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Mental trauma of Kosovo rape victims difficult to treat

Many of the refugee women say they have witnessed rapes

Women, infant refugees face stress-induced health problems

Kosovar doctor helps refugees one at a time

Relief group uses art to help refugee children

CNN's Eileen O'Connor reports on rape of Kosovo women

Windows Media 28K 80K


April 17, 1999
Web posted at: 12:29 p.m. EDT (1629 GMT)

In this story:

Shame keeps victims silent

Survival comes first


From Correspondent Eileen O'Connor

TIRANA, Albania (CNN) -- She is a Kosovar medical student who can only be identified by a nickname -- Mer. Her family remains behind as she goes from refugee to refugee, undertaking one of the most difficult missions of war.

Mer is gathering evidence of war crimes committed against the people of Kosovo -- particularly rape.

"I take their names and their ages and the dates," she explained.

The stories she hears are horrifying.

Vassar, for example, was not a victim of rape, but an eyewitness. Told by Serb police to leave her home, she gathered her young boys and left the small town of Drina on the family tractor. They joined a column of other families that was approached by Serb militiamen outside of Djakovica.

Gegar, left, and her cousin  

Soldiers in uniforms, with red and gray kerchiefs on their heads, rounded up the young women, Vasser said. Later, Vasser and the others left the column to try to find the young women. She said she saw the girls lying in a field where the soldiers were raping them.

Vassar and her neighbors were forced to return to the line. The girls came back later, she said, with their clothes in shreds.

Shame keeps victims silent

These kinds of accounts from witnesses, Mer said, are too common to ignore. But accounts from actual victims are nearly impossible to find. The shame that keeps rape victims silent even in the West is especially acute among these Muslim families. Often victims who do come forward will describe incidents stopping just short of rape.

Vilora Gegar said she was taken at gunpoint by Serb police several weeks ago, before fleeing her country.

"They told me to take my clothes off," she said. "I refused."

The Serb police held her by her hair and beat her, Gegar said, taunting her by saying she should get the Americans to protect her. She said she still has back pain from the blows of rifle butts.

Doctors say many of the refugees are suffering from mental trauma, but their physical needs must be taken care of first 

Gegar's cousin said she witnessed four young girls taken away by Serb militiamen wearing masks.

"They were sisters between 19 and 25 years old," she said. "Only their father was left. We came here and I never saw them again."

Survival comes first

International doctors seeing refugees at makeshift clinics or hospitals in the Albanian border town of Kukes said they have seen girls so traumatized that the doctors suspect they were raped -- but they cannot ask.

As Dr. Jeff Colyer explained, it is simply not appropriate for a Western male to bring up the subject with the ethnic Albanian women.

"The additional problem is that people are more concerned about food and shelter and just living," Colyer said. (Audio 148 K/12 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Many refugees who make it across the border enter the hospital suffering from severe dehydration and exposure. Their psychological needs become secondary.

But international investigators and doctors in the Kosovo refugee camps said it is difficult to have any doubt that the violation and rape of women has become a weapon of choice in Kosovo, as it was during the Bosnian conflict.

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Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
  • Kosovo

  • Federal Republic of Yugoslavia official site
      • Kesovo and Metohija facts
  • Serbia Ministry of Information
  • Serbia Now! News

  • Kosova Crisis Center
  • Kosova Liberation Peace Movement
  • Kosovo - from

  • NATO official site
  • BosniaLINK - U.S. Dept. of Defense
  • U.S. Navy images from Operation Allied Force
  • U.K. Ministry of Defence - Kosovo news
  • U.K. Royal Air Force - Kosovo news
  • Jane's Defence - Kosovo Crisis

  • Kosovar doctor helps refugees one at a time
  • Mercy International USA
  • Donations for Kosovo Refugees
  • International Rescue Committee
  • Unicef USA
  • Doctors Without Borders
  • World Vision
  • CARE: The Kosovo Crisis
  • InterAction
  • International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
  • International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Disaster Relief from
  • Catholic Relief Services
  • Kosovo Relief
  • ReliefWeb: Home page

  • Independent Yugoslav radio stations B92
  • Institute for War and Peace Reporting
  • United States Information Agency - Kosovo Crisis

  • Prayers for peace
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

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