Context Sierra Leone's decade-long conflict has cost tens of thousands of lives
and all parties to the conflict have committed abuses.
Objective To assess the prevalence and impact of war-related sexual violence and
other human rights abuses among internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sierra
Design and Setting A cross-sectional, randomized survey, using structured interviews and
questionnaires, of internally displaced Sierra Leone women who were living
in 3 IDP camps and 1 town, which were conducted over a 4-week period in 2001.
Participants A total of 991 women provided information on 9166 household members.
The mean (SE) age of the respondents was 34 (0.48) years (range, 14-80 years).
The majority of the women sampled were poorly educated (mean [SE], 1.9 [0.11]
years of formal education); 814 were Muslim (82%), and 622 were married (63%).
Main Outcome Measures Accounts of war-related sexual assault and other human rights abuses.
Results Overall, 13% (1157) of household members reported incidents of war-related
human rights abuses in the last 10 years, including abductions, beatings,
killings, sexual assaults and other abuses. Ninety-four (9%) of 991 respondents
and 396 (8%) of 5001 female household members reported war-related sexual
assaults. The lifetime prevalence of non–war-related sexual assault
committed by family members, friends, or civilians among these respondents
was also 9%, which increased to 17% with the addition of war-related sexual
assaults (excluding 1% of participants who reported both war-related and non–war-related
sexual assault). Eighty-seven percent of women believed that there should
be legal protection for women's human rights. More than 60% of respondents
believed a man has a right to beat his wife if she disobeys, and that it is
a wife's duty/obligation to have sex with her husband even if she does not
Conclusions Sexual violence committed by combatants in Sierra Leone was widespread
and was perpetrated in the context of a high level of human rights abuses
against the civilian population.