Political Science ETDs


Michele Leiby

Publication Date



This dissertation examines the patterns and motives of state-perpetrated wartime sexual violence in Peru and El Salvador. Using a new database on sexual and other forms of political violence, it documents the prevalence and the patterns of perpetration of violence. It seeks to determine whose interests motivate the commission of sexual violence in times of war and why state armed forces commit more sexual violence in some regions and at particular moments during civil war than in others. The dissertation provides a theory of sexual violence perpetrated by state militaries during counterinsurgency conflicts. It argues that sexual violence is a deliberate act of violence perpetrated to advance the politico-military goals of the state. The results of a sub-national statistical analysis show that state-perpetrated sexual violence is most at times and in locations where rebel activity presents a threat to state power but where the rebels have not yet reached dominance. State-perpetrated sexual violence is infrequent in areas where the state retains control as well as in areas where there is a preponderance of rebel power such that the state cannot engage in counterinsurgency operations without risking a significant loss of life. Additional explanatory power is drawn from an analysis of the micro-patterns of state sexual violence and other forms of political violence in Peru and El Salvador. Victims of sexual violence are more likely to be educated women from urban centers who are socially or politically active in their communities. In addition, sexual violence is more likely to be perpetrated in private spaces and in state-run detention centers when commanding officers are present than other forms of political violence. Within the state armed forces, the army and police are more likely to engage in these forms of violence than other sectors of the security apparatus. Paramilitary groups and death squads are less likely to engage in sexual violence than they are to perpetrate other forms of violence, particularly lethal violence. The preponderance of evidence presented in the dissertation demonstrates that sexual violence is often an instrumental weapon of war wielded to defeat armed and unarmed opponents to the state.

Degree Name

Political Science

Level of Degree


Department Name

Political Science

First Committee Member (Chair)

Butler, Christopher

Second Committee Member

Hochstetler, Kathryn

Third Committee Member

Wood, Elisabeth




Political violence--Peru, Political violence--El Salvador, State-sponsored terrorism--Peru, State-sponsored terrorism--El Salvador, Sex crimes--Peru, Sex crimes--El Salvador, Human rights--Peru, Human rights--El Salvador

Document Type