The topic of this blogpost made the headlines in a shocking way this week when US Republican Todd Akin stated that women rarely get pregnant from rape because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Akin’s medieval assertions coincided with the publication of an essay in the Lancet that went in the very opposite direction and requested more attention for children born of rape, in particular in war circumstances.
The World Health Organization described children born of rape as at risk of being neglected, stigmatized, ostracized, or abandoned. Cases of infanticide (the killing of an infant) have also been reported. Despite such general concerns, little is known about the fate of these children. Even in the mental health domain, professional conversations hardly include their fate.
Clinical case reports describe a high rate of ambivalent parent-child relationships or even abusive relationships and a high rate of serious discrimination within the societies in which these children are raised. These relational difficulties have serious consequences for the child as they become the indirect victim of the trauma of the mother. An essay in the Lancet asks attention for these children born of rape:
“She shivered as she entered the hotel room. It was not that the team of investigators from the International Criminal Court did not seem friendly. It was not that she was afraid to give her testimony and go through her traumatic experiences all over again. It was the air-conditioned, dark hotel room that made her shiver: a sharp contrast with the outside heat and sun-beaten colours of Bangui.
Dressed in bright colours, hair styled with care, her head proudly lifted, the woman approached the team. Her impression of strength made the young boy behind her seem almost invisible. Behind the folds of his mother’s dress, we saw her 5-year-old son clinging to her. His clothes were dusty and his trousers were torn. Most striking, though, was his shy and fragile appearance. His movements had an awkward quality and clearly he was anxious. We tried to set the boy at ease but he kept avoiding eye contact. His mother did not seem to take much notice of him.”
The investigators introduced themselves and the procedure to the woman. Before the legal interview started, a psychosocial assessment had to take place to evaluate her mental health and her capacity to go through with the interview….” Please read the free full text of Child in the shadowlands.
Van Ee E, & Kleber RJ (2012). Child in the shadowlands. Lancet, 380 (9842), 642-3 PMID: 22908379