexual Violence According to Survivor Interviews (p. 62)
    Unit of Analysis (p. 62)
    Who Discussed Sexual Violence? (p. 64)
    How Many Victims of Sexual Violence Were Identified in the Data? (p. 65)
    Who Were the Most Common Victims of Sexual Violence in Survivor Discussions? (p. 66)
    What Types of Experiences With Sexual Violence Were Discussed? (p. 69)
    What Types of Sexual Violence Were Discussed? (p. 72)
    Do the Types of Violence Discussed Vary by the Experience of the Survivors? (p. 81)
    Do Men and Women Discuss Different Types of Sexual Violence or Different Types of Experiences With Sexual Violence? (p. 83)
  Chapter 5: Qualitative Results: Nature and Extent of Sexual Violence According to Survivor Interviews (p. 91)
    Salience of Sexual Violence as an Overall Theme (p. 91)
    Additional Themes Associated with Sexual Violence (p. 94)
      Concurrent Victimization (p. 94)
        Sexual violence and other forms of victimizations (p. 94)
        Forced marriage, sexual slavery, and being "taken" (p. 98)
        Sexual slavery and witnessed sexual violence (Rwandan narratives) (p. 102)
      Beauty and Physical Attractiveness (p. 102)
      Inability to Describe Events (p. 105)
    Discussion (p. 107)
  Chapter 6: Results: Impact and Destructive Nature of Sexual Violence (p. 110)
    Consequences of the Armenian and Rwandan Genocides Generally (p. 110)
    Consequences for Survivors of Sexual Violence (p. 117)
    Consequences of Witnessing Sexual Violence (p. 121)
    Discussion (p. 122)
  Chapter 7: Conclusion: Comparing Survivor Discourse of Sexual Violence with the Legal Framework of Sexual Violence as Genocide (p. 126)
    Review of Results (p. 126)
    Comparing Survivor Discourse to the Legal Framework of Sexual Violence as Genocide and Resulting Implications for International Law (p. 129)
      Definition of Sexual Violence in International Law (p. 129)
      Definition of Genocide in International Law (p. 132)
        The Gendered nature of sexual violence and variations from dominant narratives (p. 133)
        Social and cultural consequences of sexual violence for primary and secondary victims (p. 135)
    Directions for Future Research (p. 139)
  References (p. 143)
  Appendix A (p. 150)
  Appendix B: Interview Protocols (p. 151)
  Appendix C: Coding Schemes (p. 154)
  Appendix D: Research Log (p. 161)
  Appendix E: Effects Matrix (p. 169)

Wikipedia: Genocidal rape: Armenian Genocide, Rape during the Armenian Genocide; Rwandan Genocide, Rape during the Rwandan Genocide