From “Common Sense, Gender and War”

In the village of Accomarca they told us about Eulogia, a young woman who died long before our arrival but who continues to appear in the memories of various women we spoke with. Eulogia was mute and lived during the time when the military base sat on the hill overlooking Accomarca. The soldiers came down from the base at night, entering the house Eulogia shared with her grandmother. They stood in line to rape her, taking advantage of her inability to verbally express her pain. Her female neighbors told us, with a mixture of compassion and shame, that “We couldn’t do anything. We were afraid they would visit us as well.” So they listened to her at night, along with her grandmother who sat across the room, unable to protect her granddaughter.
Eulogia’s muffled, guttural sounds still resonate in her neighbor’s ears. “We knew by the sounds. We knew what the soldiers were doing, but we couldn’t say a thing.” The soldiers succeeded in depriving everyone of their capacity for speech.
There are two versions of how Eulogia died. Some told us she had fallen, walking down the steep cliffs toward Lloqllepampa. Others insisted she threw herself from those cliffs, unable to bear her pain. Elaine Scarry has argued that pain and torture seek to “unmake the world” and to rob human beings of their capacity to speak and to make sense—a sense that one can share with other human beings. Eulogia could not resort to language: she could not put words to her pain; she could not denounce injustice. She also appears in my memories: it is impossible to erase the image of a young woman screaming with all her might, unable to say a thing.
When people talk about rape, they talk a great deal about silences. What to do with these silences—how to listen to them, how to interpret them, how to determine when they are oppressive and when they may constitute a form of agency—is a subject of much concern and debate. Clearly if there is a theme capable of imposing silence, it is rape. Women have many reasons to hide that they have been raped and, with justice a distant horizon, few reasons to speak about a stigmatizing, shameful experience.
My goal is not redundancy. We know rape can be a strategy of war, and recent developments in international jurisprudence have recognized this. I am also averse to presenting graphic details that may resemble a pornography of violence and that may be yet another violation of the women with whom I have worked. Rather, I want to share some of the conversations that my research team and I have had, addressing a series of themes that left a deep impression upon us.
First, I explore the historicity of memory, discussing how certain victiim categories become “narrative capital” within the context of a truth commission. Second, I turn to what women talked about and how their narratives are “thick description” in the best anthropological sense of the term. Drawing on their thick descriptions, I examine some assumptions about what constitutes a “gendered perspective” on armed conflict. In doing so, I discuss how women talked with us about rape and the emphasis they placed on how they had attempted to defend themselves and their family members. Third, I examine how women were coerced into “bartering” sex to save their lives and the lives of their loved ones. I then discuss how rape between men and women—and between men—was a form of establishing relations of power and “blood brothers.”  I conclude this chapter by considering some of the legacies of the massive sexual violence that characterized Peru’s internal armed conflict, reflecting on the possibility of reparations in the aftermath of great harm.

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