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JAMA. 2002 Jan 23-30;287(4):513-21.

Prevalence of war-related sexual violence and other human rights abuses among internally displaced persons in Sierra Leone.

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  • 1Physicians for Human Rights, 100 Boylston St, Suite 702, Boston, MA 02116, USA.



Sierra Leone's decade-long conflict has cost tens of thousands of lives and all parties to the conflict have committed abuses.


To assess the prevalence and impact of war-related sexual violence and other human rights abuses among internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sierra Leone.


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.


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%).


Accounts of war-related sexual assault and other human rights abuses.


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 want to.


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.

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