The “Invisible” Wounds of Genocide

Rape tends to be the 'invisible' crime of genocide, everyone knows it occurs but due to cultural taboos refuse to acknowledge its destructive force of power.

1994. 100 days. 800,000 innocent civilians slaughtered. These are the well-known and gruesome facts of the Rwandan genocide with the horror of death visibly evident by the systematic murder of the Tutsi and moderate Hutu. Behind these scenes of death was the silent suffering, psychological torture and sexual abuse of rural Rwandan women. Rape tends to be the ‘invisible’ crime of genocide, everyone knows it occurs but due to cultural taboos refuse to acknowledge its destructive force of power. Without this acknowledgement of pain, it forces the victim to its mercy and reduces them to a silent casualty of war. Sociocultural Anthropologist Jennie E. Burnet remarks that “during the genocide, women were more likely to survive than men, but they often experienced sexual violence – rape, sexual torture and sexual enslavement.” Silenced into submission and scarred, these women were forced to live with the permanent consequences of their traumatic enslavement. Many fell pregnant and due to the circumstances of their childs’ conception; most were isolated from their villages.

Rape tends to be the ‘invisible’ crime of genocide- everyone knows it occurs but due to cultural taboos refuse to acknowledge its destructive force of power.

The psychological effect of rape and even the act itself is often overlooked with many deeming sexual violence as inevitable. That as awful and horrendous as this human violation is, that it is all but an unavoidable consequence of conflict. It’s the nature of war. This is unsurprising, given the social climate we live in today, a world that would rather blame a survivor than a perpetrator. However, what many don’t realise is the acceptance and rationalisation of sexual violence inhibits the healing of not just the victim but of the entire community. Professor Naasson states that there is need for a greater understanding between the link of healing ‘unseen’ wounds (that is the psychological effect of conflict i.e those produced by rape,) and national healing processes within the agenda of reconciliation and recovery. Lets be clear, rape is not a cultural byproduct of conflict, it is a CRIME. With this understanding that sexual violence is not inevitable nor acceptable, a cultural taboo is finally broken down. This allows for communities to come together, to support their own citizens in slowly dealing with the traumatic past of the genocide and together to transform their nation into a strong post-conflict society.




It is well known that post-conflict Rwanda politically seems gender and women positive with around 64% of parliaments members being female. This is a step in the right direction as it acknowledges the power of women in determining a societies progression and development. Yet for rural Rwandan women still suffering from the psychological effects of the 1994 genocide as well as all round negative cultural attitudes towards women; the fight continues for this level of gender equality already seen in the political sphere. This is where Beauty of Rwanda comes in. According to the UN programs must focus on women economic empowerment to provide support, training and choice in order to transform the Rwandan landscape into one of social and economic inclusivity. With economic and social freedom, with the chance of independence and sustainability, the women’s experience of the genocide may be tackled as they no longer shall live in their rapists shadows but curve a life for themselves.

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