In this dissertation, I ask why some governments address wartime sexual violence while others do not. I argue that governments strategically use accountability for wartime sexual violence to signal its competitiveness and legitimacy to both domestic and international audiences. With the international organizations committed to ending impunity for wartime sexual violence, governments seeking the Western liberal support are likely to install institutions or pass laws. Because women’s bodies symbolize national identity, governments who seek domestic legitimacy are likely to prosecute the perpetrators in domestic courts. Strategically, they are more likely to prosecute lower-level combatants and those that targeted women of ethnic majority.

Using an original dataset on accountability for wartime sexual violence in conflict-affected African countries between 1998 and 2018, I examine how accountability is deployed selectively and strategically both in time and space according to legitimacy-seeking incentives. I expect that the more stable and stronger the regime becomes, the less likely it will hold wartime sexual violence accountable. I also explore how strategic deployment of accountability is unlikely to reduce violence against women in the future.

My dissertation contributes to our understanding of transitional justice process women face after civil conflicts by bringing in the feminist literature on the gendered nature of the crime and state. The dissertation also implies that domestic accountability for wartime sexual violence can remain as a window-dressing behavior to international/domestic audiences and can resort to impunity when gender inequality remains entrenched in the post-conflict society.

Research Interests

My research is broadly on gender and armed conflicts. I am particularly interested in (1) domestic accountability for wartime sexual violence, (2) civil-military relations and its effect on sexual violence by security forces (3) restraint of wartime sexual violence. I am also interested in gender justice processes in Africa after the Cold War and in East Asia after World War II.

I am also interested in social science applications of data analytic methods such as computational text analysis and geospatial analysis.


Midlarsky, M. I. & Lee, S. (forthcoming 2022). Distancing the Other: Religious Violence and Its Absence in South Korea. In Raudino, S. & Sohn, P. (Eds.), Beyond the Death of God: Religion in 21st Century International Politics. University of Michigan Press.

Working Papers

Violence Continues in Shadow: The Limited Deterrent Effects of the ICC on Wartime Sexual Violence.

Punish or Tolerate? State Capacity, Military Oversight and Wartime Sexual Violence. (with Andrey Tomashevskiy). Under Review.

The Civil-Military Divide in Congressional Speech. (with Michael Kenwick and Burcu Kolkak)

Does Moving Beyond the Border Matter? How Transportability of Non-state Actors Affect Violence Against Civilians. (with Bo Won Kim)