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After rape: justice and social harmony in Northern Uganda

Porter, Holly (2013) After rape: justice and social harmony in Northern Uganda. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis explores responses to rape in the Acholi sub-region of northern Uganda, based on three years of participant observation plus in-­depth interviews with a random sample of 187 women from two villages. The issues examined lie at the intersection of two ongoing discussions in scholarship and practice and contributes to each of them: wrongdoing and justice, and sexual violence and rape. Northern Uganda is at the heart of international justice debates. Fierce controversy followed the 2005 announcement of the International Criminal Court’s intervention in ongoing conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Government of Uganda. Two opposing representations of Acholi society emerged: that Acholi were innately forgiving -­ able to deal with mass crime through traditional justice; or that they needed and often supported formal legal justice. But this missed crucial aspects of Acholi realities, which this study illustrates, most basically the profound value of social harmony, and a deep distrust of distanced authorities to dispense justice in their interest. Many scholars and practitioners assume that in the aftermath of crime, justice must be done. Amongst Acholi, I have found, the primary moral imperative in the wake of wrongdoing is not punishment of the perpetrator or all victim’s rights but the restoration of social harmony. Experience of rape and harm it causes are predicated on understandings of wrongdoing related to challenges posed to social harmony. Similarly, an appropriate remedy depends not only on the act of forced sex itself, but also on the social role of the perpetrator and social context. This thesis adds empirical, locally-­grounded, and culturally-­specific evidence in support of a more complicated and nuanced explanation of rape and its aftermath than is familiar in the analytical/normative frameworks familiar in post-­atrocity justice debates or anti-­rape feminist activist discourse. It suggests reimagining the meanings of these phenomena along lived continuums: before, during and after war; and acknowledging the role of sex, power and politics in all sexual experiences on a spectrum of coercion and enthusiastic consent.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2013 Holly Porter
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
J Political Science > JS Local government Municipal government
Sets: Departments > International Development
Supervisor: Atkinson, Ron and Allen, Tim

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