Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War

Maleke Fourati

Department of Economics, University of Geneva

Victoire Girard

Universidade Nova de Lisboa and NOVAFRICA

Jeremy Laurent-Lucchetti

Department of Economics, University of Geneva

ISSN 2183-0843
Working Paper No 2103
February 2021


This study highlights that armed groups may use sexual violence against civilians as a strategy to extort economic resources. We combine new and fine-grained data about local economic resources and sexual violence against civilians by armed groups in Africa from 1997 to 2018 at the 0:5 x 0:5 degree resolution. We show that an exogenous rise in the value of artisanal mining increases the incidence of sexual violence. We demonstrate how standard rationales of violence as a taxation strategy explain this finding. Theoretically, if the resource is labor-intensive, the armed group needs civilian labor to produce the resource. Sexual violence, a form of non-lethal violence that allows perpetrators to enforce high taxation while preserving local labor, will become more likely if (i) the price of the resource increases (rapacity effect), and (ii) the resource can be concealed easily (is difficult to tax). Our empirical findings align with our model: an increase of one standard deviation in the value of gold mined in artisanal mining areas – a labor-intensive resource that can easily be concealed – increases sexual violence by two thirds of the sample mean. In contrast, local resources that are either more capital-intensive than artisanal mining, or the production of which is harder to conceal than gold, have no relation to sexual violence. Moreover, we show that the relation between artisanal mining value and sexual violence is mostly driven by the presence of armed actors who are most likely to rely on illegal local taxation (rebel groups).

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