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Risky Dis/Entanglements: Torture and Sexual Violence in Conflict

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Publication details

JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
DateAccepted/In press - 17 Jan 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 5 Mar 2019
Issue number4
Number of pages23
Pages (from-to)1035-1058
Early online date5/03/19
Original languageEnglish


Conflict-related sexual violence has become increasingly recognised in international spaces as a serious, political form of violence. As part of this process, distinctions between the categories of ‘sexual violence’ and ‘torture’ have blurred as scholars and other actors have sought to capitalise on the globally recognised status of torture in raising the profile of sexual violence. This move, while perhaps strategically promising, even already fruitful, prompts us to heed caution. What might we inadvertently engender by further pursuing such positioning? While torture and sexual violence have in recent decades both been widely framed within the academic literature as strategic, only torture, and not sexual violence, has emerged from elements of this literature as (potentially) legitimate, despite the slippages between them as categories of violence. This article offers one avenue for thinking through what an invigorated focus on sexual torture as a category of violence might unwittingly render possible, and thus for reflecting on the possible stakes of collapsing the categories of sexual violence and torture. Ultimately, we argue that perhaps we should resist the urge to frame sexual violence as torture and instead cleave to the sticky signifier of ‘the sexual’, despite the ways in which it has served to normalize, perpetuate, and obfuscate grievous harms throughout history.

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    Research areas

  • Conflict-related sexual violence, consent, gender, legitimacy, sexual torture, torture

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