Research Article: Disclosure bias for group versus individual reporting of violence amongst conflict-affected adolescent girls in DRC and Ethiopia

Date Published: April 4, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Lindsay Stark, Marni Sommer, Kathryn Davis, Khudejha Asghar, Asham Assazenew Baysa, Gizman Abdela, Sophie Tanner, Kathryn Falb, Soraya Seedat.


Methodologies to measure gender-based violence (GBV) have received inadequate attention, especially in humanitarian contexts where vulnerabilities to violence are exacerbated. This paper compares the results from individual audio computer-assisted self-administered (ACASI) survey interviews with results from participatory social mapping activities, employed with the same sample in two different post-conflict contexts. Eighty-seven internally displaced adolescent girls from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 78 Sudanese girls living in Ethiopian refugee camps were interviewed using the two methodologies. Results revealed that the group-based qualitative method elicited narratives of violence focusing on events perpetrated by strangers or members of the community more distantly connected to girls. In contrast, ACASI interviews revealed violence predominantly perpetrated by family members and intimate partners. These findings suggest that group-based methods of information gathering frequently used in the field may be more susceptible to socially accepted narratives. Specifically, our findings suggest group-based methods may produce results showing that sexual violence perpetrated by strangers (e.g., from armed groups in the conflict) is more prevalent than violence perpetrated by family and intimate partners. To the extent this finding is true, it may lead to a skewed perception that adolescent GBV involving strangers is a more pressing issue than intimate partner and family-based sexual violence, when in fact, both are of great concern.

Partial Text

Violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world [1]. Evidence shows that female survivors of physical or sexual violence are at increased risk for a range of poor sexual, reproductive, and mental health outcomes [2–9]. Violent experiences during adolescence may confer additional negative impacts throughout the life course, including lower educational attainment, less community engagement, and greater likelihood of living in poverty [10, 11].

These findings surprised our local and international research teams. The two approaches had been designed to elicit complementary data on experiences of violence among adolescents. Instead, the two methods show strikingly different pictures of adolescent exposure to violence. Participatory group discussions primarily focused on public spaces as unsafe, and perpetrators as strangers and community members. Very little discussion included mention of family or intimate partner violence (IPV), aside from references to some harsh ‘disciplinary’ action of caregivers. This articulation of girls’ experiences of violence stands is in stark contrast to the quantitative findings, conducted confidentially with ACASI, which suggested that the majority of physical, emotional and sexual violence is being perpetrated by boyfriends, husbands and caregivers. For example, 26 of the 36 adolescents who reported unwanted sexual touching in the survey named an intimate partner or caregiver as the perpetrator, yet there was no mention of these people as perpetrators in group activities. The quantitative findings are consistent with adult women’s reporting in humanitarian settings in that violence in the home (e.g., IPV) often occurs at higher frequency and is of greater concern than other forms of non-partner perpetrated violence [25, 26].

More valid measures can help researchers and practitioners to fill knowledge gaps and provide a broader understanding of how IPV and abuse from caregivers fits into a broader, politically violent landscape. Preliminary research, for example, has begun to provide evidence that family violence—more so than political violence—is a consistent predictor of youth mental health trajectory [41], and that political conflict that separates households, disrupts family access to economic resources and social support, can exacerbate the perpetration of GBV in the household [42]. These findings, in conjunction with our own, highlight the need to conceptualize GBV in conflict settings not merely as centered in the political or public sphere, but also as situated within the home and within intimate partnerships. Traditional conceptualizations of violence in conflict that ignore more intimate forms of violence risk impeding program design and effectiveness, and continuing to perpetuate simplistic narratives of GBV in conflict.




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