(Dis)Trust in the Aftermath of Sexual Violence: Evidence from Sri Lanka

Does exposure to sexual violence during conflict affect ethnic group trust post-war? Despite the prevalence of sexual violence, we know surprisingly little about its social consequences. Furthermore, quantitative research has so far mostly turned a blind eye on the gendered impact of sexual violence. We address this gap by investigating ethnic in- and out-group trust among Tamil women and men in post-war Sri Lanka. Combining survey data of the Tamil population with a list experiment on wartime sexual violence, we find that female victims of sexual violence have higher levels of trust in the ethnic out-group, whereas men’s out-group trust decreases. Possible explanations are that both the context of sexual violence and coping strategies differ by gender. Interestingly, the experience of sexual violence significantly erodes both men’s and women’s trust in the ethnic in-group which points to an aspect of post-war recovery often overlooked: rebuilding trust within ethnic communities.

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