The Grip of Sexual Violence in Conflict
xi Karen Engle's The Grip of Sexual Violence in Conflict works to unsettle and reorient human rights studies at three different levels. On the first, the book confronts head-on what Engle describes as the "common-sense" narrative about the causes, consequences, and ethical implications of sexual violence in conflict. What Engle demonstrates-from historical, theoretical, and empirical vantage points-are the ways in which the problem of wartime sexual violence underwent profound discursive
... d discursive transformations as a key pillar in the development of women's human rights during the critical early post-Cold War period. In the effort to ensure that violence against women was given heightened prominence by the international human rights community, sexual violence in conflict came to symbolize the unique vulnerabilities that women around the world experienced. In Engle's clear-eyed analysis, the symbolization of wartime sexual violence against women eventually came to dominate international activism, thereby obscuring or diminishing-however unintentionally-other ways in which women experienced structural, ethnic, and class-based violence. This symbolization of sexual violence in conflict became doubly problematic when it was made the basis for criminal prosecutions within the embryonic international tribunal system. As Engle shows, the rise of international criminal tribunals as the mechanism for tackling the problem of sexual violence in conflict must be understood as an expression of a broader trend toward carceral governance, which fundamentally depends on what she describes as the "strong arm of the state. " In Engle's analysis, the over-reliance on criminal tribunals puts the complicated and highly diverse phenomena underlying sexual violence in the hands of institutions that are distinctly unable to carry such a "heavy burden. "