Media Briefings

WHY WAR VETERANS HARM THEIR WIVES: A novel explanation from post-war Angola

  • Published Date: April 2017

Soldiers exposed to sexual violence in war more likely to be violent to wives

Soldiers in Angola who were exposed to situations of sexual violence against civilian women during the war are about 30 percentage points more likely to be violent to their partners when they return home, according to new research by Tilman Brück and Wolfgang Stojetz, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society's annual conference at the University of Bristol in April 2017.

The authors have studied 578 war veterans and their spouses in Central Angola, many of whom were exposed to sexual violence, and find that veterans are more likely to be violent towards intimate partners, though not sexually violent. The authors interpret this violence as ‘expressive’ behaviour, rather than an attempt to control the partner. This casts doubt on the effectiveness of interventions designed, for example, to empower women in these cases.

‘Post-conflict reintegration programmes typically assume that former combatants pose a threat to political stability and often focus on helping former soldiers to get jobs’, the authors note. ‘Future assistance could be tailored to address the psychological burden carried by veterans, which is crucial to their own and their families’ wellbeing.’

More…

Globally, one in three women experience domestic violence during their lifetimes. It is puzzling that so many men harm their intimate partners.

New research by Tilman Brück and Wolfgang Stojetz, two economists based in Berlin, offers a novel explanation for high rates of domestic violence in conflict-affected settings. Their research establishes a new causal link from wartime sexual violence by armed groups to post-war domestic violence by ex-combatants.

Specifically, Brück and Stojetz show that a soldier exposed to situations of sexual violence against civilian women during the war is about 30 percentage points more likely to commit physical intimate partner violence as a veteran in the post-war period.

This strong and negative effect holds 12 years and more after these gruesome war events took place, indicating how long the shadow of war can be. Notably, this war legacy is confined to physical, not sexual, intimate partner violence.

The research is based on a survey of 578 veterans and their spouses in Central Angola. During the long-lasting civil war in that part of Angola, young men in both government and rebel armies were exposed to very different levels of sexual violence against civilians. Brück and Stojetz can then show with advanced statistical techniques that such exposure causes a lasting breakdown of a psychological barrier to violence against women.

The findings reject commonly suggested models of domestic violence as a short-term function of prevailing cultural norms or as part of an intra-household bargaining process. Instead, the results emphasise a key role for intrapersonal factors.

In addition, academic and policy debates often assume that acts of domestic violence are ‘instrumental’ behaviour, with violence being used to control the partner, send signals or extract resources, among other objectives.

Instead, the findings by Brück and Stojetz support an interpretation of domestic violence as ‘expressive’ behaviour, where men intrinsically value the expression of violence or where violence arises as an unintended outcome.

The findings of the new paper have important implications for policies and practice, especially those targeting domestic violence and post-conflict reintegration.

Traditional policies aimed at reducing rates of domestic violence, for example, are often designed to empower women. But the effectiveness of such programmes is mixed across contexts, and a few have even provoked perverse effects, as the male partners of women receiving support sometimes react violently to these interventions and their implications.

The study by Brück and Stojetz, by contrast, emphasises the need for and potential of paying more attention to perpetrators and the factors internal to them that lead to domestic violence. Working with affected and at-risk males may then offer an additional and fruitful route to reduce and prevent domestic violence.

Post-conflict reintegration programmes typically assume that former combatants pose a threat to political stability and often focus on helping former soldiers to get jobs, for example. But such projects have often struggled to deliver large-scale, effective and persistent results for ex-combatants.

This new study identifies threats to stability at the family level. Using the findings of this study as a starting point, future assistance could be tailored to address the psychological burden carried by veterans, which is crucial to their own and their families’ wellbeing.

ENDS


‘The War in Your Head: On the Origins of Domestic Violence’ by Tilman Brück and Wolfgang Stojetz, shortly available as working paper at http://www.hicn.org.

Tilman Brück
ISDC – International Security and Development Center in Berlin

Wolfgang Stojetz
ISDC – International Security and Development Center and Humboldt University of Berlin.

For further information:
Tilman Brück
Email: tilman.brueck@isd-center.org

Wolfgang Stojetz
Email: wolfgang.stojetz@isd-center.org