International Psychogeriatrics


The unspoken secret: sexual violence in World War II

a1 Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt University of Greifswald, Stralsund, Germany Email:

Article author query
kuwert p   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
freyberger hj   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 

War is a complex, enduring trauma composed of variable forms of extreme stress, such as violence, fear of death, displacement, loss of family members, abuse and starvation (Berman, 2001). More than 90% of war victims are civilians (UNICEF, 2006). Children and women are extremely vulnerable to traumatic experiences in times of war and the risk continues even in post-war-situations (Shanks and Schull, 2000). As far as former war-children are concerned, a high prevalence of post-traumatic stress symptoms is apparent even six decades after World War II (Kuwert et al., 2006). In the 1990s, the world was shocked by reports about systematic and widespread rape in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda (Shanks and Schull, 2000). The Lancet has published articles about wartime rape and demanded the development of clear strategies against sexual violence in conflict (Hargreaves, 2001). However, it can be concluded that sexual violence was and is common in nearly all crisis zones. One recent example was the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl by U.S. soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq (The Times, 2006).

(Published Online April 23 2007)