Nowhere to go: disclosure and help-seeking behaviors for survivors of violence against women and girls in South Sudan

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Despite high rates of violence against women and girls in conflict and humanitarian contexts, many survivors do not tell anyone about their experience or seek help from support services (e.g. health, legal, psychosocial support, police).

This paper examines disclosure and help seeking behaviours of survivors of non-partner sexual violence (NPSV) and intimate partner violence (IPV) among women and girls aged 15–64 from three sites in South Sudan. It seeks to understand how exposure to armed conflict is associated with disclosure and help seeking practices.

For NPSV, respondents for whom an incident of sexual violence occurred during conflict had twice the odds of telling someone about their experience (aOR: 2.2; 95%CI: 1.3–3.7; p < 0.01) and three times the odds of seeking help (aOR: 3.1; 95%CI: 1.7–5.9, p < .001), compared to respondents for whom the incident of violence did not occur during conflict. Age, the identity of the perpetrator, working status of the woman, poverty and location also affected disclosure and help seeking behaviours for survivors of NPSV. For IPV, exposure to conflict increased the odds a respondent would tell someone about her experience (aOR 1.7; 95%CI 1.2–2.5; p < .01), but was not associated with seeking support services. The severity of IPV affected both disclosure and help seeking behaviours, with the odds of disclosing IPV increasing if the respondent experienced both physical and sexual IPV (compared to only sexual violence), had been injured, thought their well-being was affected, was afraid of their partner, or was controlled by their partner. However, not all these factors were subsequently associated with help seeking behaviours for survivors of IPV and respondents who reported they were sometimes afraid of their partner had reduced odds of seeking help, compared to those who were never afraid of their partners.

These findings are important as, prior to this analysis, it was unclear how experiencing conflict-related VAWG would influence disclosure and help seeking. Given the findings of this paper, it is important that the international community consider how to reduce barriers to reporting and help seeking for non-conflict-related forms of violence in these settings.

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Maureen Murphy

Maureen Murphy is a Research Scientist with the Global Women’s Institute at George Washington University.Previously, she has worked with numerous international non-governmental organizations, including in South Sudan with the American Refugee Committee and in Sierra Leone with GOAL Ireland. Prior to this, she worked with the Child Protection in Crisis Network based at Columbia University to coordinate locally driven child protection and gender based violence research projects in Africa and Asia.

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