BMC women’s health 2017 12 0817(1) 127 doi 10.1186/s12905-017-0479-7
Female survivors of sexual violence in conflict experience not only physical and psychological sequelae from the event itself, but often many negative social outcomes, such as rejection and ostracisation from their families and community. Male relatives – whether husbands, fathers, brothers – play a key role in determining how the family and community respond to a survivor of sexual violence. Understanding these perspectives could help improve services for survivors of sexual violence, as well as their families and communities.
This study draws on qualitative data gathered from focus groups of 68 men in the eastern region of Democratic Republic of Congo. Men were asked about their experiences as relatives of women who had experienced sexual violence.
Two dominant themes arose throughout the focus groups: factors driving rejection and pathways to acceptance. Factors driving rejection included: fear of sexually transmitted infections, social stigma directed toward the husbands themselves, and an understanding of marriage and fidelity that is incompatible with rape. Men also touched on their own trauma, including struggling with witnessing a rape that took place in public, or caring for a survivor with a child from rape. They noted that the economic burden of medical treatment for survivors was a salient factor in the decision to reject. Pathways to acceptance included factors such as the love of their spouse or relative, survivors’ potential to give continued financial contribution to the family, the need to keep the family together to care for children in the home, and pressure from people of importance in the community.
This study provides unique insight into how male relatives respond to close family members who have experienced sexual violence. This is particularly critical since the reaction of a male relative after rape can be the most pivotal factor in promoting or impeding recovery for a survivor. These results emphasise the importance of services that focus not only on the survivor of violence herself, but also on key family members that can ideally help support her recovery.