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Rape of Women in a War Zone
A National Center for PTSD Fact Sheet

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

In war, rape is an assault on both the individual woman and her family and community. Many hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in wars in this century alone, as reported in areas as diverse as Korea, Bangladesh, Liberia, Southeast Asia, and Uganda. Bosnian refugees have described how, in the former Yugoslavia, military forces publicly raped women to systematically force families to flee their villages, contributing to the goal of "ethnic cleansing." Assaults are often gang-related and sadistic, including other forms of physical torture. These women may also experience loss of home and community, dislocation, injury, and untreated illness, and these women may witness the murder, injury, or rape of loved ones.

The effects of these types of trauma are immeasurable, long lasting, and shattering to both inner and outer worlds. The situation is worsened by the religious and cultural attitudes surrounding rape. In a Muslim culture, the honor of the woman reflects upon the entire family; rape victims of Muslim faith may believe that the rape is a punishment for some sin that they have committed. Even if they do not blame themselves, they may feel such a strong cultural responsibility to protect their family that they often remain silent about the trauma. Many of the Bosnian rape victims told nobody, or very few people, about what happened to them.

The number of women being subjected to rape in Kosovo is not yet known. Rates of rape and sexual assault ranged from 3% to 6% in Bosnian refugee women. Long-term emotional, mental, and physical consequences of rape are found in up to 60% of U.S. female survivors. Similar posttraumatic symptoms were found in up to 75% of Bosnian refugees, even in women who did not report a rape, It is estimated that the long-term consequences of rape will be present in the majority of women subjected to war-related rape in Kosovo.

Consequences of rape Immediate consequences of rape, affecting the majority of women who are raped, include:

Emotional symptoms: shock, intense fear, tearfulness, anger, shame, helplessness, nervousness, numbness

Psychological symptoms: confusion, disorientation, unwanted memories, decreased concentration, self-blame

Physical symptoms: bodily injury; sexually transmitted diseases; muscular tension; fatigue; edginess; change in sleep, appetite, and sex drive; gastrointestinal problems; racing heart; bodily aches and pains

Long-term consequences of rape can be complex and severe, including injury and sexually transmitted diseases; marked interpersonal changes such as distrust, anger, and isolation; and psychiatric disorders such as:

* Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): reexperiencing the trauma in memories and dreams, avoiding anything reminiscent of the event, memory loss, emotional numbing, sleep disturbance, anxiety

Depression: loss of hope, self-worth, motivation, or purpose in life; fatigue; decreased pleasure in previously enjoyed activities; changes in sleep and appetite; suicidal thoughts or actions

Alcohol and substance abuse

Treatment While the consequences of rape are severe and complex, treatments are available that significantly reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.


"In about 85 percent of
cases, sexual assaults
occur between people
who know each other."

Source: Diana Russell,
The Prevalence and Incidence of
Forcible Rape and Attempted Rape of Females, Victimology: An International Journal 7, 1-4 (1983).