Violence Against Women During the Liberian Civil Conflict

Shana Swiss, MD; Peggy J. Jennings, PhD; Gladys V. Aryee, RNM; Grace H. Brown, CM; Ruth M. Jappah-Samukai, BSc; Mary S. Kamara, RN, CM; Rosana D. H. Schaack, RN; Rojatu S. Turay-Kanneh, RN

Journal of the American Medical Association, 1998; 279:625-9.


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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 1989through 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).


  • 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%); stripsearched 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.