Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, August 2016, vol. 22 (3), pp. 217-225.
Sexual violence is an issue of significant concern in conflict-affected societies, with girls often among those most affected. While formal support services such as medical care, psychosocial support, and legal assistance for survivors are undeniably important, informal actors also play a key but poorly understood role in assisting survivors. This study examines the experiences of young female survivors of sexual violence in northern Uganda in order to explore the variety of roles (both positive and negative) that informal support networks played in contributing to survivors’ healing and recovery. In-depth interviews were conducted with 12 female survivors of sexual violence between the ages of 13–17 who were living in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Lira, northern Uganda. Each girl participated in a series of 4 interviews over a 1-year period. Girls participating in this study identified social stigma to be the primary source of psychosocial distress following an incident of sexual violence, as well as the most significant barrier to their recovery and reintegration. Findings also suggest that the relationship between a girl and her perpetrator had a significant impact on the type of follow-up support she received—particularly with regard to her ability to access justice. Survivor accounts also indicate that family members played a complex role in girls’ lives following an incident of abuse—in some cases providing significant support, while in others exposing girls to additional stigma or marginalization. Findings offer important insights to inform the development of response initiatives that build upon community-based networks, while also strengthening linkages between formal and informal forms of support in the lives of survivors.