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Gender-based violence in conflict and displacement: qualitative findings from displaced women in Colombia

Andrea L Wirtz12, Kiemanh Pham13, Nancy Glass4, Saskia Loochkartt5, Teemar Kidane5, Decssy Cuspoca6, Leonard S Rubenstein2, Sonal Singh27 and Alexander Vu13*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Emergency Medicine, Johns Hopkins Medical Institute, Baltimore, USA

2 Center for Public Health and Human Rights, Department of Epidemiology, Johns School of Public Health, Baltimore, USA

3 Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Baltimore, USA

4 Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, Baltimore, USA

5 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Bogota, Colombia

6 Departamento de Antropología de la Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia

7 Department of General Internal Medicine, Johns Hopkins Medical Institute, Baltimore, USA

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Conflict and Health 2014, 8:10  doi:10.1186/1752-1505-8-10

Published: 11 July 2014



Gender-based violence (GBV) is prevalent among, though not specific to, conflict affected populations and related to multifarious levels of vulnerability of conflict and displacement. Colombia has been marked with decades of conflict, with an estimated 5.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and ongoing violence. We conducted qualitative research to understand the contexts of conflict, displacement and dynamics with GBV. This as part of a multi-phase, mixed method study, in collaboration with UNHCR, to develop a screening tool to confidentially identify cases of GBV for referral among IDP women who were survivors of GBV.


Qualitative research was used to identify the range of GBV, perpetrators, contexts in conflict and displacement, barriers to reporting and service uptake, as well as to understand experiences of service providers. Thirty-five female IDPs, aged 18 years and older, who self-identified as survivors of GBV were enrolled for in-depth interviews in San Jose de Guaviare and Quibdo, Colombia in June 2012. Thirty-one service providers participated in six focus group discussions and four interviews across these sites.


Survivors described a range of GBV across conflict and displacement settings. Armed actors in conflict settings perpetrated threats of violence and harm to family members, child recruitment, and, to a lesser degree, rape and forced abortion. Opportunistic violence, including abduction, rape, and few accounts of trafficking were more commonly reported to occur in the displacement setting, often perpetrated by unknown individuals. Intrafamilial violence, intimate partner violence, including physical and sexual violence and reproductive control were salient across settings and may be exacerbated by conflict and displacement. Barriers to reporting and services seeking were reported by survivors and providers alike.


Findings highlight the need for early identification of GBV cases, with emphasis on confidential approaches and active engagement of survivors in available, quality services. Such efforts may facilitate achievement of the goals of new Colombian laws, which seek to prevent and respond to GBV, including in conflict settings. Ongoing conflict and generalized GBV in displacement, as well as among the wider population, suggests a need to create sustainable solutions that are accessible to both IDPs and general populations.

Gender-based violence; Intimate partner violence; Conflict; Displacement; Colombia; Humanitarian settings