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Letter From Monrovia
February 25, 1998

Violence Against Women During the Liberian Civil Conflict

JAMA. 1998;279(8):625-629. doi:10.1001/jama.279.8.625

Context.— Civilians were often the casualties of fighting during the recent Liberian civil conflict. Liberian health care workers played a crucial role in documenting violence against women by soliders and fighters during the war.

Objective.— To document women's experiences of violence, including rape and sexual coercion, from a soldier or fighter during 5 years of the Liberian civil war from 1989 through 1994.

Design.— Interview and survey.

Setting.— High schools, markets, displaced persons camps, and urban communities in Monrovia, Liberia, in 1994.

Participants.— A random sample of 205 women and girls between the ages of 15 and 70 years (88% participation rate).

Results.— One hundred (49%) of 205 participants reported experiencing at least 1 act of physical or sexual violence by a soldier or fighter. Survey participants reported being beaten, tied up, or detained in a room under armed guard (17%); strip-searched 1 or more times (32%); and raped, subjected to attempted rape, or sexually coerced (15%). Women who were accused of belonging to a particular ethnic group or fighting faction or who were forced to cook for a soldier or fighter were at increased risk for physical and sexual violence. Of the 106 women and girls accused of belonging to an ethnic group or faction, 65 (61%) reported that they were beaten, locked up, strip-searched, or subjected to attempted rape, compared with 27 (27%) of the 99 women who were not accused (P≤.02, .07, .001, and .06, respectively). Women and girls who were forced to cook for a soldier or fighter were more likely to report experiencing rape, attempted rape, or sexual coercion than those who were not forced to cook (55% vs 10%; P≤.001, .06, and .001, respectively). Young women (those younger than 25 years) were more likely than women 25 years or older to report experiencing attempted rape and sexual coercion (18% vs 4%, P=.02 and .04, respectively).

Conclusions.— This collaborative research allowed Liberian women to document wartime violence against women in their own communities and to develop a unique program to address violence against women in Liberia.