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Consequences on individuals and communities

Last edited: July 03, 2013

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  • The consequences of exposure to violence are as sweeping as the scope of violence itself, not only in terms of the acute and chronic health problems that accompany many of the types of violence women and girls experience, but also because victimisation can increase risk of future ill-health for survivors. 
  • Evidence from across the world indicates that VAWG seriously undermines women’s physical, sexual, and mental health.  Mental health effects may include somatic complaints, depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicidality.  Physical health effects of VAWG include injuries that can cause both acute and chronic illness, impacting neurological, gastrointestinal, muscular, urinary, and reproductive systems.  Sexual health effects include unwanted pregnancies, complications from unsafe abortions, and sexually transmitted infections.  A growing body of literature provides evidence of an association between VAWG and HIV/AIDS. Victims of VAWG may suffer further because of the stigma associated with violence against them, putting them at greater social and economic risk due to community and family ostracism.  However, many of these effects are hard to identify, not least because of the under-reporting associated with VAWG, but also because symptoms are not always easily recognizable by health and other providers as evidence of exposure to VAWG.  (For more information about the health effects of VAWG, see the HEALTH MODULE.)
  • In humanitarian settings, where community support systems as well as formal health and psychosocial services are often severely compromised, the consequences of violence can be even more profound than in peacetime. The extent and impact of VAWG limits the ability of entire societies to heal from conflict. The physical and psychological outcomes of VAWG can inhibit a survivor’s functioning, not only personally, but also in relationships with family and community.  This in turn may undermine social cohesion. 


USAID’s Fragile States Strategy (2005) concludes that “data show a strong correlation between state fragility and inequitable treatment of women.”  The conditions of fragility in conflict-affect settings both increase the prevalence of VAWG and make addressing it more difficult.  However, failures to address VAWG can limit the effectiveness of recovery strategies and durable solutions to peace.  Therefore, all humanitarian interventions that seek to contribute to sustainable solutions must work towards reducing and eliminating VAWG.


Additional Resources

 For additional information about the consequences of VAWG in conflict-affected, see, for example:

 Amnesty International. 2004.  Darfur: Rape as a weapon of war: Sexual violence and its consequences. AI Index: AFR 54/076/2004.   Available in English.

Amnesty International. 2004. Marked for death: Rape survivors living with HIV/AIDS in Rwanda. AI Index: AFR 47/007/2004. Available in English.

Amone-P’Olak, K. 2005. Psychological impact of war and sexual abuse on adolescent girls in Northern Uganda. Intervention, 3 (1), 33 – 45.  Available in English.

Egeland J. 2005. Health in emergencies: Women's health in crises. WHO/Health in Emergencies.  

Graca Machel. 1996.  The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children.   Available in English.

Josse, E. 2010. ‘They came with two guns’: the consequences of sexual violence for the mental health of women in armed conflicts. International Review of the Red Cross, 92(877), 177-195.  Available in English.

Klot J., DeLargy P. 2007. Sexual Violence and HIV/AIDS transmission. In: Sexual violence: Weapon of war, impediment to peace. Forced Migration Review. 27: pp 15-17. (UNFPA).   Available in English.

Omarjee N., Lau U. 2006. Conflicts in Africa: Intersectionality of GBV and HIV/AIDS. People Opposing Women Abuse [POWA] Research Department.  (University of KwaZulu Natal)  Available in English.

Watts, C, et al (2010).  Sexual violence and conflict in Africa:  Prevalence and potentional impact on HIV incidence, Sexually Transmitted Infections, Suppl 3.  Available in English.

Armed Conflict and Trafficking in Women: A Desk Study. Sonje Wolte (Eschborn: GTZ, 2004.).  

ICRC.  March 2010.  'They came with two guns': the consequences of sexual violence for the mental health of women in armed conflicts.  Available in English.