Consequences of rape: women and girls are scarred

Medical

The medical consequences of sexual violence are devastating. The physical injuries can be life threatening and many rape victims are at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/Aids. This risk is significantly increased during rape because forced sexual intercourse results in injuries and bleeding, thereby facilitating transmission of the virus.

Unwanted pregnancies as a result of rape can force women to seek medically unsupervised abortions. MSF has seen cases of pelvic inflammatory infections and septisemia arising from such procedures. Other reproductive health problems include interruptions or abnormalities to the menstrual cycle or delayed conception.

Psychological

Being raped leads to long-lasting trauma and suffering. Sometimes this takes the shape of mental health disorders whereas at other times it surfaces in less obvious ways such as shame, guilt, sleeping problems, difficulties in daily functioning and withdrawal.

Many women report ongoing fear, anxiety, intrusive memories and flashbacks, which are rooted in their experience of the fear of being killed or mutilated.

Other patients have complained about a constant feeling of being ill, low appetite and disappearance of sexual desire. Decreased sexual desire or pain during sex is particularly common and very damaging to family life and relationships.

Acute heart palpitations are symptoms of anxiety and daily functioning is often disrupted by the fatigue caused by nightmares and other sleeping disorders.

Social-economic

On top of the physical and psychological trauma caused by sexual violence, the raped woman is often stigmatised by the community and sometimes even rejected by her husband. These women, isolated and ashamed, are then forced to find their own way and live in poverty. It is imperative that the stigma of rape is removed so that they can regain their livelihoods and their full place society.