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The Shadow of New Colonisation: Iran’s Regime Uses Sexual Violence to Dominate

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Creator: Steven Depolo 
Copyright: Steven Depolo
CC BY 3.0 DEED Attribution 3.0 Unported Creator: Steven Depolo Copyright: Steven Depolo

In the chaotic interplay of geopolitical strife, where states vie for influence amid crumbling borders, Iran’s strategy within the Middle East reveals a particularly malevolent approach: the systematic use of sexual violence as a means of colonisation. This tactic, executed with brutal precision against men, women, and children across Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon, serves not merely as an instrument of terror but as a deliberate endeavour to unravel the fabric of society and reconstruct it in its own disfigured image.

Sexual violence, in its gravest form, represents not merely an assault on the physical self but an insidious invasion of the individual’s innermost sanctum—their identity and autonomy. The regime in Iran, with its calculated deployment of such brutality, seeks not random destruction but a targeted erosion at the very core of personal and cultural identity. This use of sexual violence as a tool is akin to the darkest forms of psychological warfare, designed to dismantle an individual’s foundational understanding of themselves and their place in the world, thereby rewriting their reality through the lens of inflicted trauma and imposed shame. It reflects the historical tactics of conquerors not content with mere territorial conquest, but who sought also to dominate the spirits and minds of their captives.

The methodical nature of this abuse has been extensively documented in numerous reports, illustrating the regime’s targeted attacks against minorities and political dissidents. Renowned organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have laid bare the grim reality of how rape and sexual humiliation are employed systematically as instruments of coercion and control within these groups. These violations are perpetrated predominantly within the confines of prisons and detention centres—domains where the regime believes its actions escape the eyes of the world, using terror and trauma to suppress any hint of dissent or defiance.

The testimonies gathered from survivors paint a chilling picture: these brutal tactics are not merely about punishment but are geared towards breaking the human spirit, often utilised to force confessions or to punish those who show the courage to resist the oppressive regime. The aftermath for the victims is a life marred by deep psychological scars compounded by societal ostracism, stemming from the stigmas associated with sexual assault, further diminishing their capacity to challenge or even question the regime’s authority.

This strategic application of sexual violence against ethnic minorities such as Kurds, Baloch, and Ahwazi Arabs also involves a sinister mix of systemic discrimination and punitive violence, where sexual assault is a critical component. Such acts are calculated not only to punish but to fundamentally alter the identities of these communities, eroding their cultural strength and instilling a pervasive sense of fear and impotence.

epochs of human history, where tyrants sought not merely outward obedience but aimed to invade and reshape the souls they endeavored to dominate.

Iran’s egregious practices have not been confined within its own borders; indeed, it has actively exported this blight to Arab nations, effectively planting seeds of trauma and discord. Particularly within the so-called Shia crescent—from Syria and Lebanon to Yemen and Iraq—there has been a noticeable surge in instances of sexual violence. This disturbing pattern is not coincidental but a strategic manoeuvre by Tehran to fracture societal cohesion and assert its control through the most destructive means available.

In these regions, each act of violence is a dual strike—both a physical domination and a psychological weapon. The violence perpetrates not only immediate physical harm but also insidious psychological damage, reshaping community norms and instilling an atmosphere of pervasive fear and submission. The inflicted trauma is profound and long-lasting, with the potential to affect generations and alter the fabric of societal identity. The aim is clear: to embed Iranian influence deeply and irrevocably by breaking the spirit of resistance and rewriting the cultural narratives of these societies.

Historically, we’ve seen this pattern manifest repeatedly: the Mongols under Genghis Khan, the Belgian colonial powers in the Congo, the Japanese during World War II, and the Ottoman Empire during the Armenian Genocide. Each of these regimes employed sexual violence not just as a byproduct of war but as a strategic tool to crush the spirit and cohesion of their subjects. It was used to instil a profound and paralysing fear, to destroy community bonds, and to erase the cultural and historical identities that might foster resistance. Particularly during the Armenian Genocide, the Ottomans implemented rape as a systematic tool of terror, aimed at annihilating Armenian heritage and cementing their tyrannical rule.

In contemporary times, the strategies of the Iranian regime evoke these past horrors. By perpetrating sexual violence, Iran deliberately attacks the foundational elements of individual and collective identity among minority groups and political dissidents. The goal is clear and nefarious: to fracture the social fabric and neutralise any potential opposition, securing a stranglehold over regions rich in diversity and strategic value.

The imposed silence that follows such violations is a testimony to the profound and paralysing effect of shame—a weapon as old as humanity itself. This shame breeds isolation, turning communities inward away from collective action and towards private despair. It serves the strategic purpose of stifling resistance; a silenced victim is one less voice to rise against the oppressor. Iran’s calculus is clear: a quiet victim is a controllable one.

One of the most pernicious effects of such systematic abuse is the normalisation of violence within the fabric of everyday life. When atrocities become commonplace, they breed a cycle of violence that perpetuates the oppressor’s narrative and suppresses the inherent moral instincts that govern civilised behaviour. Victims, stripped of their foundational beliefs and plunged into a reality where morality is inverted, may find themselves replicating the very acts of violence they endured. This tragic consequence is a deliberate outcome of the Mullahs’ strategy, designed to perpetuate conflict and chaos within societies, ensuring that they cannot unite to challenge the imposed order.

The regime’s rationale behind this horror is multifaceted control: immediate through the direct subjugation of bodies and extended through the lasting fracture of community and identity. It is a nefarious form of colonisation that seeks not merely territory but the very souls it wishes to govern. This strategy is about embedding deep-seated influence that transcends generations, sowing seeds of turmoil and dependency that will germinate long after the physical actors have left the stage.

Recognising this strategy for what it truly is—a profound violation of human dignity and an existential threat to societal integrity—is the first step in mounting a defence. It is incumbent upon the international community, moral philosophers, policymakers, and every defender of freedom and human dignity to not only voice their opposition but also to mobilise support for the victims and to actively work towards reconstructing the shattered norms and moralities in these tormented regions.

This is no mere call to arms; it is a call to awaken to the deeper realities of domination and the urgent need for a robust moral response. The fabric of society in the Middle East and the very notion of what it means to be human hang in the balance.

About the Author
Catherine Perez-Shakdam - Director Forward Strategy and Executive Director Forum of Foreign Relations (FFR) Catherine is a former Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and consultant for the UNSC on Yemen, as well an expert on Iran, Terror and Islamic radicalisation. A prominent political analyst and commentator, she has spoken at length on the Islamic Republic of Iran, calling on the UK to proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organisation. Raised in a secular Jewish family in France, Catherine found herself at the very heart of the Islamic world following her marriage to a Muslim from Yemen. Her experience in the Middle East and subsequent work as a political analyst gave her a very particular, if not a rare viewpoint - especially in how one can lose one' sense of identity when confronted with systemic antisemitism. Determined to share her experience and perspective on those issues which unfortunately plague us -- Islamic radicalism, Terror and Antisemitism Catherine also will speak of a world, which often sits out of our reach for a lack of access.
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