Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name




First Advisor

Charlene Senn


Bosnia and Herzegovina, outcomes, rape, sexual violence, strength-based outcomes, war




There has been a surge of academic interest in wartime sexual violence since the Bosnian and Rwandan wars in the 1990s. However, there is a paucity of research on the outcomes of wartime sexual violence for women and the research is limited in two important ways. One, women’s outcomes have been largely examined from the trauma of rape discourse, a deficit-based perspective that rape is necessarily (and permanently) traumatic. Two, there is a lack of ethnic diversity in the study samples that seems to be primarily fueled by ‘rape as genocide’ or ‘rape as ethnic cleansing’ discourses. The purpose of this study was to examine outcomes of women’s wartime sexual violence, focusing on strength-based outcomes and how these may be associated with women’s ethnic origin. Tape-recorded semi-structured interviews were conducted with 13 ethnically diverse women (i.e., Muslim, Serb, and Croat) who were victimized by sexual violence during the Bosnian war (1992-1995). The women were recruited through “Women Victims of War” – an organization that works with victims of wartime sexual violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Transcripts were analyzed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis to allow women’s complicated post-rape experiences to emerge. Within the context of the study’s purpose, five relevant superordinate themes emerged from the analysis. The first superordinate theme, “multi-faceted outcomes (consequences and strengths) of complex trauma in war”, was common to all participants and addresses the consequences of complex trauma on the women’s lives as well as the strengths gained or retained after the wartime events, including the rape(s). The second superordinate theme, “life with intersectional identities”, was also common to all participants. This theme was about the women’s perceived perceptions of the motivations for the wartime events (including sexual violence) which can be summarized as being primarily about gender and nationality/ethnicity. In the third superordinate theme, “loneliness”, women discussed the direct and indirect impact of the war on the loneliness they felt. This theme was present only for non-Muslim women. A fourth superordinate theme, “avoidance of the word ‘rape’”, was noted in a small group of women who never used the language “rape” or “sexual assault” or “sexual abuse” when describing their experiences. Finally, in the fifth superordinate theme, “culture as contributing to upholding patriarchal ideals in recovery process”, one woman discussed the direct connection she made between her process of recovery and the culture’s perceptions of sex and sexual assault. Analysis of the interviews suggested that a deficit-based lens and its prescription that sexual violence is necessarily and permanently traumatic does not take into account the strengths that women retain or develop as part of the recovery process. Furthermore, although there are many similarities in the outcomes of women with diverse ethnic backgrounds, there are also important differences (i.e., loneliness) that may be crucial in understanding the implications of relying on the 'rape as genocide' or 'rape as ethnic cleansing' discourses.