Throughout history, acts of sexual violence – including rape – have frequently accompanied war and armed conflict. The systematic rapes carried out by the Soviet Red Army during the Second World War; the Japanese Imperial Army’s use of ‘comfort stations’; the large-scale sexual abuses that occurred during the Bangladesh Liberation War; the mass rapes perpetrated during the 1994 Rwandan genocide; the widespread use of sexual violence and forced marriage during the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone – these are just some of the infamous examples from the twentieth century. Today, heinous acts of sexual violence are being committed against civilian populations across the globe, from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo to Myanmar and Syria.
Funded by the European Research Council, CSRS is a five-year interdisciplinary project about the men and women who experience conflict-related sexual violence. More specifically, it is a project about resilience – a theme that has received markedly little attention in discussions on sexual violence in conflict. Approaching resilience as an ecological concept that develops from the interactions between individuals and their environments, CSRS is exploring the complex of factors – including cultural, experiential and intersectional factors – that explain why some survivors of resilience demonstrate high levels of resilience while others exhibit low levels. It is a comparative project that is focused on the three case studies of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), Colombia and Uganda. While all three countries have experienced widespread conflict-related sexual violence at different times, they also illustrate different uses of sexual violence as a weapon of war.
If we understand why some survivors of sexual violence display higher levels of resilience than others, this has broader implications for transitional justice – the process of dealing with past human rights abuses. Because transitional justice is quintessentially about perpetrators and victims, men and women have who experienced conflict-related sexual violence participate in transitional justice processes primarily as victims. Transitional justice can thus help to entrench victimhood. What CSRS is ultimately seeking to develop is a new and innovative model of transitional justice that can contribute to fostering resilience in survivors of sexual violence. The key to this is for transitional justice processes to work with survivors in the context of their wider social ecologies.