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A Comparative Study of Resilience in Survivors of War Rape and Sexual Violence: New Directions for Transitional Justice

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - CSRS (A Comparative Study of Resilience in Survivors of War Rape and Sexual Violence: New Directions for Transitional Justice)

Reporting period: 2022-03-01 to 2023-02-28

Resilience is an interdisciplinary concept that has been discussed in many different contexts. It is striking, however, that it has received very little attention within scholarship on conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). Addressing this gap, CSRS was the first major – and comparative – study of resilience and victims-/survivors of CRSV. It focused on three diverse countries that have all experienced CRSV – Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), Colombia and Uganda.

Consistent with a significant shift in resilience scholarship away from studies emphasising individual personality and psychology traits towards more relational approaches that locate resilience in the interactions between individuals and their social ecologies (environments), the project aimed to explore how different resource environments and social-cultural contexts contribute to fostering – and hampering – resilience. In fact, it went a step further by developing its own novel social-ecological approach, using the concept of connectivity which it ‘borrowed’ from the discipline of ecology. In ecology, connectivity is largely about movement; it is what allows species to move between habitats. The project used the concept of connectivity to create a framework that captures the dynamic movements and shifts between individuals and their social ecologies (including families, communities, institutions and natural environments).

Another objective of the research was to address the neglect of resilience within the field of transitional justice. In this regard, the project had an ambitious transformative agenda, aimed at shifting the focus beyond just individuals to include the wider systems and social ecologies that crucially shape the legacies of violence and rights abuses. The project delivered a unique analysis of why and how the social ecologies – and connectivities – central to its understanding of resilience also matter for transitional justice. In so doing, it developed its own innovative social-ecological approach to transitional justice.

The project's importance to society is threefold. First, it has offered a different way of thinking about CRSV. In particular, its emphasis on connectivities and the significance of social ecologies suggests a way of broadening ‘survivor-centred’ approaches, to better acknowledge that victims-/survivors’ lives are deeply entangled with and affected by their environments. Social-ecological approaches to CRSV, thus, potentially benefit not only victims-/survivors themselves, but also key parts of their social ecologies. Second, the project’s social-ecological framing of transitional justice creates a basis for recognition of far-reaching harms that affect not only humans. but also the wider environments with which their lives and wellbeing are interconnected. In this way, it speaks to a broader literature - which transitional justice to date has largely overlooked - on posthumanism. Third, the project provides unique insights into some of the ways that victims-/survivors of CRSV in three different countries have dealt with their experiences. In this way, it contains important messages of hope that can potentially be of support to anyone who has suffered sexual violence or other traumas.
One of the early tasks was to develop the project questionnaire. An existing scale – the Adult Resilience Measure (ARM) - was chosen to measure resilience. In total, 449 questionnaires were completed across the three research sites. Significant efforts were made to ensure that the samples reflected some of the diversity of victims-/survivors of CRSV in each country.

In the qualitative part of the project, ARM scores from the questionnaires were used to divide research participants in each country into four quartiles. The rationale for this was to explore how the spread of ARM scores might translate into the qualitative data, and how the qualitative data might help to explain and give greater context to participants’ ARM scores. A further rationale was to identify possible linkages between ARM quartiles and particular themes developed from the interview data. These linkages, however, were in fact limited. In total, 63 women and men (21 in each country) from the full dataset of 449 participants were interviewed. The data were uploaded into NVivo, the coding book was created and the key themes were developed. The eight themes – each linked to one of the three elements of the project’s connectivity framework – included ‘I am all that I’ve lived’: Connectivities of violence; ‘It isn’t there anymore’: Connectivities lost and ‘With them I get through it’: Relational connectivities.

The final part of the project involved evidencing the wider significance of the research for transitional justice. It demonstrated that adding a resilience lens to transitional justice creates expansive scope for advancing the field in new directions, by foregrounding the connectivities between individuals and their social ecologies. Taking the three components of its connectivity framework – broken and ruptured connectivities, supportive and sustaining connectivities and new connectivities – it explored how they themselves translate into social-ecological ideas relevant for transitional justice theory and practice. To do so, it linked the three parts of the framework to the concepts, respectively, of harm and relationality, adaptive capacity and mutuality.

Dissemination of the research and its results took several forms. First, project outputs (the majority of which were published open access) included a research monograph, a co-edited volume, more than 25 peer-reviewed journal articles and research notes and multiple research blogs. Second, a policy brief was written and widely disseminated among policymakers in the UK and internationally. Third, reflections workshops took place during the fourth year of the project, to present, share and discuss some of the key research findings with small groups of research participants in BiH, Colombia and Uganda. Finally, an online international conference linked to the project took place in 2022.
First, CSRS has delivered the first major (and comparative) study of resilience and CRSV. It was also the first to apply the aforementioned ARM (Adult Resilience Measure) to the study of CRSV.

Second, the project’s connectivity framework offers a novel way of thinking about resilience as a process of dynamic, moving and storied connectivities between individuals and their social ecologies, and there is significant scope for applying the framework in multiple contexts.

Third, the project’s use of connectivity and its application to the concept of a ‘survivor-centred’ approach will potentially advance scholarship and policy work on CRSV. The project is the first to discuss social ecologies and their significance in the context of CRSV and the first to critically reflect on survivor-centred discourse.

Finally, the project has made an original and significant contribution to the field of transitional justice through its development of a social-ecological approach to dealing with the legacies of past abuses. Although the approach – which is set out and detailed at length in the Principal Investigator’s research monograph – innovates primarily at the conceptual level, the ideas that it reflects offer many potential avenues for new research which other transitional justice scholars (and practitioners) might further explore and build on.
This is the cover of the Principal Investigator's research monograph, published in 2022.