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Genocide constitutes violence on a scale that is considered a crime against humanity. Rape is perhaps the most inhumane form of terrors that can be committed by an individual. Genocidal rape hence can be deemed as the worst kind of wrongdoings that can be committed. 
Rape and other forms of sexual violence have been used during periods of genocide as tools of intimidation and destruction; they are often used for the ultimate goal of inflicting as much suffering as possible. However, despite evidence existing that genocidal rape has been committed across time and across contexts, until very recently there has been limited scholarship on the repercussions of this horrendous crime. 
Our work – motivated greatly by the advocacy of Nobel Peace Prize winners Dr. Denis Mukwege and genocide survivor Nadia Murad – has focused on providing answers regarding the health and social consequences of genocidal rape.
First and foremost, there is the reality that many who are raped during periods of genocide do not ultimately survive. The evidence has shown that in a large number of circumstances after individuals suffers genocidal rape, they are simply murdered. In other cases, individuals are raped so viciously that they are unable to survive the intense trauma that they face. Sometimes individuals are gang-raped by five, ten, and even hundreds of men - and the damage is simply too severe to survive.
For victims who do manage to live on, there is frequently major and long-term suffering in a variety of different ways. Many suffer severe physical trauma - which means lacerations, tearing of the body, and in some cases bodily mutilation at the hands of perpetrators - with genocidaires having been reported to cut off body parts, including sexual organs, after the rape. In other cases, rapists deliberately infect victims with HIV to layer on the suffering. This all can and does lead to health issues that continue on for years, and decades.
Victims experience psychological horrors. Many tend to remain silent about what they faced and so these individuals tend to feel alone. Sometimes this silence is due to lack of access to care and sometimes due to not wanting to open up - and understandably so. One pattern that came up time and time again in different contexts was that victims recalling and thinking about what they went through resulted in very high levels of suffering; they deal with panic attacks, nightmares, self-harm, complete despair. Suicide amongst victims of genocidal rape is another disturbing reality of some of the worst psychological consequences.
One of the other persisting forms of suffering from victims comes from social isolation. Aside from the wounds of the rape, victims must live on, often without any form of support. Frequently, their families, and their communities, are completely destroyed. Even in cases where the communities - or at least sizeable fragments of it - persist, the social isolation for victims is still a big problem. This is because victims tend to face stigma and tend to face social exclusion. This may come from community members around them, but also even family members due to the shame of having someone in the bloodline who was raped. 
Another difficult aspect of life for survivors is the economic realities. Their families are all gone, and it tends to be the case that most things - or everything that they’ve owned - is also gone. Money is taken, homes destroyed, farms and livelihoods desecrated. And living in poverty is hence the result for so many, which exacerbates the suffering. 
Having a child out of genocidal rape was something that many were forced to do across some settings. In a high proportion of cases, the child served as a daily reminder of their suffering, sometimes as a new source of trauma.
In consideration of our findings, it is clear that supporting recovery for victims must be multi-layered. This will require re-establishment of communities, along with financial and economic support for victims to reintegrate into these communities; it will require efforts to revivify cultures and to remove barriers that prevent women from facing further discrimination. Provision of health care services, including mental health services, will be of absolute necessity. Of course, there must also be justice – perpetrators of these horrendous crimes must face legal consequences for their crimes. 
Our work highlights the intensity of suffering faced by victims of genocidal rape. Everything possible must be done to support victims. Along with this, humanity has an obligation to prevent future occurrences of genocidal rape at any cost.

Target Article

Varshney, K.,  Chu, M. G.,  Shet, P.,  Hopkins, J.,  Braga, F., &  Ghosh, P. (2023).  Health and social consequences for survivors of genocidal rape: A systematic scoping review. Journal of Traumatic Stress,  00, 1– 9. https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.22936

Discussion Questions

  1. How can scholars work to prevent the occurrence of genocidal rape?
  2. How can victims best be supported?
  3. How should future research be conducted to better understand genocidal rape?

About the Author

Karan Varshney, MPH. Karan Varshney is a graduate of the Master of Public Health program at Thomas Jefferson University, is a Research Officer at Monash University, and is currently a Medical Student at Deakin University. Mr. Varshney can be contacted at kvarshney@deakin.edu.au