The Silent Victims of Wartime Sexual Violence: Evidence from a List Experiment in Sri Lanka
37 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2017
Date Written: March 20, 2017
Although sexual violence is believed to be widespread in wars, empirical evidence concerning its prevalence is often limited and rests on anecdotal accounts and selective sources. The main challenge to a better understanding of this phenomenon is that victims, out of feelings of shame or fear, tend to under-report experiences of this particular form of violence. In this paper we tackle this challenge in the micro-study of violent conflict by administering a list experiment in a representative survey in post-conflict Sri Lanka, which has only recently recovered from an ethnic civil war between the Singhalese and Tamils. This unobtrusive survey method reveals that around 13 percent of the Sri Lankan population has personally experienced sexual assault during the time of war – a prevalence that is ten times higher than could be elicited by direct questioning. Our method also identifies groups who are particularly vulnerable to this form of violence: members of the Tamil minority who have collaborated with rebel groups and, perhaps most strikingly, males. In fact men are twice as likely to have experienced wartime sexual violence than women. At the same time, they are far more likely to remain silent about their experience. Our experimental evidence therefore calls into question conventional wisdom on wartime sexual violence and, consequently, has important implications for policy.
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