Past Passive Victims and Agentic Survivors: Responses to Battle-Associated Sexual Violence


Quoted beneath are the phrases of a girl dwelling on the outskirts of Colombia’s second-biggest metropolis, who was raped a number of years beforehand by armed actors; and of a male survivor of sexual violence from Northern Uganda, who was raped by Ugandan authorities troopers within the late Eighties. At the moment, each of them are native activists, participating in advocacy and dealing intently with victim-survivors of (conflict-related) sexual violence. This text attracts on our analysis with conflict-affected communities in Colombia and Uganda. In Colombia, the phrase ‘sufferer’ is broadly utilized by civil society organizations and activists whereas in Uganda, ‘survivor’ is the extra generally most well-liked time period by conflict-affected communities themselves. We do our greatest to make use of the popular terminology once we communicate in regards to the respective context. After we make normal observations throughout contexts, we use ‘victim-survivor’.

Typically I consider what occurred to me, and I cry, and I say ‘my God, I’m filth, I really feel soiled, I really feel tainted.’ They usually say that one forgets, however one by no means forgets. Sure, the depth goes down, however one by no means utterly forgets … And now right here I’m, doing this [activism] as a result of it’s lovely to be preventing for the individuals who really want it (feminine activist in Medellín, Colombia).

Previous to becoming a member of this [male sexual violence survivors’] group, there was an excessive amount of stigmatization from the neighborhood, which made us actually undergo and stored us in silence. However since forming this group, we now know the right way to higher take care of this. There may be nonetheless stigma and we nonetheless undergo, and a few of us even in silence, however at the least now we have discovered to in some way cope (male sexual violence survivor in Gulu, Northern Uganda).

At first look, their activist lives would strike most observers as shocking, if not distinctive, in gentle of their prior victimization and the lingering results articulated within the statements above. It’s because (political) activism sits uneasily with prevailing perceptions of passive, traumatized and silenced victims of sexual violence. What’s extra, the above quotes additionally don’t mirror the counter-narrative of agentic survivors who’ve turned to activism and ‘left their victimhood behind’ within the course of. That’s as a result of the lived experiences of victim-survivors of conflict-related sexual violence rarely fit neatly into one single box, or story-line of both sufferer or agent.

On this article, we discover the complicated intersections of victimhood and company amongst victim-survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, in an try to maneuver past simplified and infrequently even dangerous dichotomies. In doing so, we draw on our respective area analysis experiences from Colombia in Uganda. In Colombia, Kreft performed 4 months of analysis in 2017 and 2018, finishing up, inter alia, 31 interviews with representatives of girls civil society activists. In Uganda, Schulz performed analysis over a interval of 9 months, between 2015 and 2018, in shut collaboration with the Refugee Regulation Challenge (RLP) and primarily based on a relational and care-based strategy to analysis. Based mostly on these analysis insights, we suggest {that a} extra nuanced understanding of the complicated linkages between victimhood and company is essential for higher understanding and supporting the activism of victim-survivors in conflict-affected settings.

For over twenty years, the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) structure has served because the foremost international instrument to handle conflict-related sexual violence and strengthen ladies’s socio-political company in battle settings. Its foundational United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 signified the rising recognition that warfare is inherently gendered. Within the previous years, international consciousness of conflict-related sexual violence had elevated considerably after civilians had been systematically raped within the wars in Rwanda, the previous Yugoslavia and elsewhere. Battle-related sexual violence has since turn into a distinguished – if not the distinguished – WPS situation.

However as tends to occur when a phenomenon, specifically such a violent and stigmatized phenomenon as sexual violence, turns into the thing of usually sensationalist protection, simplified and essentializing narratives abound. These affected by conflict-related sexual violence are sometimes offered as ‘victims with out a voice,’ leading to a ‘disempowering narrative of silenced, isolated, and wholly marginalized survivors’ disadvantaged of any company, energy and management. Lecturers akin to Roxani Krystalli have viewed with skepticism the tendency to dichotomize victimhood and company. But, this uneasy dichotomy stays notably entrenched in perceptions of the victim-survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, together with within the silos of safety and participation within the WPS agenda itself.

Victimhood and company: Problematic assumptions and dichotomies

Partially it is because the victimhood-agency dichotomy is gendered, contrasting the victimized girl in want of (patriarchal, white) safety with the agentic man, who assumes the function of both perpetrator or protector. It doesn’t assist that sexual violence had lengthy been normalized as collateral harm or the victor’s prerogative in warfare (domination over the adversary’s ladies), and concurrently stigmatized and even taboo (attracting little or no consideration or outrage previous to the Nineteen Nineties). It’s subsequently not shocking that within the coverage area and the general public area, conflict-related sexual violence specifically evokes the picture of the lady because the silenced sufferer devoid of energy and company.

Certainly not can we imply to downplay the horrendous crime that conflict-related sexual violence is, or the various debilitating results it carries for victims. A plethora of bodily, psychological and social consequences have been documented, starting from everlasting accidents and disabilities through melancholy and suicidal intentions to social ostracism and a rise in domestic violence. These penalties are actual and extreme, they usually deserve acceptable coverage responses. What we search to problem, nevertheless, is the false notion that victimization in conflict-related sexual violence, as stigmatized as it’s, invariably produces passivity and voicelessness.

The sustained activism of the Korean ‘consolation ladies’ and their struggle for recognition and compensation, in addition to Nadia Murad’s public engagement and advocacy are solely essentially the most distinguished examples of victim-survivors’ company. In actual fact, associations of conflict-related sexual violence victim-survivors exist in contexts starting from Bosnia to the DRC, from Uganda to Colombia. Girls’s socio-political company in conflict-affected settings, as peacemakers of their communities, as civil society activists and as political heavyweights in peace negotiations, is attracting growing international consideration, together with throughout the WPS framework.

However all too usually, these types of company are both portrayed as exceptions to the norm, or are framed as linear processes of transferring from victimhood in the direction of company. At a minimal, these narratives see ladies turning to activism regardless of their victimization. At worst, it’s implicitly (and infrequently even explicitly) assumed that agentic ladies have overcome their victimhood standing. Take, for instance, the 2020 Report of the UN Secretary-General on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, which describes a ‘survivor’s … distinctive journey from sufferer to activist’. The report proclaims that ‘ladies are highly effective brokers of change. They aren’t simply victims of warfare, however vectors of peace and progress.’ Such language, nevertheless, reinforces the dichotomous and mutually unique view of sufferer and agent.

Difficult the dichotomy

Certainly not can we intend to downplay the extraordinary company that victim-survivors of wartime sexual violence train around the globe, as importantly highlighted within the UN Secretary-Basic’s report. Fairly the opposite: we want to direct the highlight to victim-survivors’ company in battle settings, additionally in an effort to maneuver past perceptions of this company as ‘distinctive’. However we search to take action in a nuanced method that emphasizes its lasting interrelationship with victimhood. What we want to problem, particularly, is the problematic binary view of both agent or sufferer. As a result of: Neither of the 2 tropes – the passive, silenced sufferer or the agentic survivor who has escaped the shackles of victimhood – are all the time and essentially an correct reflection of actuality, as our area analysis with conflict-affected communities in Northern Uganda and Colombia exhibits. As such, our problem to pervasive dichotomizations operates each at conceptual and empirical ranges.

Conceptually, treating victimhood because the inverse of company unduly conflates two very various things: having been subjected to hurt, and the (in)capability to make selections and act. The inverse of victimhood is the absence of victimhood; the inverse of company is passivity. These are two separate dimensions that can’t merely be projected onto one another with a view to match misconceptions of how a sufferer ought to reply to violence. Victimhood and company, in brief, don’t represent a one-dimensional dichotomy; they’re two unbiased spectrums that may, and do, covary in several configurations. Some victim-survivors fall in the direction of the extra passive finish of the spectrum, whereas others are extremely agentic. In fact, the capability for any particular person to train company is closely formed by structural elements, together with gender or socio-economic standing. People might also transfer alongside the passivity-agency axis over time, relying on context and social atmosphere, expressing excessive ranges of (political) company below some circumstances and in some areas whereas being extra passive and silent in others.

One other problematic assumption that underpins the victimhood-agency dichotomy is its underlying gender binary. Juxtaposing feminine victims with male perpetrators/ protectors not solely diminishes the scope for ladies’s company, it additionally elides men’s amply documented victimization in conflict-related sexual violence. While the portrayal of the passive, disempowered and silenced sufferer disadvantaged of company seems notably pronounced for ladies and woman victim-survivors of sexual violence, this illustration incessantly applies to their male counterparts, too.

Within the present but restricted physique of literature on wartime sexual violence towards males, male victim-survivors’ experiences are predominantly analyzed with a give attention to vulnerabilities, amongst others analyzing how sexual and gender-based violations affect upon male victim-survivors’ masculinities, generally described as ‘emasculation’. The underlying assumption is that this perceived lack of masculinity interprets right into a deprival of their agency too, on condition that company is seen as a masculine trait. The gender binary additionally, in fact, completely erases the experiences of individuals with numerous sexual orientations and gender identities and expressions (SOGIE), who face excessive ranges of discrimination and violence in each warfare and peacetime.

Within the following, we illustrate the totally different manifestations of political company, and its linkages to victimhood, primarily based on analysis we carried out with ladies civil society activists in Colombia, a number of of whom are victims of conflict-related sexual and different types of violence themselves, and with feminine and male survivors of conflict-related gender-based violence in Northern Uganda.

Types of political company

The interviews in Colombia had been carried out with representatives of girls’s civil society organizations and victims’ associations working within the three greatest cities (Bogotá, Medellín and Cali), but additionally in smaller city or rural areas. Colombia boasts a very vibrant civil society sector, with a number of nationally working ladies’s associations, akin to Casa de la Mujer, La Red Nacional de Mujeres and Sisma Mujer. A few of these ladies’s organizations shaped as a direct response to the armed battle, like La Ruta Pacífica de Las Mujeres, which emerged in response to war-time violence, particularly sexual violence, towards ladies in 1996. One other instance is Iniciativa de Mujeres Colombianas por la Paz, which was established in 2001 in response to the absence of girls within the peace negotiations between the federal government and the FARC. Essentially the most distinguished victims’ associations particularly for conflict-related sexual violence are Corporación Mujer Sigue Mis Pasos, Pink de Mujeres Víctimas y Profesionales in addition to the marketing campaign No Es Hora de Callar,initiated by journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima, who had been kidnapped and raped by armed actors whereas overlaying the armed battle.

Lots of the ladies in these organizations and associations are victims of the armed battle that has plagued Colombia for the reason that Nineteen Sixties, together with of sexual violence perpetrated by armed actors. Their particular person experiences, in addition to the actions of the victims’ associations, are testomony to the truth that victimhood and political company co-exist. The women’s organizations and victims’ associations doc instances of conflict-related sexual violence, they supply psycho-social and psycho-legal assist to victims of this violence and accompany them in courtroom instances, they work with youngsters and youth to beat dangerous gender norms and practices, they increase consciousness and have interaction in advocacy campaigns, they supply capacity-building assist to state establishments, they’re concerned within the drafting of laws, they usually usually dedicate their time to altering gender inequality and bettering ladies’s rights in Colombia.

Related dynamics will be noticed in Northern Uganda, the place a number of teams and associations of numerous conflict-affected communities exist, together with particularly for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. One distinguished instance is the Women’s Advocacy Network, which brings collectively over 900 war-affected ladies (and a few males) to advocate for justice, accountability and recognition for gender-based violations dedicated throughout the greater than two-decade lengthy civil warfare in Northern Uganda. In 2014, WAN petitioned the Ugandan parliament for higher acknowledgement and redress for his or her experiences of sexual violence, and the community’s chairperson, Evelyn Amony, addressed representatives at the United Nations to talk about the plight of girls kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Military (LRA) insurgent group and of youngsters born on account of rape throughout the insurgent ranks.

As well as, a number of teams of female and male sexual violence survivors exist, akin to for example the Men of Courage affiliation particularly comprised of males who had been sexually violated by authorities troopers in Northern Uganda. On this group, survivors have interaction in peer-to-peer assist, conduct joint income-generating actions and manage mutual saving schemes, to assist each other and create secure areas for therapeutic and restoration. By collectively participating with their experiences, harms and vulnerabilities on their very own phrases, survivors in these teams thereby train totally different types of company and thus instantly refute the stereotypical image of the ever-vulnerable, passive and helpless sexual violence sufferer.

These are only a few examples of the methods during which victim-survivors of conflict-related sexual violence throughout these vastly totally different contexts, Colombia and Uganda, have interaction with their experiences and thus train totally different types of company. And there are, certainly, all kinds of various methods and kinds during which victim-survivors’ company manifests – starting from formal and public areas to extra casual and quotidian expressions throughout the on a regular basis.

The lingering drive of victimhood

Our discussions with activists and victim-survivors throughout these two instances additionally reveal that these varied types of company and activism don’t in any linear method suggest having ‘overcome victimhood’. Regardless of being able to interact with their experiences and train sure types of company, the lived realities of the victim-survivors we labored with are additionally characterised by persisting vulnerabilities, and at instances cycles of (re-)victimization.

As an illustration, a number of of the male sexual violence survivors from Northern Uganda who overtly spoke about their experiences had been usually subjected to stigmatization inside their communities, and at instances even inside their households. What’s extra, in Uganda, crimes of male rape are sometimes equated with homosexuality, which is criminally outlawed and socially thought of unacceptable. Brazenly talking about government-perpetrated human rights violations on this present socio-political context thus usually signifies that survivors are verbally and at instances even bodily attacked, and liable to additional antagonism.

Continued feelings of anger, worry, frustration or grief had been additionally evident within the phrases and demeanor of victim-survivors in each settings. Some even articulated emotions of disgrace, although they had been rationally conscious that they aren’t in any respect responsible for the violence exercised upon their our bodies by armed actors. Because the Colombian victim-activist quoted within the introduction of this text stated, recalling the crime of sexual violence continues to make her really feel that: ‘I’m filth, I really feel soiled, I really feel tainted.’ Pervasive patterns of victim-blaming and stigmatization, that are recurring themes within the interviews, thus go away their traces even on those that are conscious of, and dedicate their lives to, difficult exactly these dangerous patterns and practices. As one other victim-activist from Colombia says: ‘we all the time carry that mark and folks say “there go the raped ladies”’.

Neither is participating in civil society activism a easy and simple selection. For some activists in Colombia, the tales and ache they had been uncovered to each day led to melancholy and even prolonged withdrawal from activism. Among the victim-activists advised tales of very reluctant activism certainly. They reported being torn between, on the one hand, fearing the emotional penalties and bodily threats related to doing this sort of work – in an atmosphere of frequent assassinations of social leaders – and, alternatively, feeling a way of obligation to different victims of conflict-related sexual violence. The interviews in Colombia generally evoked a way of accountability or objective borne, perversely, from victimization.

Victimization as a driver of company

Certainly, what we each observe in our analysis is that victimization is usually a driver of political company. Fairly than mobilizing regardless of their experiences (or the risk) of victimhood, many victim-survivors mobilize exactly as a result of of it, and fueled by persisting vulnerabilities. The Colombian and Ugandan victims’ and survivors’ associations specifically are a chief instance of such patterns: they’re organized and led by, composed of, and work for victims of conflict-related (sexual) violence, with actions that span knowledge assortment, awareness-raising, mutual assist and political advocacy.

In prior analysis, certainly one of us (Kreft) has theorized such patterns as mobilization in response to the collective threat that sexual violence in battle constitutes to ladies – actually aided by a worldwide WPS framework that lends legitimacy to this sort of mobilization towards CRSV as a warfare technique. As famous, we are able to additionally observe related mobilization patterns in self-help and survivors’ teams in Northern Uganda, together with amongst males.

Particularly within the Colombian context, victimhood has turn into a robust political device, a political category on whose foundation claims for redress and reparations will be made on the state. As one victim-activist said assertively ‘You’ll not discover – at a single second, in a single assertion, in a single place – … that [I identify] as a survivor, as a result of it’s a crime and since I’ve a proper to justice being completed.’ In Colombia, victimhood thus often entails the criminal-legal notion of getting suffered wrongful hurt on the hand of one other – an idea that the (agentic) survivor-frame disregards. In different contexts, akin to Uganda, this can be perceived in another way, and conflict-affected communities and people themselves usually choose the terminology of ‘survivor’.

Illustrating the highly effective drive of victimhood as each a political class and a mobilizational issue, one other activist from Colombia defined

we emphasize … the distinction between place and situation. There are ladies who’ve a place as victims, they acknowledge and determine as having skilled this violence, and from this place they current to the world. Some do activism, they usually take energetic half on this complete equipment of organizations of victims of the battle.

It’s victimization in sexual violence, in addition to the specter of such victimization by being a member of the focused collective of girls on this specific context that acts as a driver of political mobilization. Cross-national statistical analyses additional exhibit that these mobilization patterns aren’t restricted to Colombia: in conflict-affected nations experiencing greater ranges of sexual violence, we additionally observe higher ladies’s civil society mobilization and extra ladies’s protest occasions.

Classes discovered and methods ahead

As our reflections from Colombia and Uganda present, the hyperlinks between victimhood and company are complicated, concurrently sturdy and tenuous. Victimization can function a driver of political mobilization (though in fact it doesn’t achieve this for all, and even most, victims). However conceiving of victim-survivors’ political company as a departure from victimhood is a wrongful dismissal of their persevering with ache and vulnerabilities in addition to the immense braveness and power that their persistent activism requires. Such portrayals, in brief, don’t do justice to the complicated and multi-faceted realities of conflict-affected communities’ experiences.

We subsequently must rethink the relationships between victimhood and company in battle settings, and specifically within the context of sexual violence. Fairly than two dichotomous classes, victimization and company can co-exist in varied configurations, prompting us to acknowledge that somebody can each be a sufferer of violence and struggling its after-effects while additionally exercising political company. Most dominant narratives in scholarship and policy-making alike, nevertheless, fall into that tendency of contemplating both somebody’s company or their victimhood – as the instance from the UN Secretary-Basic’s report on sexual violence referred to above exhibits.  

What we have to seize the co-constitutive forces that victimization and company will be, we argue, is an strategy that conceptualizes company as relational – centered round folks’s relations to 1 one other, in the direction of their prior victimization, in the direction of structural elements and in the direction of the contextual vulnerabilities that demarcate the areas during which they train their company. Such an understanding of company – in distinction to the extra individualistic understanding of company that dominates political considering – acknowledges the intrinsic inter-linkages between totally different experiences, serving to us to maneuver past the salient dichotomization of victimhood and company and as a substitute realizing their fluidities and variations.

The Girls, Peace and Safety (WPS) agenda actually acknowledges each: sexual violence victimization and the company of conflict-affected communities, and of girls specifically. Nevertheless, we contend that the WPS agenda would profit from extra explicitly recognizing the intersections of victimhood and company, fairly than falling into an inclination of silo-ing the 2 as separate pillars. This could paint an much more holistic image of the gendered dynamics and experiences of political violence and armed conflicts across the globe. Certainly, recognizing the intrinsic relationships and complexities between victimhood and company can foreground extra textured and nuanced tales of the lived realities of these affected by conflict-related sexual violence, past universalizing narratives and storylines.

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