Sexual Assault Recovery in the Aftermath of the Liberian Civil War: Forging a Sisterhood between Feminist Psychology and Feminist Theology


Bryant-Davis, Thelma, Katurah Cooper, Alison Marks, Kimberly Smith, and Shaquita Tillman. 2011. “Sexual Assault Recovery in the Aftermath of the Liberian Civil War: Forging a Sisterhood between Feminist Psychology and Feminist Theology.” Women & Therapy 34 (3): 314-30.

Authors: Thelma Bryant-Davis, Katurah Cooper, Alison Marks, Kimberly Smith, Shaquita Tillman


Cross-border feminist collaborations enhance efforts to combat violence against women, including sexual violence. Sexual assault was a pervasive human rights violation perpetrated against many Liberian women during the over decade long Civil War. Based on a review of the mental health literature focusing on the realities of this crime against humanity in the lives of Liberian women, thirteen interviews were conducted with Liberian Church leaders. The participants and the first and second authors are collaborators on faith-based initiatives aimed at serving and empowering Liberian women and girls through the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Interviewees highlight the effects, dynamics, needs, and solutions for Liberian women attempting to recover from these atrocities. This article utilizes feminist theology and feminist psychology as a frame for understanding the experiences of Liberian sexual assault survivors and feminist cross-border collaborations in West Africa.

Keywords: sexual violence, trauma, recovery



"Often, female combatants were required to perpetrate the very crimes they were subjected to: rape, torture, and murder (Johnson et al., 2008). Female combatants were at an increased risk for sexual violence (42.3%) as compared with their noncombatant counterparts (9.2%) (Johnson et al., 2008). Interestingly, Swiss et al. (2008) report that being required to cook for a soldier, a form of wartime servitude, placed Liberian women at greater risk for sexual violence, 55% versus 10% for those who were not made to prepare meals." (317)

"Research on sexual violence during the Liberian civil war faces linguistic complications, stemming from the lack of terminology for describing rape in Liberian English (Swiss, et al., 1998). However, research in this area has relied on concepts of ‘‘forced sex’’ and visual depictions of sexual coercion to examine the topic." (317)

"In 2005 Liberia passed one of the strictest anti-rape legislation in its region, making statutory and gang rape an 'unbailable' offense; an offense previously holding a $25 bail fee (Callimachi, 2007)." (318)

"With an awareness of the dearth of mental health professionals working in Liberia in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War as well as the central role of religion and spirituality in many Liberian women’s lives, the authors primarily sought out female Liberian Church leaders to shed light on one of the focus areas of their faith-based collaborative projects, the issue of sexual violence during the Liberian Civil War." (321)

 "On the other hand, there are safe places where some women are able to find relief and a safe forum to express their feelings and receive support. The outlets described are Christian Church gatherings, family=informal gatherings, and gender-specific, trauma focused Sexual Assault in the Liberian Civil War workshops hosted in a range of settings; these are reflections of feminist theological and feminist psychological interventions. These distinct outlets have the common ground of community support or social support. The approach they take however is different in that one is based on spiritual knowledge and emotional release while the other is focused on psycho-education or victim-centered information provision. When considering the intersection of feminist theology and psychology, one is required to attend to the holistic needs of rape victims—their minds, bodies, hearts, and spirits." (323-324)

"Interventions based on feminist psychology principles require acknowledging and addressing sexism in all of its manifestations in society, including in religious settings. There is also a need to address women’s sexuality, including their health, empowerment, and self-awareness. Additionally feminist interventions require challenging hierarchies of power and privilege, including the privilege of resource access of women in urban areas as compared to the pervasive neglect of women in rural areas or women marginalized for other aspects of their identity." (326)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Wars, Feminisms, Gender, Women, Girls, Gender-Based Violence, Justice, Crimes against Humanity, Religion, Rights, Human Rights, Women's Rights, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against Women Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Liberia

Year: 2011

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