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Rape of Women in a War Zone

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Rape of Women in a War Zone

During war, violent crimes like rape may be used to force families to move. Refugee women also report rape along with other violence. Learn about research on rape in war zones and how cultural views can affect women and families.

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"A nation is not conquered until the women's hearts lay on the ground." - Cheyenne Indian saying

In war, rape is not just an assault on the woman. It is also an assault on her family and community. Many hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in wars just in the past few decades. Reports have come from all over the world - from Korea, Bangladesh, Liberia, Southeast Asia, Uganda, and more places. Refugees from Bosnia have described how military forces publicly raped women. This was to force families to flee their villages, with the goal of "ethnic cleansing."

Conservative estimates of the number of women raped during the Bosnian war are between 20,000 and 50,000. Estimates of sexual assault rates range from 3% to 6% in Bosnian refugee women. Posttraumatic stress symptoms were found in up to 75% of Bosnian refugees. In Darfur rates of rape are difficult to establish. Some estimate, though, that 10,000 girls and women have been raped each year since 2003.

Assaults are often gang-related and sadistic. They may include other forms of physical torture. The assault survivors may also lose their home and community if they are forced to move. They may suffer injury and illness as a result of the assault. These women may also witness the murder, injury, or rape of loved ones. The effects of these types of trauma cannot be measured. They are long lasting and shattering to both inner and outer worlds.

In some cases, the way the culture views rape can make things even worse. In Muslim culture, for example, the honor of the woman reflects upon the entire family. Rape is thought to be shameful. A woman who is raped might fear being expelled from her husband's family or never finding a husband. Some rape victims might also believe that they are being punished for some sin that they have committed. Even if they do not blame themselves, they may feel such a strong duty to protect their family that they often stay silent about the trauma. Many of the Bosnian rape victims told no one about what happened to them. Stigma and injustice have surrounded the rape of women for as long as time. In fact, rape was not labeled a crime against humanity or war crime until the 1990s.

To learn more about the effects of rape, go to our section on Violence and Abuse. To learn about treatment, go to our Treatment section.

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