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Rape, used as a tool of war in Darfur, has effects beyond the immediate physical and mental trauma suffered by women. Rape has longer term repercussions for the entire community.

It doesn't take much imagination to understand the humiliation and despair that accompanies the sexual assault of women and girls that has become a mainstay of the war in Darfur. However, as a 2004 Amnesty International report chronicles, the effects on these women and their communities is broader and perhaps longer lasting.

Stigma and Ostracism

Women in Darfur suffer from the heinous experience of rape and sexual degradation. But, beyond this, they must often suffer in silence. Because of the taboos against rape in Sudanese society, admitting she has been raped opens a woman to stigma and ostracism. Women and girls who have been raped face a terrible choice: tell their family and face rejection or suffer in silence. As one woman put it, “Women will not tell you easily if they have been raped. In our culture, it is a shame. Women hide this in their hearts so that men don't hear about it.”

Pregnancy as a Result of Rape

It is a common belief among the Sudanese that a woman cannot become pregnant if she is raped. So, when a woman does become pregnant as a result of rape, the implication is clear to members of her community? She has not really been raped. She must now endure shame upon shame.

As one refugee from Kenyu tells it:

“Some women were raped. We heard about this. But only those who are not married can talk about it. We believe that nobody can become pregnant when raped because this is unwanted sex and you cannot have a child from unwanted sex. For those who are in the camps in Darfur, those whom they rape day and night, they might become pregnant. Then only Allah can help the child to look like the mother. If an Arab child is born, this cannot be accepted.”

So, even if the woman is accepted back in the community after rape, the child will not be. Again, the woman is faced with a terrible choice. Reject her child or be rejected by her community.

Social and Economic Consequences

When a woman is rejected by her community because of the shame of rape, she faces far more than stigma. Her community is her social support. It is the source of her survival and economic well-being. A woman without a family, without community, must fend for herself. She has no other support.

So, beyond the torture of rape, beyond her own shame and her rejection by her community, she faces starvation and the starvation of her children.

Medical Problems

Rape is, of course, a physical act and has physical effects. These include:

  • Physical complications. Young women and girls who are raped are prone to developing a fistula (a rupture between the vagina and the bladder or bowel). The risks of infection and permanent physical effects (including incontinence) are dire. In the first world, this trauma can be easily repaired with surgery. However, when basic hygiene and medical services are unavailable (as in the IDP camps) women are at particular risk.

  • Sexually transmitted diseases. It is obvious that women who are raped again and again by multiple men are at risk for sexually transmitted diseases. However, in Western Sudan infibulation (a form of female genital mutilation where the vagina is sewn almost entirely shut) is a common practice. The tearing and trauma that result from rape in this situation put the woman at increased risk for HIV/AIDS.

  • Danger to children. Women and children who flee from the violence in their village face even more dangers. Children are especially vulnerable to the hardships of flight. Disease and exhaustion are an ever present threat. A sick child puts the family at even greater risk. Slowing their flight to care for the sick child exposes the entire family to more danger.

Long Term Effects

The effects of war-time rape go beyond the acute trauma to the woman. It is not merely an individual ordeal, but has long term effects on the community as well.

Early Marriage

In IDP camps, parents feel that they may not be able to “control” their daughters, and so seek to marry them off at a very young age. Not only is this a violation of the girl's basic human rights, but it damages the social fabric as well. In a society where arranged marriages are the norm, negotiating bride price and building alliances among families strengthens ties within the community.

However, when marriages are hastily arranged and bride prices are cheap, the social ties that normally build through the process of arranged marriages are short-circuited. Practices that once strengthened ties within the community no longer operate. The community begins to disintegrate.

Female Headed Households

When a woman loses her husband or brothers to war, she may find herself on her own. This puts her and her children at risk since surviving in IDP camps requires the work of many people. While one family member watches the children, another will stand in line for food, while another will engage in income generating activities. A mother on her own has no chance to carry out all these necessary tasks by herself. As a result, female headed households are more vulnerable to food insecurity and often lack even the most basic necessities.

Potential Militarization of IDP Camps

IDP camps can be a breeding ground for military impulses. As the conflict in Darfur continues and the central government and opposition forces fail to reach agreement, men who have been displaced may feel that taking a peaceful tack is less and less a viable option. As one respected elder in an IDP camp in Chad admonished the younger men:

“Stop sitting around here and just eat. You are young and you are idle and useless. You have to get up and get trained in order to defend your home. We appeal to the world to give us arms, so we can protect ourselves and our territory. We are sorry for what happened in the south. But now, we need the help of our brothers from the south.”

Women are put in even greater danger in these situations. They may be forced to give up their young boys to the war, to supply food and shelter for the soldiers or provide sensitive military information. Because of these things women are viewed by the militias and government troops as enemies or security risks.

Data and Methods:


Amnesty International delegates visited Chad in November 2003 in order to interview Sundanese refugees from Darfur. They obtained over 100 testimonies from refugees in three locations along the eastern Chadian border. Amnesty International also obtained the names of more than 1,000 people killed in Darfur and the names of more than 250 women and girls raped in Darfur.

For safety reasons, the real names of all interviewees were changed for the report.

Funding Sources:

Direct funding sources are not provided.

Full Text Availability:
Full text of this report is available at

Amnesty International. 2004. Sudan, Darfur: Rape as a Weapon of War: Sexual Violence and Its Consequences. London: AFR 54/076/04.

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