MEASUREMENT OF UN PEACEKEEPER-PERPETRATED SEXUAL EXPLOITATION/ABUSE AND THE RELATED STIGMATIZATION OF WOMEN AND GIRLS IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
Background: UN peacekeeper-perpetrated sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) is an international concern with reported allegations across 32 peace support operations. Stigma attributed to broader sexual and gender-based violence is well documented in the literature, however little is known about the relationship between UN-peacekeeper perpetrated SEA and stigma in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As current binary measures of SEA disregard its complexity in peacekeeping settings, an index is proposed as an alternative measure. Methods: The objectives of this study were to construct an index to quantify the level of SEA exposure experienced by women/girls in the DRC and to examine how SEA exposure was related to community perceptions of Congolese women/girl’s social status and institutional support. Using mixed-methods DRC survey data (n=2867), SEA indicators were identified using a combination of qualitative and quantitative survey variables. Two Poisson regression models with robust variance estimation were constructed to quantify the associations between SEA exposure and stigma by relative risk. Demographic variables were assessed for confounding and narrator’s sex was assessed for effect modification. Results: Eight indicators of SEA exposure were identified: six derived from the thematic analysis and two from the existing survey variables. A positive relationship was demonstrated between the level of exposure and diminished social status with women/girls experiencing moderate levels of SEA having the greatest risk of public stigmatization (RR: 1.94; CI: 1.66 – 2.26). Similarly, a positive relationship between SEA exposure and inadequate institutional support was shown for female narrators wherein women/girls highly exposed to SEA were 6.53 times as likely to receive inadequate support (RR: 6.53; CI: 3.63, 11.73). This contrasted with male narrators for whom there was no significant association. Conclusions: With further development, this index may offer a more nuanced perspective of peacekeeper-perpetrated SEA to inform SEA prevention and intervention efforts. The high risk of public and structural stigmatization in women/girls who were highly exposed to SEA indicates the importance of considering exposure levels when conceptualizing SEA consequences in peacekeeping contexts. The frequency of both public and structural stigma, and varying perceptions by sex, demonstrates the need for a multi-faceted approach for stigma reduction.