Research Portfolio Post 5: Research Puzzle Proposal

As per Booth et al’s formulation, I am proposing to research the rehabilitation and care for wartime sexual assault survivors because I want to find out why there is a lack of methods employed to aid survivors in their recovery process, in order to help my reader understand why there is no existing framework for the provision of the same, despite the fact that is such a widespread problem.

I began my research process with the intention of examining wartime sexual assault as a political perspective, aiming to focus on military strategies and rape as a weapon of war. However, through my preliminary research, I have been exposed to a variety of sources that track wartime sexual violence and the physical, emotional and mental impacts on women, who tend to be the most common victims, and their families. The issue of wartime sexual assault is widely discussed, and its socio-political implications have been researched by a large number of scholars. Yet, few researchers utilise the public health lens on the issue, like I intend to. Researchers Ba and R.S. Bhopal in a 2017 article specifically examine the physical, mental and social implications of wartime sexual violence, positing that the most significant outcomes of sexual violence were sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancies, PTSD, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and social abandonment and stigmatisation.[1]

As I researched further, a piece of research that stuck out to me the most was the work of Mahlet Woldetsadik who examined the long-term effects of wartime sexual violence on Ugandan women and their families. Woldetsadik’s intention with the paper was to try to fill the gap of knowledge regarding evidence of long-term impacts on survivors through in-depth interviews, which showed that there was “unresolved and untreated trauma, lack [of] access to mental health care, and face[d] economic hardships due to community stigma.”[2]In the article, Woldetsadik cites Annan et al and states that “According to population-based studies, over 26 percent of female youth (aged 14-35) surveyed in northern Uganda said they were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army.”[3]In addition to looking at the impacts on survivors, Woldetsadik also explores the secondary trauma placed upon their families and the impact of these factors on children born in captivity. Despite the creation of agreements by international organisations like the Rome Statute, the number of conflict-related sexual violence cases continues to soar – making this issue puzzling. Woldetsadik, like many researchers tend to, makes policy proposals in their work on sexual violence but this also presents another set of questions about the role of international and national organisations in the provision of care.[4]A large percentage of documents tend to speak to the political and economic stability in post-conflict regions. In fact, as Lesley Pruitt points out in her paper entitled “Looking Back, Moving Forward”, many “peace negotiations and ceasefire agreements almost always fail to include provisions regarding sexual violence… that of 300 peace agreements occuring since the Cold War’s end, only ten mentioned sexual violence at all.”[5]Initially, I believed that this was due to the overarching conflicts that take place in these regions, which made it difficult for governments to create proper rehabilitative programs to aid survivors. However, Pruitt further argues that even after the end of conflict periods, “governments are frequently uninterested in pursuing investigation and punishment for crimes committed against women, and in attempting to secure peace that may offer amnesties to certain groups, including perpetrators of violence.”[6]

I attempted to find primary sources for the experiences of wartime sexual assault, which proved difficult. Due to the lack of transparency around the issue of wartime sexual violence, there is a significant dearth of primary sources. Most governments do not make such information public and many survivors do not report it due to the administrative difficulty of doing so – which makes it difficult for researchers to access primary data and information. However, there are a few examples that appeared interesting to my research. One of these is the story of Nobel Laureate and conflict-related sexual violence survivor Nadia Murad Basee Taha. Nadia was one of the 3000 Yazidi women captured by ISIL and has been an advocate for the protection of victims of sexual violence in conflict zones. In her 2018 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Nadia stated that “if we do not want to repeat cases of rape and captivity against women, we must hold to account those who have used sexual violence as a weapon to commit crimes against women and girls.”[7]Additionally, in 2015, the UN released the “World’s Women”, a report that detailed the state of women and their rights. Section 2B2 of Chapter 6 deals with violence against women in conflict situations and references the UN Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), which called for “special measures to protect them from gender-based violence in such situations” through indicators that were “designed to monitor implementation and promoting the security of women.”[8]

The source acknowledges the sparseness of primary data sources. However, it also refers the reader to a website created by the Office of the Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, which mentions the MARA or the Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Arrangements. The Security utilises data collected in MARA to “promote appropriate and timely action to prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence, inform strategic advocacy.”[9]I believe that these sources and databases will aid me in my research, and lend a clearer picture as to why victims of conflict related sexual violence do not receive the rehabilitation and care they require.

Potential questions may include:

  • General: What explains the lack of rehabilitation methods to aid victims of conflict-related sexual violence in their recovery process?
  • Case specific: Why has UN investment in the Congo failed to protect and promote the rights of female survivors of conflict-related sexual violence?

Word count: 968


[1]Ba and R. S. Bhopal, “Physical, Mental and Social Consequences in Civilians Who Have Experienced War-Related Sexual Violence: A Systematic Review (1981-2014),” Public Health 142 (2017): 131.

[2]Mahlet Woldetsadik, Long-Term Effects of Wartime Sexual Violence on Women and Families: The Case of Northern Uganda (RAND Corporation, 2018), accessed September 29, 2019, iii

[3]Ibid., 55

[4]Ibid., xviii

[5]Lesley Pruitt, “Looking Back, Moving Forward: International Approaches to Addressing Conflict-Related Sexual Violence”, Journal Of Women, Politics & Policy 33, no. 4 (2012): 303.


[7]Nadia Murad – Nobel Lecture 2018″, Nobelprize.Org, Last modified 2019,

[8]United Nations, “The World’s Women 2015” United Nations, 2015: 158.

[9]United Nations, “Monitoring, Analysis And Reporting Arrangements (MARA)”, accessed 30 September 2019,


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  1. Hi Paroma,

    A question that was raised in my mind while reading through your post had to do with cultural relativism. Surprise. For example, if we paired your research with that of the Oil, Islam, and Women article, I wonder if there will be varying rains of aid to sexual assault survivors. It would also be interesting to then see what the common variable between case studies where ignorance of the issue is higher.

    Also, I think I may be of some help with some primary source research. The OHCHR has a database of past reports detailing human rights violations and recently, they released a report on the going-ons in South Sudan. Brief warning, this is a blunt report and has quotes from survivors and their family embedded throughout it which are rather harsh:

    This is just the first one which I came across and if you want to find more localized reports I would search by UN Mission as that will come up with more specific case studies. Hope I was of some help.


  2. Paroma,
    As we’ve sat together in class for the past few weeks, it is exciting for me to see your project evolve. On the first day, you proposed the idea of studying rape as a weapon of war, but as you have keenly discovered from doing some preliminary research, wartime sexual violence has already been covered extensively. It is always a bit disheartening to discover that what we thought were groundbreaking ideas have already been explored by previous scholars—I have had similar discoveries along the way; turns out, ideas I thought were my own were not, in fact, revolutionary—but it also opens up a wealth of new possibilities, because it means you get to branch out from their work even further and go down your own path. I am pleased and impressed to see you handling this delicate topic area with fortitude and sensitivity; researching such accounts of widespread sexual violence certainly takes its toll.
    Your framing of your generic and especially your case-specific research question are excellent; they set you up for a clear path of research ahead. I also think that pivoting your focus towards the long-term effects of sexual violence on not just the survivors but their families also has powerful potential for policy implications; understanding how sexual violence affects the community at large, rather than just the individual, will broaden the expanse of your conclusions and the number of people your research may be able to help. My question for you is as follows: in your case-specific research question, you ask how the Congo has failed to protect and promote the rights of women. In my limited scope of knowledge, I have found it much more difficult to prove the absence, rather than the presence, of something; I anticipate your challenge going forward will be figuring out how to operationalize the absence of protection of women’s rights. I ask if you have begun thinking about how to approach this. Otherwise, I look forward to continuing to hear about your work and its progress throughout the year!

  3. Paroma — overall you have a good discussion of your broad topic area and proposed research puzzle here. The scholarship that you discuss is clearly relevant to your project. Be sure to keep focusing on the explanations that scholars offer for the conceptual puzzle that you are proposing to analyze as you read scholarship (focus on this aspect even more than the proposed remedies, remembering that any proposed remedy should have a well-researched account of the reasons that lead to the situation in need of a remedy!). Depending upon the specific direction your research takes you might well want to meet with a research librarian to discuss the primary source data that could potentially be available to you since you will need some data to demonstrate the empirical manifestation of the conceptual puzzle. With all of this in mind, keep working on refining the phenomenon or outcome that you want to explain. Your two draft research questions point to different puzzles–one about a lack of rehabilitation methods, the other about a failure to protect and promote the rights of female survivors. Although not unrelated, those are different conceptual puzzles! This is all fine at this beginning stage, but keep these things in the back of your mind as you continue your research.

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