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

Reporting period: 2020-09-01 to 2022-02-28

Resilience is an interdisciplinary concept that has been discussed and researched in a multitude of different contexts, from natural disasters and social-ecological systems to violent extremism and forced displacement. It is striking that one area where the concept remains critically neglected is conflict-related sexual violence. CSRS is a project designed to address this ‘resilience gap’, using quantitative and qualitative data from fieldwork with victims-survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), Colombia and Uganda.

There has been a significant shift within resilience scholarship. Person-centred understandings of the term have given way to more complex ecological definitions that conceptualize resilience as the interactions between individuals and their environments. Fundamentally, resilience is about the resources that environments provide across multiple intersecting levels (including family, community and institutions) and the way that individuals utilize, harness and negotiate for these resources. The project’s comparative approach means that it is able to map out different individual-environment interactions and thus to explore the nuances and variations of resilience within very different socio-cultural and resource contexts.

It is also striking that the concept of resilience has received very little attention within the burgeoning field of transitional justice. CSRS is not only addressing this. It also has an ambitious transformative agenda. By bringing ecological thinking and ecological concepts, such as ecological memory, into the field of transitional justice, the project’s overall objective is to develop an ecological reconceptualization and remodelling of transitional justice that contributes to fostering resilience by dealing more comprehensively with the legacies of conflict-related sexual violence – and with the systems and ecologies that shape those legacies.

The project is important to society for three main reasons. Firstly, at the international level, there is a growing use of the term ‘survivor-centred responses’. In contrast, CSRS advocates ‘ecological approaches’ that focus on entire ecologies, thus potentially benefitting not only victims-survivors themselves but also the communities and societies in which they live. Secondly, ecological transitional justice is a more development-oriented form of dealing with the past. By maximizing and fostering sustainability, growth and resource development across and within different interconnecting ecological systems, it can potentially deliver more benefits to a greater number of people. Thirdly, large numbers of men and women around the world are exposed to sexual violence, whether in peacetime or during war/armed conflict. This project and its various outputs will be a resource for those who work directly with victims-survivors of sexual violence and for those who have suffered such violence.
One of the early tasks was to develop the project questionnaire. An existing scale – the Adult Resilience Measure or ARM (Research Resilience Centre, 2016) – was chosen to measure resilience. Divided into three sub-scales (personal, relational and contextual), the ARM consists of 28 statements. Higher overall ARM scores indicate that a person has more protective resources to cushion against life stressors and adversity. The questionnaire also included demographic information, the Centrality of Event Scale (Berntsen and Rubin, 2006), a traumatic events checklist and questions about current problems. In total, 449 questionnaires were completed across the three research sites. Although this number was lower than initially planned (due to logistical challenges, the difficulties of finding willing research participants and the limited capacities of the NGOs), the questionnaires constitute an important and unique dataset.

Multiple hypotheses were developed and subsequently tested. To explore the relationship between different variables in a more sophisticated way and to exclude measurement error, Structural Equation Modelling (SEM) was used. Additionally, we undertook confirmatory factor analysis to look at how the ARM sub-scale factors worked across the three case study countries. As the model fit for Uganda was poor, we have moved on to exploratory factor analysis, looking at how the 28 items in the ARM load across the three countries. Our analyses so far highlight the limitations of the existing ARM factor structure across diverse cultural contexts. We have developed a four-factor structure that works for all three countries combined, but we are also now looking at individual factor structures for each country. This is an important contribution to research that uses the ARM.

In the qualitative part of the project, ARM scores from the questionnaire data were used to divide all research participants into four quartiles. Each researcher selected five interviewees from each set of country quartiles, and selection choices were informed by the need to ensure demographic diversity within each country quartile (and particularly gender, age and ethnic diversity). For different reasons, each researcher conducted one additional interview, meaning that in total 63 interviews were completed across the three countries (21 in each country). The three researchers collectively developed the interview guide. All of the interviews were conducted in the relevant local language/s and were recorded using fully-encrypted digital voice recorders. The interviews were coded in NVivo, and thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006) is being used to develop the core themes. One of the major themes is relational connectivity; the project is examining how war and armed conflict contribute to rupturing connectivities across multiple ecological levels, but also how connectivities sustain resilience. The notion of connectivity, in turn, lies at the heart of the project’s ecological conceptualization of transitional justice.
Progress beyond the state of the art has been achieved in three key ways. Firstly, the quantitative and qualitative materials constitute a rich and highly unique dataset focused around the core themes of conflict-related sexual violence, resilience and transitional justice. No similar dataset exists, and the use of NVivo has facilitated important mixed methods and intersectional analyses.

Secondly, CSRS is developing a novel reconceptualization of resilience as a dialectical process of expansion and contraction across different domains, linked to different inter-related systems which themselves expand and contract through learning and adaptation.

Thirdly, CSRS is working towards an ecological reframing of ecological transitional justice that gives far more attention to the interactions between individuals and their broader environment; and to the different ways that conflict-related sexual violence leaves ecological legacies. The PI has written a highly innovative article (to be published in the Journal of International Criminal Justice later this year) that discusses COVID-19 and ecological connectivity. The article is central to the project's ecological reconceptualization of transitional justice.

Between now and the end of the project, the main focus will be on developing the project's core themes, answering the research questions and developing an ecological reconceptualization of transitional justice.