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CMAJ. 2000 Oct 31;163(9):1152-6.

Rape in war: the humanitarian response.

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Clinical Epidemiology Unit, Sunnybrook & Women's College Health Sciences Centre, University of Toronto, Ont.


Women and children are vulnerable to sexual violence in times of conflict, and the risk persists even after they have escaped the conflict area. The impact of rape goes far beyond the immediate effects of the physical attack and has long-lasting consequences. We describe the humanitarian community's response to sexual violence and rape in times of war and civil unrest by drawing on the experiences of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders and other humanitarian agencies. Health care workers must have a keen awareness of the problem and be prepared to respond appropriately. This requires a comprehensive intervention protocol, including antibiotic prophylaxis, emergency contraception, referral for psychological support, and proper documentation and reporting procedures. Preventing widespread sexual violence requires increasing the security in refugee camps. It also requires speaking out and holding states accountable when violations of international law occur. The challenge is to remain alert to these often hidden, but extremely destructive, crimes in the midst of a chaotic emergency relief setting.

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