Rape as a Weapon of War

Rape and sexual violence are used as weapons of war because they are inexpensive and have longer lasting effects than guns or other weapons. UNICEF has noted that sexual violence “erodes the fabric of a community in a way that few weapons can.” Sexual violence and rape not only have negative, long-term impacts on women, but also their children, their families and their communities.

The effects are far reaching. Women suffer both psychologically and physically, as well as socially and economically.

When women are victims of sexual violence, they often suffer physically from persistent pain, fistula and infertility. Women can also contract HIV or other STDs, that put them at a severely disadvantaged position for the rest of their lives. In instances where women are injured so severely that they are unable to work, they suffer economically as well.

Psychological effects can emerge years later and have a long lasting impact including depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), low self esteem and suicidal thoughts.

During conflict, women are at risk for being victims of sexual violence, and in post-conflict societies, women are at risk of the social impacts resulting from being raped or experiencing sexual violence. Using rape as a weapon of war causes long lasting impact on the lives of the victims.

Due to the stigma of rape, women are often forced from their families or divorced by their husbands. This can be extremely problematic in societies where a woman’s economic security depends on marriage. When women are isolated, they are often forced into a life of poverty.

In instances where women become pregnant after being raped, they are isolated from their communities for birthing an “enemy child.” This is detrimental to a woman’s well-being in a multitude of ways, as they are cut from communities that once helped support them. The mental impact is equally severe, while it is even further enhanced by the economic impact of having to raise a child.

On the other hand, societies where a woman’s value is dependent on her ability to have children, infertility as a result of being raped or a victim of sexual violence can seriously affect a woman’s social standing and perceived worth.

Sexual violence and rape as  weapons of war damage entire families and communities whether women stay within them or are outcast. As women are isolated, communities are broken. If they stay, men are affected as they feel they have failed in their role as “protector.” The physical, mental, social and economic impacts felt by women, men and children can last decades and even multiple generations.

— Kim Tierney

Sources: Harvard, The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict, ODI
Photo: Woodmark