Past Horrors, Present Struggles: The Role of Stigma in the Association between War Experiences and Psychosocial Adjustment among Former Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone


Betancourt, Theresa S., Jessica Agnew-Blais, Stephen E. Gilman, David R. Williams, and B. Heidi Ellis. 2010. “Past Horrors, Present Struggles: The Role of Stigma in the Association between War Experiences and Psychosocial Adjustment among Former Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone.” Social Science & Medicine 70 (1): 17–26. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.09.038.

Authors: Theresa S. Betancourt, Jessica Agnew-Blais, Stephen E. Gilman, David R. Williams, B. Heidi Ellis


Upon returning to their communities, children formerly associated with armed forces and armed groups–commonly referred to as child soldiers–often confront significant community stigma. Much research on the reintegration and rehabilitation of child soldiers has focused on exposure to past war-related violence and mental health outcomes, yet no empirical work has yet examined the role that post-conflict stigma plays in shaping long-term psychosocial adjustment. Two waves of data are used in this paper from the first prospective study of male and female former child soldiers in Sierra Leone. We examined the role of stigma (manifest in discrimination as well as lower levels of community and family acceptance) in the relationship between war-related experiences and psychosocial adjustment (depression, anxiety, hostility and adaptive behaviors). Former child soldiers differ from one another with regard to their post-war experiences, and these differences profoundly shape their psychosocial adjustment over time. Consistent with social stress theory, we observed that post-conflict factors such as stigma can play an important role in shaping psychosocial adjustment in former child soldiers. We found that discrimination was inversely associated with family and community acceptance. Additionally, higher levels of family acceptance were associated with decreased hostility, while improvements in community acceptance were associated with adaptive attitudes and behaviors. We found that post-conflict experi- ences of discrimination largely explained the relationship between past involvement in wounding/killing others and subsequent increases in hostility. Stigma similarly mediated the relationship between surviving rape and depression. However, surviving rape continued to demonstrate independent effects on increases in anxiety, hostility and adaptive/prosocial behaviors after adjusting for other variables. These findings point to the complexity of psychosocial adjustment and community reintegration in these youth and have a number of programmatic and policy implications. 


Keywords: war, mental health, children, adolescents, child soldiers, trauma, Stigma, Sierra Leone

Topics: Age, Youth, Armed Conflict, Combatants, Child Soldiers, Health, Mental Health, Trauma, Post-Conflict Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2010

Witness to Rape: The Limits and Potential of International War Crimes Trials for Victims of Wartime Sexual Violence


Henry, Nicola. 2009. “Witness to Rape: The Limits and Potential of International War Crimes Trials for Victims of Wartime Sexual Violence.” International Journal of Transitional Justice 3 (1): 114–34. doi:10.1093/ijtj/ijn036.

Author: Nicola Henry


Despite the proliferation of trauma and memory research in recent years, we know very little about the contribution of transitional justice mechanisms to psychological healing and societal reconciliation in the aftermath of genocide, armed conflict and politicized violence. Many scholars in this area have argued that the disclosure of traumatic experiences is beneficial to the psychological recovery process for survivors of gross human rights violations. This article critically examines this therapeutic assumption within a transitional justice paradigm. The article explores the potentials and limitations of international war crimes trials for victims of wartime sexual violence, focusing specifically on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The article provides a theoretical framework for analyzing the significance of testimony at international war crimes trials and raises some critical questions related to the psychological impact of trials. It is argued that due to the sheer diversity and heterogeneity of wartime rape victims, the experience of giving testimony is likely to be mixed: while some victims may suffer under the constraints of legal process, under the right circumstances, war crimes trials may help others to make sense of their suffering.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, Health, Trauma, Justice, International Tribunals & Special Courts, Transitional Justice, Sexual Violence, Rape Regions: Europe, Balkans Countries: Yugoslavia (former)

Year: 2008

Violence Against Women in Ethiopia


Kedir, Abbi and Lul Admasachew. 2010. “Violence Against Women in Ethiopia.” Gender, Place & Culture 17 (4): 437–52. doi:10.1080/0966369X.2010.485832.

Authors: Abbi Kedir, Lul Admasachew


Investigating the experience of violence against women and exploring women's coping strategies is a crucial component of re-tailoring the provision of services for victims/survivors. This article explores violence against women in the context of culture, theory of fear of violence and literature on spaces perceived to be ‘safe’ or ‘dangerous’ by women victims/survivors of violence in Ethiopia. To collect the relevant data, we conducted 14 semi-structured interviews with Ethiopian women who are victims/survivors of violence and three interviews with gender experts in Ethiopia. Our group of women suffer in ‘silence’ and confide only in friends and relatives. They did not resort to institutional support due to lack of awareness and general societal disapproval of such measures. This contrasts with claims by experts that the needs of these women are addressed using an institutional approach. Culture, migration status and lack of negotiating power in places of work are key factors when considering violence. The majority of the respondents in this study occupy both public and private spaces such as bars and homes and have experienced violence in those spaces. The social relations and subsequent offences they endured do not make spaces such as these safe. Education of both sexes, creation of awareness, sustainable resource allocation to support victims/survivors, ratification of the Maputo protocol and effective law enforcement institutions are some of the practical strategies we propose to mitigate the incidence of violence in Ethiopia.

Keywords: violence, women, Ethiopia, victim/survivor

Topics: Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Health, Trauma, Humanitarian Assistance, Context-Appropriate Response to Trauma, Sexual Violence, SV against Women, Violence Regions: Africa, East Africa Countries: Ethiopia

Year: 2010

Traumatic Masculinities: The Gendered Geographies of Georgian IDPs from Abkhazia


Kabachnik, Peter, Magdalena Grabowska, Joanna Regulska, Beth Mitchneck, and Olga V. Mayorova. 2013. “Traumatic Masculinities: The Gendered Geographies of Georgian IDPs from Abkhazia.” Gender, Place & Culture 20 (6): 773–93. 

Authors: Peter Kabachnik, Magdalena Grabowska, Joanna Regulska, Beth Mitchneck, Olga V. Mayorova


Over 200,000 people became internally displaced after several violent conflicts in the early 1990s in Georgia. For many internally displaced persons (IDPs), gender relations have been transformed significantly. This translates to many women taking on the role of breadwinner for their family, which often is accompanied by the process of demasculinization for men. In this article, we examine the construction of masculinities and analyze the gendered processes of displacement and living in post-displacement for Georgian IDPs from Abkhazia. We identify the formation of ‘traumatic masculinities’ as a result of the threats to, though not usurpation of, hegemonic masculinities. Drawing on interviews, we highlight how IDPs conceptualize gender norms and masculinities in Georgia. Despite the disruptions that displacement has brought about, with the subsequent challenges to IDPs' ideal masculine roles, the discourses of hegemonic masculinities still predominate amongst IDPs. We further illustrate this point by identifying two separate gendered discourses of legitimization that attempt to reconcile hegemonic masculinities with the current contexts and circumstances that IDPs face. These new traumatic masculinities do coexist with hegemonic masculinities, although the latter are reformed and redefined as a result of the new contexts and new places within which they are performed.

Keywords: masculinities, displacement, internally displaced persons, trauma, Georgia, Abkhazia

Topics: Displacement & Migration, IDPs, Gender, Women, Masculinity/ies, Gender Roles, Gendered Power Relations, Trauma, Livelihoods, Post-Conflict Regions: Asia, Central Asia, Europe, South Caucasus

Year: 2013

Waging Gendered Wars: U.S. Military Women in Afghanistan and Iraq


Eager, Paige Whaley. 2014. Waging Gendered Wars: U.S. Military Women in Afghanistan and Iraq. New York: Routledge.

Author: Paige Whaley Eager


Waging Gendered Wars examines, through the analytical lens of feminist international relations theory, how U.S. military women have impacted and been affected by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although women were barred from serving formally in ground combat positions within the U.S. armed forces during both wars, U.S. female soldiers are being killed in action. By examining how U.S. military women's agency as soldiers, veterans, and casualties of war affect the planning and execution of war, Whaley Eager assesses the ways in which the global world of international politics and warfare has become localized in the life and death narratives of female service personnel impacted by combat experience, homelessness, military sexual trauma, PTSD, and the deaths of fellow soldiers.

Keywords: politics & international relations, gender politics, political philosophy, U.S. politics, security studies, war & conflict studies

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Female Combatants, Gender, Women, Health, PTSD, Trauma, Militarized Livelihoods, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Security

Year: 2014

The War Experiences and Psychosocial Development of Children in Lebanon


Macksoud, Mona S., and J. Lawrence Aber. 1996. “The War Experiences and Psychosocial Development of Children in Lebanon.” Child Development 67 (1): 70–88.

Authors: Mona S. Macksoud, J. Lawrence Aber


This study examines the number and types of war traumas children face growing up in a war-torn country and the relation of such traumatic experiences to their psychosocial development. A sample of 224 Lebanese children (10-16 years old) were interviewed using measures of war exposure, mental health symptoms, adaptational outcomes, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The number and type of children's war traumas varied meaningfully in number and type by their age, gender, father's occupational status, and mother's educational level. As predicted, the number of war traumas experienced by a child was positively related to PTSD symptoms; and various types of war traumas were differentially related to PTSD, mental health symptoms, and adaptational outcomes. For example, children who were exposed to multiple war traumas, were bereaved, became victims of violent acts, witnessed violent acts, and/or were exposed to shelling or combat exhibited more PTSD symptoms. Children who were separated from parents reported more depressive symptoms and children who experience bereavement and were not displaced reported more planful behavior. Lastly, children who were separated from parents and who witnessed violent acts reported more prosocial behavior. Implications for program interventions and directions for future research on the effects of war on the psychosocial development of children are explored.

Topics: Age, Youth, Armed Conflict, Girls, Boys, Health, PTSD, Trauma, Violence Regions: MENA, Asia, Middle East Countries: Lebanon

Year: 1996

The Legacy of Gender-Based Violence and HIV/AIDS in the Post-Genocide Era: Stories From Women in Rwanda


Russell, Susan Garnett, Sanaya Lim, Paul Kim, and Sophie Morse. 2015. “The Legacy of Gender-Based Violence and HIV/AIDS in the Post-Genocide Era: Stories From Women in Rwanda.” Health Care for Women International, August, 1–43.

Author: Susan Garnett Russell, Sanaya Lim, Paul Kim, Sophie Morse


Drawing on qualitative interviews with 22 Rwandan women, we describe the lived experiences of women survivors of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) more than a decade and a half after the 1994 Genocide. We argue that the intersection between GBV and HIV/AIDS has long-term implications: the majority of women interviewed continue to endure trauma, stigma, social isolation, and economic hardship in the post-genocide era and are in need of expanded economic and mental health support. Our findings have implications for the importance of providing integrated psychosocial support to survivors of GBV post-conflict contexts. 

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, Girls, Gender-Based Violence, Governance, Post-Conflict Governance, Health, HIV/AIDS, Mental Health, PTSD, Reproductive Health, Trauma, Justice, Crimes against Humanity, International Tribunals & Special Courts, Reparations, War Crimes, Rights, Sexual Violence, Rape Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa Countries: Rwanda

Year: 2015

Twentieth Century Theories on Combat Motivation and Breakdown


Wessley, Simon. 2006. “Twentieth Century Theories on Combat Motivation and Breakdown.” Journal of Contemporary History 41 (2): 269-286. 

Author: Simon Wessley


All the combatant nations of the first world war struggled to deal with the problem of large-scale casualties that could not be ascribed to simple physical injury. After a brief flirtation with medical explanations (‘shell-shock’) these were soon realized to be psychological in nature, but not until the end of the war was there much consensus on whether these represented a psychological response to the stressors of industrial warfare, or alternatively a failure of motivation or even masculinity. Simultaneously combat motivation was seen within a moral framework that emphasized duty, patriotism, leadership and character. It was these latter virtues, or lack of them, that gradually came to explain combat breakdown, and not the psychological theories, even if modern narratives tend to overlook this. If a person had sufficient character, leadership and training, breakdown was unlikely even under the harshest conditions. By the end of the second world war, new thinking and research, mainly from the American forces, now downplayed the importance of ideological and personal factors, and instead concluded that the most powerful motivation for combat (as opposed to enlistment) came from the role of the small group — ‘men fight for their buddies’. Breakdown was still seen as the reserve side of combat motivation, most likely when the small group disintegrated, although ultimately even the most robust could succumb after prolonged combat exposure. However, provided that the individual was previously of normal personality, this would be short lived. Long-term illness was still almost entirely attributed to vulnerabilities acquired by inheritance or during childhood. Combat breakdown could also be made chronic by the influence of secondary gain, and so medical labels for combat breakdown were avoided, treatment was by reassurance and return to duty, and compensation was discouraged where possible. It was not until the aftermath of the Vietnam war that views on combat motivation and breakdown began to diverge. As a result of the efforts of American psychiatrists opposed to the Vietnam war a new medical label, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), was introduced in 1980. It was now believed that not just transient, but also chronic, mental disorders could be caused by combat, even in those previously of robust disposition, and that the necessity for a diagnosis and compensation overcame concerns about illness reinforcement and secondary gain. Social explanations for breakdown based on group psychology largely disappeared, to be replaced by a framework based almost entirely on individual responses to trauma, although the role of predisposition quickly needed to be rediscovered. In contrast, the military continue to insist on the importance of small group psychology in explaining motivation to fight, and are distrustful of either ideological or individual explanatory models.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Male Combatants, Gender, Men, Masculinity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Masculinism, Health, Mental Health, PTSD, Trauma, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militaries, Post-Conflict

Year: 2006

What Became of 'Frontline Feminism'? A Retro-Perspective on Post-Conflict Belfast


Cockburn, Cynthia. 2013. “What Became of 'Frontline Feminism'? A Retro-Perspective on Post-Conflict Belfast.” Feminist Review 105 (1): 103-21.

Author: Cynthia Cockburn


A feminist stock-taking on ‘post-conflict’, this paper revisits a study made by the author in 1996–1997, when the women’s community sector was a lively actor in the processes leading to the Good Friday Peace Agreement of 1998. Refusing to observe sectarian conflict lines, women’s centres were re-writing official ‘community development’ policy as community empowerment and political challenge. The author draws on new interviews conducted in 2012 with feminist community activists of that earlier period of ‘frontline feminism’, associated with the Belfast Women’s Support Network. The women reveal how continuing poverty, discrimination, violence and unhealed trauma still characterise working-class life in the post-conflict period, and impede the integration of Protestant and Catholic communities. Official provisions for gender equality have been interpreted in gender-neutral ways, and in some cases turned against women. The demilitarisation of masculinity has been painfully slow. The women’s community sector has experienced a loss of political drive as women’s centres have become service providers, dependent on state funding. Feminism is renewing itself, but in fresh forms with different priorities. Will it recover a voice that ‘speaks truth to power’?

Keywords: women, post-conflict, feminism, Northern Ireland, community

Topics: Armed Conflict, Ethnic/Communal Wars, Feminisms, Gender, Women, Masculinity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Health, Trauma, Post-Conflict Regions: Europe, Western Europe Countries: Ireland

Year: 2013

Refugees, Race, and Gender: The Multiple Discrimination against Refugee Women


Pittaway, Eileen, and Linda Bartolomei. 2001. “Refugees, Race, and Gender: The Multiple Discrimination against Refugee Women.” Refuge 19 (6): 21-32.

Authors: Eileen Pittaway, Linda Bartolomei


This paper examines the intersectionality of race and gender in refugee situations, and the multiple forms of discrimination experienced by refugee women. It explores the notion of racism as a root cause of refugee generation, and the gendered nature of the refugee experience. The manner in which racism and sexism intersect to compound the human rights violations that refugee women experience is explored in the treatment of sexual violence in international and domestic law and policy; during armed conflict; in refugee camps; in countries of first asylum; and in countries of resettlement. Using a case study of one strand of refugee policy in Australia, it illustrates the impact of this discrimination on refugee women. The forthcoming World Conference against Racism offers a unique opportunity for this phenomenon to be addressed by the international community.

Topics: Displacement & Migration, IDPs, Refugees, Refugee/IDP Camps, Gender, Gender-Based Violence, Health, Mental Health, Trauma, International Law, International Humanitarian Law (IHL), International Organizations, Race, Rights, Human Rights, Sexual Violence, Male Perpetrators, Rape, Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, SV against Women, Torture, Sexual Torture, Violence Regions: Asia, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, Balkans, Oceania Countries: Australia

Year: 2001


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