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SV against women

Focus on Women: Duty-Related and Sexual Stress in the Etiology of PTSD among Women Veterans Who Seek Treatment


Fontana, Alan, and Robert Rosenheck. 1998. "Focus on Women: Duty-Related and Sexual Stress in the Etiology of PTSD among Women Veterans Who Seek Treatment." Psychiatric Services 49 (5): 658-662.

Authors: Alan Fontana, Robert Rosenheck


Objective: The stressful experiences of women serving in the military have been a focus of increasing concern. A model of the impact of stress related to military duty and stress related to sexual abuse and harassment on the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among female veterans was evaluated. 

Methods: Structural equation modeling was applied to data from 327 women treated in a VA clinical program for women with stress disorders. The model was a chronological one and included variables related to the women's premilitary experience, their military service, and their postmilitary experience.

Results: Altogether 48 percent of the sample served overseas, and 12 percent were exposed to enemy fire. A total of 63 percent reported experiences of physical sexual harassment during military service, and 43 percent reported rape or attempted rape. Both duty-related and sexual stress were found to contribute separately and significantly to the development of PTSD. Sexual stress was found to be almost four times as influential in the development of PTSD as duty-related stress. Postmilitary social support played a highly significant mediational role between sexual stress during military service and development of PTSD.

Conclusions: Women's exposure to sexual stress in the military is much more prevalent than previously believed. It is particularly toxic for the development of PTSD. Correct assessment is essential to effective treatment.

Keywords: female veterans, posttraumatic stress disorder, mental health, counseling, sexual assault

Topics: Combatants, Female Combatants, Gender, Women, Health, Mental Health, PTSD, Trauma, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militaries, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against women Regions: Americas, North America Countries: United States of America

Year: 1998

Prevalence and Predictors of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Depression in HIV-Infected and At-Risk Rwandan Women


Cohen, Mardge H., Mary Fabri, Xiaotao Cai, Qiuhu Shi, Donald R. Hoover, Agnes  Binagwaho, Melissa A. Culhane, Henriette Mukanyonga, Davis K. Karegeya, and Kathryn Anastos. 2009. "Prevalence and Predictors of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Depression in HIV-Infected and At-Risk Rwandan Women." Journal of Women's Health 18 (11): 1783-1791.

Authors: Mardge H. Cohen, Mary Fabri, Xiaotao Cai, Quihu Shi, Donald R. Hoover, Agnes Binagwaho, Melissa A. Culhane, Henriette Mukanyonga, Davis K. Karegeya, Kathryn Anastos


OBJECTIVE: During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, rape was used as a weapon of war to transmit HIV. This study measures trauma experiences of Rwandan women and identifies predictors associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depressive symptoms.

METHODS: The Rwandan Women's Interassociation Study and Assessment (RWISA) is a prospective observational cohort study designed to assess effectiveness and toxicity of antiretroviral therapy in HIV-infected Rwandan women. In 2005, a Rwandan-adapted Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ) and the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) were used to assess genocide trauma events and prevalence of PTSD (HTQ mean > 2) and depressive symptoms (CES-D > or = 16) for 850 women (658 HIV-positive and 192 HIV-negative).

RESULTS: PTSD was common in HIV-positive (58%) and HIV-negative women (66%) (p = 0.05). Women with HIV had a higher prevalence of depressive symptoms than HIV-negative women (81% vs. 65%, p < 0.0001). Independent predictors for increased PTSD were experiencing more genocide-related trauma events and having more depressive symptoms. Independent predictors for increased depressive symptoms were making < $18 a month, HIV infection (and, among HIV-positive women, having lower CD4 cell counts), a history of genocidal rape, and having more PTSD symptoms. 

CONCLUSIONS: The prevalence of PTSD and depressive symptoms is high in women in the RWISA cohort. Four of five HIV-infected women had depressive symptoms, with highest rates among women with CD4 cell counts < 200. In addition to treatment with antiretroviral therapy, economic empowerment and identification and treatment of depression and PTSD may reduce morbidity and mortality among women in postconflict countries.

Keywords: mental health, HIV/AIDS, posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, genocide, war rape

Topics: Gender, Women, Genocide, Health, HIV/AIDS, Mental Health, PTSD, Trauma, Post-Conflict, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against women Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa Countries: Rwanda

Year: 2009

Women and the Genocidal Rape of Women: The Gender Dynamics of Gendered War Crimes


Sjoberg, Laura. 2011. "Women and the Genocidal Rape of Women: The Gender Dynamics of Gendered War Crimes." In Confronting Global Gender Justice: Women's Lives, Human Rights, edited by Debra Bergoffen, Paula Ruth Gilbert, Tamara Harvey, and Connie L. McNeely, 21-34. New York: Routledge.

Author: Laura Sjoberg


Expanding on work from my 2007 book, Mothers, Monsters, Whores: Women’s Violence in Global Politics (with Caron Gentry), this chapter looks at the dynamics of women’s participation in the war crime of genocidal rape against other women. It asks both about why women participated and about how their participation was portrayed in media and scholarly accounts. The chapter looks at these questions by exploring five cases of women’s (alleged) commission of the war crime of genocidal rape. It concludes with a reformulated approach to the laws and norms against genocidal rape in the international community, taking account of women’s roles in the crime not only as (often) victims but also as (sometimes) perpetrators.



“This work, more often than not, defines genocidal rape as a crime where men are the perpetrators and women are the victims." (Sjoberg, 21)

“In previous work, Caron Gentry and I (2007) have identified these as the mother, monster, and whore narratives. The mother narratives feature women’s motherhood as a key motivator for their participation in violence. The mother narrative has two general strands – one that portrays women perpetrators of genocide as nurturing mothers, whose role in the conflict is to take care of and provide for their men – the fact that those men happen to be participating in genocide (and therefore nurturing them is too) does not change the women’s role in society or perception of their familial duty. The other strand of the mother narrative portrays women who commit genocide as vengeful mothers – avenging the deaths of their husbands, brothers, or fathers at the hand of those on the other side of the conflict.” (Sjoberg, 22-23)

“The second narrative we’ve identified is the monster narrative. This story of women’s motivation for involvement in genocide frames women perpetrators as severely psychologically disturbed. These stories tell women perpetrators as crazier and more monstrous than the men that they act with or alongside. Women’s monstrosity, in these stories, comes from the sort of irrational anger only women could have, or feelings of personal inadequacy coming from the inability to marry or have children.” (Sjoberg, 23) 

“The final narrative we’ve identified is the whore narrative. In the whore narrative, women’s participation in genocide is either defined by erotomania or erotic dysfunction. The erotomania story tells of women sexually obsessed with and therefore controlled by men – of women’s sexuality gone wrong and out of control. These women are portrayed as having committed genocide because their sex drive had gone out of control, and female sexuality at its worst is violent and brutal. The story of erotic dysfunction tells as story of a woman who has turned to violence because she is either unwilling to or unable to please men. These women are portrayed as having turned to violence because they were unable to function/serve as real women, which requires getting married and having children.” (Sjoberg, 23)  

“All of these stories about why women commit genocide share several things. First, they assume that the problem of why women commit genocide is a problem separate from the question of why men commit genocide (or even the question of why people generally commit genocide). Second, they preserve a distinction between women who are capable of violence and real or normal women who remain, as we have always assumed, more peaceful than men. Third, though real or normal women are seen as more peaceful than men, these stories depict women’s violence as the result of the excesses of femininity. Finally, these narratives imply that women cannot both be victims of genocide (as a class) and perpetrators of genocide (as individuals or as a group) – it has to be one or the other. Often, both in the public eye and in the academic literature, the identification of women as perpetrators has traded off with the recognition of women as victims.” (Sjoberg, 23)  

“Several accounts have also read women’s perpetration of genocide, genocidal rape, and other sexual crimes as a reversal of gender subordination – where women have become the perpetrators, and are therefore no longer the victims." (Sjoberg, 24)

“As such, the question of why women commit violence generally and genocide specifically is treated as a different question than the question of why men commit such violence. Women’s violence is often almost exclusively explained by gender-specific theories or gender-specified versions of traditional theories of individual violence. Women’s violence is explained as women’s violence rather than as women committing violence.”  (Sjoberg, 27)

“Their stories contradict the dominant narrative about what a woman is generally and about women’s capacity for violence specifically. Because their stories do not resonate with these inherited images of femininity, violent women are marginalized in political discourse. Their choices are rarely seen as choices, and, when they are, they are characterized as apolitical.” (Sjoberg, 27) 

“Those with a political interest in the gender order cannot hear or tell those stories of women’s participation in genocidal rape; instead, stories are produced and reproduced where women’s agency in their violence is denied and violent women are characterized as singular and abnormal aberrations.” (Sjoberg, 27) 

“If violent women are seen as different from what women as women should be, then their existence can be explained away without interrogating the fundamental problems with the stereotypical understanding of what women are – peaceful, virtuous, non-violent, etc.” (Sjoberg, 27)  

“In other words, in these accounts, women’s violence is worse (and to be feared more) than men’s violence, because women are naturally emotional and unpredictable as opposed to men’s presumed rationality and consistency, even in the commission of crimes.” (Sjoberg, 28) 

“Therefore, though they are a blight on the purity of femininity, women who commit genocidal rape or other sex-based crimes in genocide are described as being motivated by things that could only come from their status as women – what is abnormal to women is not their femininity, it is its uncontrolled status and extreme expression.” (Sjoberg, 28) 

“Finally, these stories of women’s participation in genocidal rape share that they either argue or imply that women’s perpetration of genocidal rape against women disrupts narratives of female victimhood….In other words, there are those who argue that women’s participation in violence signals the end of women’s victimization in war and genocide. Still, many of the women that were discussed in the five snapshots above sexually victimized women on the basis of gender. In other words, they perpetrated gender subordination.” (Sjoberg, 28)  

“Along with the implied naturalness of women’s subordination and the assumption of women’s incapability, we can see in the stereotyped reactions to women’s commission of sexual violence not only that women are expected not to violate other women – but also that there’s some normalness to men’s sexual violation of women.” (Sjoberg, 30) 

“The third step, then, is to reformulate international legal approaches to genocidal rape to accommodate the possibility of women perpetrators while still preserving the understanding that women are, as a class, victimized by genocidal rape based on gender.” (Sjoberg, 31)

Topics: Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Genocide, Justice, War Crimes, Peace Processes, Sexual Violence, Female Perpetrators, Rape, SV against women Regions: Africa, Central Africa, Europe, Balkans, Central Europe Countries: Bosnia & Herzegovina, Germany, Rwanda

Year: 2011

Battles on Women's Bodies: War, Rape, and Traumatisation in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo


Trenholm, Jill E., P. Olsson and B. M. Ahlberg. 2011. "Battles on Women's Bodies: War, Rape and Traumatisation in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo." Global Public Health 6 (2): 139-52.

Authors: Jill E. Trenholm, P. Olsson, B.M. Ahlberg


Rape has been used as a weapon in the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in unprecedented ways. Research into the phenomenon of war-rape is limited, particularly in this context. The aim of this study was to explore perceptions of local leaders in eastern DRC concerning rape and raped women in the war context. Local leaders were chosen for their ability to both reflect and influence their constituencies. Interviews were conducted with 10 local leaders and transcripts subjected to qualitative content analysis.The study suggests that mass raping and the methods of perpetration created a chaos effectively destroying communities and the entire society and that humanitarian aid was often inappropriate. Furthermore, an exclusive focus on raped women missed the extent of traumatisation entire communities suffered. More significantly, the lack of political will, corruption, greed and inappropriate aid creates a tangled web serving to intensify the war. This complexity has implications for humanitarian interventions including public health.

Keywords: sexual violence, war rape, humanitarian aid


"Most rape survivors are assumed to be infected by HIV so rather than receiving an empathetic healing reception, according to the leaders, they are promptly ostracised from their communities." (143)

"Concern was expressed about the appropriateness of humanitarian aid. The impression was that the focus on aid and its agents, without assessment of the needs as expressed by the local people, serves to divert attention from critical precipitating factors….'someone arrives here with 5 million dollars, with his action plan, he has never asked the people what is the situation?'" (146)

"The leaders also pointed out the futility of international aid agencies providing simple things while, at the same time, the weapons used to terrorise originate from the very same countries." (146)

"The attention from the international community to raped women only was seen by leaders as a misreading of the local realities.  While the mostly male leaders' reaction could be interpreted as part of the continuing saga of 'the invisible woman', and may indeed be a gender-blind perspective of violence, the main message is how the entire society suffers from war-rape, yet little regard has been paid to this aspect. The emerging knowledge from this study is that an exclusive focus, however, limited, on raped women could miss the suffering and traumatisation of their partners and children." (148)

"An underlying theme of this study is the absence of criticism by the leaders regarding their state government's own responsibilities. Citizens in postcolonial countries that have historically lacked legitimacy/good governance often look to outsiders (the international community) for solutions (Brinkerhoff 2007). This lack of confidence in their own government's capabilities is not surprising in light of their history." (150)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Health, Trauma, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against women Regions: Africa, Central Africa Countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Year: 2011

An Appraisal of Rwanda's Response to Survivors Who Experienced Sexual Violence in 1994


Nagarajan, Chitra. 2012. "An Appraisal of Rwanda's Response to Survivors Who Experienced Sexual Violence in 1994." Wagadu: A Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies 10: 108-31.

Author: Chitra Nagarajan


Over a million people were killed in 1994 during Rwanda's genocide and war, with many women compelled to 'offer' sex, raped, held in collective or individual sexual slavery and mutilated. An estimated 250 000 to 500 000 women still alive were raped between 1990 and 1994, 30 000 pregnancies resulted from rape and the 67% of survivors considered HIV positive continue to suffer the consequences of wartime sexual violence (Wells, 2004-2005). Countless women now live with serious illnesses, pain or injury, unable to provide for families. The level of trauma is severe, compounded by shame, exclusion, stigma, survivor's guilt and contested feelings towards the children of bad memories born of rape and as many perpetrators were neighbours who often live nearby. Despite commitment to the rights of women and recognition of the prevalence of rape during the genocide, the Rwandese government has been slow to offer legal redress, medical treatment and counselling and has not prioritized prosecution and punishment. Conviction rates are low. Reparations are not forthcoming. Neither the national courts nor the gacaca, have investigated and prosecuted these cases in a fitting manner. Although attention has been paid to sexual violence, defects in the drafting of statutory law and its implementation discourage reporting, investigation and prosecution. Recent procedural revisions dismiss very real fears around fair trail, public ridicule, and increased trauma.  Difficulties in addressing the legacies and widespread nature of sexual violence are being overlooked as the government prioritizes the construction of a sense of nationhood and continuation of its own power over the needs of survivors. The result is that many women, infected with HIV or with other serious illnesses, are slowly dying without reparation, healthcare, counselling or seeing perpetrators brought to justice.


"Survivors of RPF [Rwanda Patriotic Front] sexual violence are not recognised as the government refuses to acknowledge the scale of atrocities committed by its forces, claiming Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA) soldiers committed only isolated instances of rape and other war crimes." (109)
"By the time the genocide was halted by the RPA, only 200 000 of Rwanda’s 1 million Tutsis remained alive." (110)
"The government has pledged to remedy traditional exclusion and repression of women and worked closely with activists to pass laws reforming succession regimes to allow women to inherit land and property and legislation on gender-based violence. Activists are initiating legal change and closing the distance between law and reality, however change in attitude and culture is slow. Gendered social and cultural attitudes have great influence. Cultural barriers preventing women from expressing themselves in public remain powerful. Domestic violence is common, de facto polygamy is on the rise due to imbalanced numbers of women and men and the punishment for adultery is harsher for women than for men. Although 40% of judges in Rwanda are women, female share of real power beyond an urban elite remains small. There is continued preference for sending boys to school as well as the poverty that drives parents to arrange early marriage and girls to engage in transactional sex (Morel-Seytoux & Lalonde, 2002). However, there does seem to be general acceptance that culture regarding women needs to be transformed." (112)
"Rwandese society forces rape experiences into silence, blaming victims and ostracising them as the dishonoured property of male relatives. Incited by ethnic and gender stereotypes that Tutsi women were made for sexuality and beauty, sexual torture was the norm rather than the exception during the genocide with thousands raped, gang raped, raped with sharpened sticks, bottles and gun barrels, held in collective or individual sexual slavery and sexually mutilated with machetes, knives, sticks, boiling water or acid. Although many were killed immediately, others were allowed to live to give birth to babies of the enemy or die protracted deaths." (114-115)
"Survivor organisations consider the genocide to have continued long afterwards with women infected by HIV considered ‘the living dead.’ The level of trauma is severe, compounded by shame, exclusion, survivor’s guilt and the fact that many rapists were neighbours who still live nearby. Rape is equated with adultery and survivors are often perceived as collaborators who traded sexual favours for survival while families were murdered. With rape considered to render women unsuitable for marriage, many families hide the rape of daughters. In some cases survivors are despised: ‘the neighbours make fun of us. It would be better if I moved to a place where no one knows me and where they aren’t interested in me’ (African Rights, 2004, p. 5). Many women have left their homes hoping for anonymity." (115)
"The government turned to a local form of dispute resolution to make guilt/innocence determinations. Previously a mechanism whereby perpetrator and victim and their families would, facilitated by family or community elders, come to agreement about the best way to remedy harm caused by mostly property crimes, gacaca was revised, formalised and institutionalised to form gacaca jurisdictions.14 Clark (2007, p. 58) emphasises ‘the spirit of gacaca enshrines local actors as the most crucial participants in the search for internal solutions to internal problems,’ with the entire community debating the root causes of conflict while punishing perpetrators." (116)
"These survivors of sexual violence do not even have the crimes perpetrated against them recognised and acknowledged as such. Further, 82% of survivors say they feel threatened during the process with insecurity voiced particularly by female survivors (NURC, 2008). Indeed there have been reports of survivors threatened and murdered." (117)
"However, the two tiered system combined the inadequacies of both for survivors: problems of accessing national courts and fear of experiences considered shameful becoming community knowledge. Although the law gives rape victims the opportunity to give testimony to the gacaca judge of their choice in camera, many women did not know of this option and viewed the process as a public one that exposes them to stigma and public ridicule. Moreover, requests to testify in camera give rise to assumptions of having been raped. In 2002, 60% of survivors predicted women would testify less than men and they all believed families would prevent young girls from  testifying about sexual violence (Wells, 2004-2005). In some cases, confessions at gacaca have identified victims of sexual violence who then suffer from ignominy." (118)

Topics: Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Health, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against women Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa Countries: Rwanda

Year: 2012

Women at War: Understanding How Women Veterans Cope with Combat and Military Sexual Trauma


Mattocks, Kristin M., Sally G. Haskell, Erin E. Krebs, Amy C. Justice, Elizabeth M. Yano and Cynthia Brandt. 2012. "Women at War: Understanding How Women Veterans Cope with Combat and Military Sexual Trauma." Social Science Medicine 74 (4): 537-45.

Authors: Kristin M. Mattocks, Sally G. Haskell, Erin E. Krebs, Amy C. Justice, Elizabeth M. Yano, Cynthia Brandt


The wars in Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom, OIF) and Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom, OEF) have engendered a growing population of U.S. female veterans, with women now comprising 15% of active U.S. duty military personnel. Women serving in the military come under direct fire and experience combat related injuries and trauma, and are also often subject to in-service sexual assaults and sexual harassment. However, little is known regarding how women veterans cope with these combat and military sexual trauma experiences once they return from deployment. To better understand their experiences, we conducted semi-structured interviews with nineteen OEF/OIF women veterans between January-November 2009. Women veterans identified stressful military experiences and post-deployment reintegration problems as major stressors. Stressful military experiences included combat experiences, military sexual trauma, and separation from family. Women had varying abilities to address and manage stressors, and employed various cognitive and behavioral coping resources and processes to manage their stress.



“Military sexual trauma (MST) is the term used by the Department of Veterans Affairs to refer to sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that occurred while the veteran was in the military. Recent evidence from OEF/OIF veterans suggests that 15.1% of women and 0.7% of men reported military sexual trauma when screened (Kimerling et al., 2010).” (Mattocks et al., 538)

“Often, women spoke of how sexual harassment or sexual coercion was tied to opportunities for promotion. Women who were promoted were assumed to have performed sexual favors for  those in charge.” (Mattocks et al., 540)

“Women identified four major behavioral coping strategies they used to cope with post-deployment stress: binging and purging, compulsive spending, over-exercising, and prescription drug abuse.” (Mattocks et al., 542)

Use of cognitive avoidance coping and isolating themselves from others when returning from deployment. (Mattocks et al., 542-543)

“An important theme echoed across many of the interviews was the sense that women’s experiences in war were not widely understood or recognized upon return to the United States. As noted in other studies (Mulhall, 2009), because women’s roles and experiences in the military are often minimized or misunderstood by family, friends, and healthcare professionals, women themselves tend to minimize their contributions. Several women in the study indicated that they did not feel their physical and mental health ailments were worthy of VA care. In some cases women who needed treatment for their war-related health problems chose not to utilize their VA healthcare benefits, and either received no treatment for their problems or sought private care for their problems.” (Mattocks et al., 542)

“It is unclear why women in the study did not seem to feel as though they deserved services provided by the VA, or why they did….Conversely, women veterans who may have experienced some form of military sexual trauma may be unwilling to utilize VA services, for fear of encountering the same types of individuals who may have perpetrated the sexual trauma. Finally, many women veterans who are returning to the United States after months of deployment may feel that, despite their own personal medical or mental health needs, the focus needs to shift away from their own personal needs to the needs of their children and other family members.” (Mattocks et al., 543-544)

“First, because some of the stressors that women have experienced during military service are related to military sexual trauma, women veterans need to have access to gender-specific mental health and substance abuse counseling. Currently, the VA offers nearly 100 substance abuse programs with specialized services targeted at women veterans. However, because not all women veterans seek VA care for these problems and conditions, the VA should establish collaborative relationships with state and community-level mental health and substance abuse agencies to provide access to needed care.” (Mattocks et al., 544)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Female Combatants, Gender, Women, Health, Trauma, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militaries, Sexual Violence, SV against women Regions: Africa, MENA, Americas, North America, Asia, South Asia Countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, United States of America

Year: 2012

Refugees, Forced Displacement, and War


Bennett, Trude, Linda Barlett, Oluwasayo Adewumi Olatunde, and Lynn Amowitz. 2004. “Refugees, Forced Displacement, and War.” Emerging Infectious Diseases 10 (11): 2034-35.

Authors: Trude Bennett, Linda Barlett, Oluwasayo Adewumi Olatunde, Lynn Amowitz


Women make up high proportions of refugee and internally displaced populations, and they suffer unique consequences of war and conflict because of gender-based violence, discrimination, and caretaking roles.  Refugee women are especially vulnerable to infectious disease, as well as threats to their mental health and physical safety.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Displacement & Migration, Forced Migration, IDPs, Refugees, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Gender-Based Violence, Health, Mental Health, Sexual Violence, SV against women

Year: 2004

'If Your Husband Doesn't Humiliate You, Other People Won't: Gendered Attitudes towards Sexual Violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo


Kelly, Jocelyn, Justin Kabanga, Will Cragin, Lys Alcayna-Stevens, Sadia Haider, and Michael J. Vanrooyen. 2012. "'If Your Husband Doesn't Humiliate You, Other People Won't: Gendered Attitudes towards Sexual Violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo." Global Public Health: An International Journal for Research, Policy, and Practice 7 (3): 285-98.

Authors: Jocelyn Kelly, Justin Kabanga, Will Cragin, Lys Alcanya-Stevens, Sadia Haider, Michael J. Vanrooyen


More than a decade of fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has resulted in extensive human rights abuses, of which sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is one of the most salient and disturbing features. This paper uses qualitative data, based on 10 focus groups with 86 women and men to better understand gendered community perspectives on SGBV and its consequences in South Kivu. We conclude that for many survivors, rape has consequences far beyond the physiological and psychological trauma associated with the attack. Respondents saysexual violence has become a societal phenomenon, in which the community isolation and shame experienced as a result of the attack become as important as concerns about the attack itself. Male focus group participants explain their own feelings of shame and anger associated with knowing their female relatives were raped. These findings highlight the complexity of community reintegration for survivors and identify a number of programmatic and policy implications, such as the need for counselling for survivors of sexual violence with their families as well as individually; the importance of income-generating training; and the need for improved justice mechanisms to bring perpetrators to justice.

Keywords: sexual violence, conflict, Stigma, rape, focus groups, qualitative research


“Participants also suggested that rape has become a norm for many men who have grown up in the recent decade of intense fighting.  Men and women spontaneously noted that Congolese men were increasingly prone to raping.” (289)

“Indeed, some male participants in the focus group interviews suggested that women might 'provoke' rape by wearing revealing clothes, travelling at night, or being far from their community. The majority of focus group participants agreed that women were not to blame for being raped, although they nonetheless recognised that blame of the rape victim was the basis for many of the negative community reactions of rejection and stigmatisation.” (290)

"Women described gossip has being particularly hurtful and making a significant contribution to community stigma." (290)

“Two female focus group respondents noted that their communities did help them by taking them to the hospital and counselling them.” (290)

“Men seemed less likely to reject a female relative, such as a sister or daughter, who had been raped compared with a wife. When asked about the reason for the difference in men's reactions, participants noted that male relatives may truly love the victim because of their 'consanguinity,' while the husband may only see his wife as a burden once she has been raped -- particularly if she has suffered debilitating injuries.” (291)

“Men's narratives repeatedly brought up HIV/AIDS as the reason a man 'must' reject his wife….'how can you feed yourself spoiled food?'” (291)

“Other reasons cited by participants for a husband's rejection of his wife after rape were: reluctance to raise children born of rape and pressure from his family to leave his wife.” (291)

"Female rape survivors who tested negative for STIs and HIV were considered potential candidates for reintegration into their communities and families." (291)

“Participants from the men's groups emphasised that husbands of women who have been raped experience stigma and haya [shame] too. While men were quick to acknowledge women's suffering, they also repeatedly stated that they were also affected.  As one participant put it, ‘You can't live with that woman because sometimes when those aggressors come they will tie you and give you a torch to help them have light while they are raping your wife.’” (291)

“Men also stated their inability to defend women from rape is traumatic.  This inability to protect one's wife can lead not only to shame and stigmatisation in the community, but to discord in the home….‘The husband will lose his power in the family because the wife will be implying that he is weak and unable to protect her.’” (291)

“Women stressed how important the relationship with their husbands is in determining the community's response to rape.  Another explained, ‘They can also help [survivors] to get respected from other people, because if your husband doesn't humiliate you, other people won't.’” (291)

“Women from the focus groups emphasised that certain customs that traditionally were directed towards female adulterers were now being applied to victims of rape.” (293)

“When asked what the major problems were upon returning home after being raped, women in the focus groups repeatedly spoke of restricted access to their fields; lack of income-generating activities and access to markets; and not enough money to feed or send their children to school.” (293)

“Women saw their increasingly impoverished state as a result of rape….Men, however, saw property as a key reason rape is so widespread.” (293)

“When asked about how communities could come to terms with how to respond to rape, participants stressed education and religion as potentially effective interventions.” (293)

“Women are the driving force behind the subsistence economy of South Kivu, which is based on farming and livestock. These findings suggest that the fear of rape, and the isolation of women from their families and farms as a result of rejection, may have a significant economic impact on individuals, families, and communities.” (295)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against women Regions: Africa, Central Africa Countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Year: 2012

Rape, Love and War - Personal or Political?


Ericsson, Kjersti. 2011. "Rape, Love and WarPersonal or Political?" Theoretical Criminology 15 (1): 67-82.

Author: Kjersti Ericsson


This article discusses how war rapes and consensual sexual relationships with enemy soldiers are framed and understood, with special emphasis on the consequences for the women involved. It [examines] war rapes in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Balkan war and Danish and Norwegian women's sexual relationships with German occupant soldiers during the Second World War. I argue that the conception of women's sexuality as national property is central to understanding the attitudes towards both categories of women. To preserve their dignity, war rape victims may profit from a collective, political discourse. Women having had consensual relationships [with] enemy soldiers, however, have to extricate themselves from the collective and political discourse and interpret what happened to them as strictly personal.

Keywords: war rape, coping strategies, nation, sexuality, victim


Uses empirical research that has been done in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Denmark, Norway (latter countries in the post-WWII era). (Ericsson 67-70)


"Rape used as a weapon of war demonstrates that women in one sense are objects of men's transactions in this context: they are not violated as individual women, but as the nation's women: the attack on their sexuality is an affront to the national collective of men." (71)

"Despite this, not even war rape victims in Bosnia-Herzegovina could escape the suspicion that they might have been implicated in their own violation." (73)

"The stories of the Norwegian war children make one wonder: how will the mothers of children conceived through war rapes deal with questions from their sons and daughters when they want to know who their father is?" (76)

"To put it very shortly: relief for the rape victims lies in framing themselves as part of the collective, while for someone with consensual relations it lies in framing themselves as individuals." (77)

"Skjelsbæk mentions a fatwa issued by the imam of Sarajevo in 1994, a fatwa that both she and several of her interviewees deem very important.  In the fatwa, the imam declared that Bosnian women who had been subjected to sexual violence ought to be looked upon as war heroes.  The message that war rape victims were to be considered war heroes, and not least the source of this message, a religious authority, made this alternative conception a possible resource, both to individual women that had experienced rape, and for therapeutic work with rape victims." (77)

"On the other hand, if rape is understood mainly in a gendered frame of reference, the woman feels her female identity as damaged, and shame, guilt, and silence is the result." (78)

"However, if solidarity with raped women is made contingent upon a strong identification with the ethnic group, the woman as an autonomous individual may be seen as less important.  Even if the rape victim, through the ethnic interpretation, may escape being constructed as a woman of questionable morals, or as 'damaged goods' as Skjelsbæk  points out, other aspects of patriarchal patterns may nevertheless assert themselves….Some of the health workers interviewed by Skjelsbæk  also feel that there has been an increase in violence against women in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina.  If this holds true, it fits with a conception of woman's body belonging to her ethnic or national group in the patriarchal sense, an ownership that is threatened in war and may have to be reinforced in post-war times.  If there has really been a backlash, this may perhaps be a manifestation of the sinister side of the notion linking a woman's body very strongly to her ethnic group." (79)


Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Ethnicity, Gender, Gendered Power Relations, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Security, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against women, Sexuality Regions: Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe, Nordic states, Northern Europe Countries: Bosnia & Herzegovina, Denmark, Norway

Year: 2011

Gender, Conflict, and Development


Bouta, Tsjeard, Georg Frerks, and Ian Bannon. 2005. Gender, Conflict, and Development. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Authors: Tsjeard Bouta, Georg Frerks, Ian Bannon


Gender, Conflict, and Development was written as an effort to fill a gap between the Bank's work on gender mainstreaming and its agenda in conflict and development. The authors identify a link between gender and conflict issues and provide the most comprehensive review of external and internal sources on gender and conflict, with a particular focus on policy relevance for an institution such as the Bank. The book highlights the gender dimensions of conflict, organized around major relevant themes such as female combatants, sexual violence, formal and informal peace processes, the legal framework, work, the rehabilitation of social services and community-driven development. And for each theme it analyzes how conflict changes gender roles and the policy options that might be considered to build on positive aspects while minimizing adverse changes. The suggested policy options and approaches aim to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by violent conflict to encourage change and build more inclusive and gender balanced social, economic and political relations in post-conflict societies. The book concludes by identifying some of the remaining challenges and themes that require additional analysis and research. The book will be of interest to policymakers, scholars, researchers, graduate and upper-level undergraduate students of conflict studies/regional studies/gender studies. (Amazon)

Keywords: female combatants, gender mainstreaming

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Society, Combatants, Female Combatants, Development, Gender, Women, Gender Mainstreaming, Governance, Humanitarian Assistance, Livelihoods, Peacebuilding, Peacekeeping, Peace Processes, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Security, Sexual Violence, SV against women

Year: 2005


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