Background Briefing

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Social and Psychological Results of Sexual Violence

Many of the victims of rape and other sexual violence are deeply traumatized, as are many of their family members. Rape, when used as a “weapon of war” is specifically aimed at terrorizing and subjugating entire communities, and affects the social fabric of communities. In the conservative culture of Darfur, the stigma of rape is difficult to overcome: as one Fur woman remarked, “no one would accept to marry a raped woman.”33

In addition, some communities in Darfur believe that pregnancy can only result from consensual sex.34 Thus if a woman or girl becomes pregnant following rape, the victim is sometimes blamed for disgracing the family. Scores of girls, including some as young as eight or ten years, have been raped. Reactions vary among individual family members and communities; in some cases documented by Human Rights Watch, husbands accepted their wives, while in other cases women were abandoned due to the rape. Similarly, some families have been supportive of their daughters, while others have not. Most communities remain reluctant to discuss the violence.35

One woman in South Darfur whose twelve-year-old sister was taken away for two days and repeatedly raped told Human Rights Watch, “My sister is very upset now, she likes to live in isolation and she suffers a great deal of humiliation in her heart. She believes she cannot marry now because she is khasrana (damaged).”36

In some families interviewed by Human Rights Watch, male relatives agreed to marry the girls who were raped in order to “protect their honor” and the honor of the family. The mother of a sixteen-year-old girl who had been raped and then married to a cousin to protect her honor described her daughter’s condition and the effect on the whole family:

My daughter screams at night. She is not happy as she used to be before, she cannot sit in one place; she is mashautana (possessed). She is always worried and in continuous movement, I never talk to her about what happened, although she knows that I know what happened to her. Of course she does: I cleaned her wounds after her return every day, but still, talking about it is very difficult. Her father became very ill since that time. He never goes out with the rest of the men and he does nothing but staying inside the room. I feel very bad about the whole situation but there is nothing we can do, God only can help us. Now my daughter is married to her cousin, but where is he? He does not communicate with her or with us.37

As in the above description, some victims, once married, have been abandoned by their husbands after the marriage ceremony. To the extent that these are forced marriages or marriages of girls too young to consent, the human rights of these women and girls are violated once again by these marriages.38

Some women and girls who had been raped also have had to cope with unwanted pregnancies as the result of the rapes. Human Rights Watch found few counseling or other reproductive health services available to help these women and girls—and their families—to cope with the emotional and psychological implications of the sexual violence and resulting pregnancies. A mother who had given birth after being raped told Human Rights Watch, “There were seven Janjaweed who attacked me. Now I have a baby, and everyone knows he is a baby from Janjaweed. I did not want this baby, and it is very hard for me.”39

The social and economic implications of these unwanted pregnancies can be devastating for both the mothers and children, and highlights yet again the need for reproductive health services, including access to emergency contraceptives and referrals to hospitals for abortions. Women who become pregnant as a result of rape are at risk of being abandoned by their husbands, rendering both the women and their children extremely vulnerable. Some infants may be abandoned or neglected by their mothers due to attitudes within the community or the response from the local authorities.40 For instance, in some locations the response of Sudanese authorities has exacerbated an already appalling situation: in Bindisi, West Darfur, authorities have harassed and even detained pregnant girls and women, threatening them with charges of fornication if they do not pay a fine.41

[33] Human Rights Watch interview, displaced persons camp, South Darfur, February 2005.

[34] Amnesty International, Rape as a Weapon of War, July 2004.

[35] Human Rights Watch interviews in various locations, Darfur and Chad, 2004-2005.

[36] Human Rights Watch interview, displaced persons camp, South Darfur, February 2005.

[37] Human Rights Watch interview, displaced persons camp, South Darfur, February 2005.

[38] Early forced marriages are marriages whereby the consent of either party is not sought or more commonly whereby the consent of the girl is not sought and whereby one or both spouses are under the age of consent. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), in article 23, states that "[n]o marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses." International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (, G.A. res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), entered into force Mar. 23, 1976.  Sudan ratified the ICCPR in 1976.

[39] Human Rights Watch interview, Oure Cassoni refugee camp, Chad, February 15, 2005.

[40] Human Rights Watch interviews, refugee camps, Chad, and Darfur, February 2005.  See also Nima Elbagir, “’Rapes never stop’ Darfur victims say,” Reuters, March 7, 2005. 

[41] Katharine Houreld, “Gang-raped and pregnant, these women thought their ordeal was over when they went to the police. They were wrong.” The Telegraph, March 13, 2005, at (retrieved April 7, 2005) and MSF report, p. 6.

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