Cover: Long-Term Effects of Wartime Sexual Violence on Women and Families

Long-Term Effects of Wartime Sexual Violence on Women and Families

The Case of Northern Uganda

Published Sep 21, 2018

by Mahlet Atakilt Woldetsadik

Download eBook for Free

Full Document

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 1.2 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.

Dissertation Brief

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 0.7 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.

Wartime sexual violence is one of the most devastating forms of violence committed against women and girls during armed conflicts. It is used as a tool of war to systematically target vulnerable groups, incite displacement, inflict suffering, and sever community cohesion. Research has shown that it has catastrophic effects on the health and well-being of survivors. However, there is a dearth of evidence on its long-term effects on survivors and their personal networks. In northern Uganda — a region that was marred by protracted conflict for 20 years — about 30 percent of women report having experienced at least one form of conflict-related sexual violence, including forced marriage, rape, and forced pregnancy. The objectives of this dissertation were to study the enduring effects of wartime sexual violence on Ugandan women and explore its ripple effects on families.

In-depth interviews were conducted to: (a) assess survivors' perception of the persisting effects of wartime sexual violence on their health, relationships, and care seeking behaviors; and (b) explore how the indirect exposure to wartime sexual violence affected parents, siblings, and intimate partners. The relationship between women's exposure to conflict events and their experience of intimate partner violence was explored using data from a nationally representative survey.

Findings show that women survivors continue to suffer from unresolved and untreated trauma, lack access to mental health care, and face economic hardships due to community stigma and customary laws that prevent women from owning land. Family members were susceptible to secondary traumatic stress, and both survivors and family members used coping mechanisms, such as memory repression and faith. Relationships were often disrupted after survivors disclosed their experiences or if they had children born of wartime rape. Intimate partner violence was found to be generally high among Ugandan women, but significant differences in prevalence rates were not observed for women living in war-affected regions versus those in unaffected areas.

Recommendations for policy and practice include providing trauma-informed care within existing community support mechanisms; working with religious leaders to address inequities around land inheritance; and supporting survivor-led initiatives, including reintegration of children born of wartime rape through family reunions.

Research conducted by

This document was submitted as a dissertation in July 2018 in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the doctoral degree in public policy analysis at the RAND Pardee Graduate School. The faculty committee that supervised and approved the dissertation consisted of Glenn Wagner (Chair), Jeanne Ringel, and Ragnhild Nordås (University of Michigan).

This publication is part of the RAND dissertation series. Pardee RAND dissertations are produced by graduate fellows of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, the world's leading producer of Ph.D.'s in policy analysis. The dissertations are supervised, reviewed, and approved by a Pardee RAND faculty committee overseeing each dissertation.

This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.