Pleased to announce an exciting new research initiative at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. I am co-directing “Challenging Conceptions: Children born of wartime rape and sexual exploitation,” with my colleague Dyan Mazaurana. Here is the project overview with more details to come.

Statement of Need:  Sexual violence in conflict is a well-documented phenomenon that can create long-term, negative legacies for victim-survivors, their families and communities. In many cases, women and girls who have been sexually violated by parties to the conflict will become pregnant and face numerous challenges of giving birth to and raising a child as a result of this abuse. Many of these challenges directly stem from their child’s parentage, as one parent is affiliated with the “enemy” or occupational forces. At present what we know about these children is primarily based on journalistic accounts, anecdotal evidence or incomplete researcher accounts. Only a handful of researchers in the world have carried out in-depth fieldwork with these children, their mothers and communities. The evidence suggests that regardless of the nature of the parents’ sexual relationship (forced, survival sex, consensual, or somewhere in-between these categories), many of these children are stigmatized, discriminated against, abused, abandoned by family members, and denied basic rights and access to services. As infants, some also face infanticide. In other cases, older children may be beaten or starved to death by family members frustrated at their parentage. However, there are other cases in which these children and their mothers appear to be accepted by their families and communities, yet we know little about why and how this occurs. The lack of rigorous comparative research on children born of wartime sexual violence, their mothers and their communities leaves scholars and practitioners with more questions than answers about how best to anticipate and mitigate the risks, threats and vulnerabilities children and their mothers, and how to promote their acceptance the well-being in their families and communities.

Activities: To make a significant contribution to addressing the gaps in knowledge around children born of wartime sexual violence and their mothers, the project team will carry out two primary activities. First, we will prepare an international report focusing on the state of knowledge about, and policy and programmatic responses to, children born of wartime sexual violence and their mothers. Second, to bolster input into the report, and to prepare a multi-year, multi-country comparative research funding proposal on children born of wartime sexual violence, the project team proposes to host a two-day meeting with the world’s leading researchers on children born of wartime sexual violence and those who have extensive experience working in conflict-affected countries where sexual violence has been well-documented. We anticipate invitees with experience on this topic from Bosnia, Cambodia, Colombia, Guatemala, Iraq, Mozambique, Nigeria, Peru, Rwanda and Uganda. Each attendee will prepare and circulate a research briefing paper on this topic from their geographic areas of expertise prior to the meeting. During this two-day work session, we will lead a process where the experts research papers are shared and responded to; the group critically reviews the state of knowledge report we will have produced; determines what gaps remain in our understanding of children born of wartime rape that need to be filled; develops a multi-country comparative research agenda to fill those knowledge gaps; develops a strategy to ensure the research is taken up by key policy makers; and identifies potential donors. Team leaders Kimberly Theidon (Fletcher School) and Dyan Mazurana (Feinstein International Center and Friedman School) will then produce a research proposal and submit it to potential donors.

 

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