Intended for healthcare professionals


Commentary: what interventions work for victims of conflict related rape?

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 07 December 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c7038
  1. Charlotte Woodhead, PhD student,
  2. Simon Wessely, professor of psychological medicine
  1. 1King’s Centre for Military Health Research, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, UK
  1. Correspondence to: S Wessely simon.wessely{at}

Recent reports from the Democratic Republic of Congo highlight the ongoing use of rape as a weapon of war and illustrate how the effects of rape may extend beyond the individual.1 2 War rape is defined as “a deliberate and strategic decision on the part of combatants to intimidate and destroy ‘the enemy’ as a whole by raping and enslaving women who are identified as members of the opposition group.”3 Rape is a sinister tool used to inflict terror and control for a range of political objectives. These include establishing territorial ownership, damaging community cohesion and morale,4 5 ethnic cleansing, and genocide (for example in Rwanda6 and Bosnia-Herzegovina).7 8

Rape has both acute and long term physical and psychological effects on the individual. Psychological responses to trauma in the immediate and longer term include feelings of powerlessness, worthlessness, and self disgust, as well as depression, suicidal thoughts, post traumatic stress disorder, sexual dysfunction, social phobia, and recurrent feelings of shame.8 9 10 Destroyed relationships and enforced, unwanted pregnancies cause further distress and …

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