256837 Rape in War: History, Consequences, and Human Rights Issues

Monday, October 29, 2012 : 8:50 AM - 9:10 AM

Martin Donohoe, MD, FACP , School of Community Health, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Reports of violence against women during wars and protests (in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, and Syria) illustrate the horrors of rape in war (individual acts of sexual violence and systematic rape of women and children as acts of genocide).

Hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in wars in the last century, including 100,000 to 200,000 so-called “comfort women” in World War II; 250,000 women during the Rwandan genocide; 20,000 during the “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia; over 50,000 in the Sierra Leone civil war; at least 50,000 in Darfur, Sudan; and up to 48 women every hour in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Physical sequelae of rape in war include traumatic injuries, STDs (including HIV), and pregnancy. Emergency contraception, antibiotics, and access to abortion are extremely limited. Short-term psychological consequences include fear, helplessness, and desperation. Long-term, patients experience depression, anxiety disorders (including PTSD), multiple somatic symptoms, flashbacks, shame, difficulty reestablishing intimate relationships, and blunting of enjoyment in life.

Violence against women violates the right to life, equality, security, equal protection under the law, and freedom from torture, cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. The UN Commission on Human Rights considers rape a war crime.

The public health community can confront the atrocity of sexual assault in war by documenting incidents of rape; using medical data to verify widespread rape; using techniques of medical science to validate victims' testimony; treating victims; preventing sexual violence in refugee camps; and pressuring governments and the UN to follow international law and prosecute offenders.

Learning Areas:
Advocacy for health and health education
Ethics, professional and legal requirements
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Provision of health care to the public
Public health or related organizational policy, standards, or other guidelines
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
At the conclusion of the session, the participant should be able to • Articulate the history of rape in war, particularly 20th Century conflicts • List the health consequences of rape in war • Evaluate the safe and dangerous aspects of refugee camps • Discuss international law and human rights agreements related to rape in war • Describe the role of health professionals in identifying and treating victims, in preventing war-related sexual violence, and in pressuring nations and international entities such as the United Nations to enforce international law and human rights treaties.

Keywords: Sexual Assault, War

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have published papers on violence against women and war and frequently lecture locally and nationally on these and other subjects
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.