Boko Haram’s Calculated Campaign of Sexual Violence

We have been hearing for some time about Boko Haram’s brutal treatment of women and girls in northeast Nigeria, where the Islamist group is waging war against the central government. Nothing demonstrated the extremists’ depravity more clearly than the 2014 abduction from the village of Chibok of nearly 300 schoolgirls, most of whom are still missing. Until now.

As Adam Nossiter reported in The Times on Monday, hundreds of women and girls seized by Boko Haram have been raped, many repeatedly. This appears to be far more calculated than the normal violence associated with any war. Mr. Nossiter quoted officials and relief workers describing a deliberate strategy by the extremists to dominate rural residents and possibly even create a new generation of Islamic militants in Nigeria.

Girls as young as 11 have been subjected to systematic abuse; at least 200 in the refugee camp have been found to be pregnant but many more could also bear the unwanted children of Boko Haram, which recently declared allegiance to Islamic State.

Now that neighboring African states have joined to help Nigeria’s incompetent government in the war against the militants, Boko Haram appears to be on the retreat. But the group and its extremist appeal will not be defeated without political efforts to address the grievances of Nigeria’s Muslims.

In the meantime, there is an urgent need for medical and psychological help for Boko Haram’s traumatized victims who are often unwilling to seek help or speak openly about their abuse due to cultural pressure and feelings of shame.

Sexualized violence appears to be a recurring feature of many wars, but there are some exceptions worth noting. Research by Elisabeth Wood, a political scientist at Yale University, has found that sexual violence has not been used as a weapon in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the wars in Sri Lanka and El Salvador. She says combatants can be trained to follow anti-rape policies just as they are trained to fire weapons. That is a promising idea, although of little solace to the victims of Boko Haram.