De-centring trauma: conflict-related sexual violence and the importance of trauma discourse

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Discussions about conflict-related sexual violence often focus heavily on trauma. While this article does not seek to minimize the significance of trauma, it is heavily critical of what it regards as a frequent over-use of trauma discourse. The ideas underpinning this research developed from the author’s work with survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) and interactions with a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Examples from BiH are used to illustrate the article’s central thesis that trauma discourse can be deeply problematic and counter-productive. In particular, trauma discourse detracts from the critical fact that some survivors exhibit remarkable resilience. Cautioning against highly deterministic approaches to trauma, the article underscores that a multitude of factors can influence the actual impact of a traumatic event. It is similarly in the interactions between survivors and their environments that processes of resilience – a concept that is increasingly theorized within an ecological framework – develop. Drawing on complexity theory, the article underlines the importance of creating the space for a greater recognition of resilience, a discourse that has significant utility in the context of conflict-related sexual violence.


Original languageEnglish
JournalThe International Journal of Human Rights
Early online date4 Apr 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Apr 2018


  • Trauma, conflict-related sexual violence, Bosnia-Herzegovina, NGO's, Resilience, complexity theory