Do sacred incompatibilities explain the use of genocidal sexual violence?

A case study of ISIS’s targeting of the Yazidis


  • Victor Mulsant



Sacred incompatibilities, genocide, sexual violence, Yazidis


This paper seeks to offer a solution to a paradox existing in the literature regarding the genocidal intent of the use of sexual violence in armed conflicts: indeed, according to data highlighted by Cohen (2013), genocidal intent does not hold as a cause of the use of sexual violence in armed conflicts at a macro level. However, since there have been numerous conflicts where the use of sexual violence was genocidal in its intent, then there must be a more precise explanation that could explain this phenomenon. To do so, this paper focuses on an in-depth case study of ISIS’s targeting of Yazidi women using theory building process tracing methods. I propose the argument that sacred incompatibilities, a concept derived from Hassner (2003) and Svensson (2007) offers a plausible cause of the use of genocidal sexual violence. The case study -a most likely case- supports the argument, though the theory should be tested in other case studies. The content of this paper, particularly the analysis, can be quite emotionally challenging, and it may trigger some readers; for those I would recommend skipping the analysis.


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