Women in Sierra Leone have historically been victim to violence throughout the whole country. Specifically, they suffer from a lot of sexual assault and intimacy violence. Most often, the violence is from a partner and not by a stranger. 45% of women in Sierra Leone will experience physical and/or sexual violence during their lifetime and 29% have experienced one or both within the last 12 months (UN 2018). Because the violence is mostly being committed by individuals that are familiar with the victim, this means that these are issues that run deep within the cultural roots. A study on violence found that, out of the women interviewed, 66.7% reported to being beaten by an intimate male partner, 76.6% reported having sex or intimate violence from their partner, and 50.7% reported having been forced into sexual intercourse (Coker 1998).
While it is more often for women to experience violence from their male partner, some experience violence from members of their own family. A study found that 55.4% of women interviewed were beaten by their father and 53.5% even beaten by their mother. Additionally, 59.6% of women had to seek medical treatment for injuries obtained after being beaten. This, along with the fact that the age range of first being forced to have sex being 5-25 years old, makes this sexual violence against women in Sierra Leone a pressing public health issue (Coker 1998).
Unfortunately, in such a patriarchal society, women are often stuck in their position no matter what happens. Traditionally, men provide the funds to get daily essentials. If a woman decides to press charges or leave her partner, she can be left in a position of no money, no care, no home, possibly ostracized from her immediate family, and all potentially with children to support. Men have so many rules over their women and it barricades them into these relationships while being helpless (VOA News 2010). All of these circumstances put the women of Sierra Leone at a greater risk for experiencing violence.
Reframing violence against women will help give them their voices back. Many women are ruled by the opinions of their partners and are often stuck in their abusive relationships due to financial restraints. If these cultural walls are broken down, women will be able to take power back over their bodies and regain a stronger sense of self identity. When working to diminish the trauma that these women are subject to facing, it should be highly recognized that the reduction in trauma will be beneficial to all members of the community. If these communities can help build their citizens, especially their women, there will be a decrease in death rates, STD spreading, unplanned pregnancies, and broken families among other things. Many women who have had a traumatic experience suffer from mental illnesses and are at higher risk for further health complications as well. Especially when the trauma is a sexual incidence, there are a lot of consequences that can come from it. By reframing trauma as a health issue, we can hopefully break down the barriers that come once a woman has experienced trauma. This type of reframing, with violence and trauma, will both challenge and reinforce our understandings of health, illness, and medicine. The reinforcement comes from the fact that we know what the effects are of this violence and by reframing, we should be able to see an expected shift. It challenges our understandings, because there is no way to know how it will impact the cultural roots that have formed this issue and how people will react and maintain their lifestyles, and thus how it will influence their health.
In my opinion, intergenerational trauma challenges biochemical models of health, because biomedicine is traditionally a field that focuses only on individuals and an illness at one point in time. This is a challenging concept because intergenerational trauma is so multi-faceted and can go over multiple generations, individuals, communities, and can produce various effects. The idea of intergenerational trauma being a traumatic experience that has effects and repercussions felt for generations after the initial trauma is concerning from many perspectives. The damage from one experience could potentially be felt on so many different levels. These effects can be anything as far as mental illnesses, PTSD, physical disability, and even death. The biochemical models can’t always measure these types of effects and because of that, solving the issue of intergenerational trauma, and the issues that arise because of it, is a difficult feat.
Coker, Ann L. and Richter, Donna L., “Violence Against Women in Sierra Leone: Frequency and Correlates of Intimate Partner Violence and Forced Sexual Intercourse” (1998). CRVAW Faculty Journal Articles. 145.
UN Women “Prevalence Data on Different Forms of Violence against Women.” UN WOMEN. 2018. http://evaw-global-database.unwomen.org/en/countries/africa/sierra-leone#1
VOA News. “Some Traditional Practices May Affect Maternal Health in Sierra Leone.” VOA. VOA, 22 Oct. 2010. https://www.voanews.com/a/sierra-leone-tradition-maternal-mortality-79343832/416449.html