What does the research tell us?
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Studies on mothers
Studies on children
Studies on partners and/or the environment
Studies on interventions to promote the mother-child relationship
Healthcare for mothers with a child born of sexual violence
Within the healthcare system, mothers with a child born of sexual violence are often identified late, which means that they do not receive the right care on time. In this study, various healthcare professionals were interviewed about their experience in providing care during the first years of motherhood. This research shows that some professionals are aware of the fact that there are mothers with a child born of sexual violence and can provide appropriate care. However, there are professionals who are afraid that they will not be able to offer the right support or unaware of this group of mothers. Professionals indicate that their awareness and skills can be increased through training and peer review, but the selection seems limited. If this selection is expanded, professionals
will feel more competent and will be able to identify sexual violence more quickly in mothers, which will help to better support these mothers.
Reference: Meuleman, E. & van Ee, E. (2021). To Do or Not to Do… Primary Health Care Professionals Experiences with Mothers with Children Born of Sexual Violence. Frontiers in Psychology, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.708288
Reflective functioning of mothers with a child born of sexual violence
The ability of a parent to understand their child and the child's experiences is called reflective functioning. Reflective functioning is important for the bond between mother and child. This study shows that mothers with a child born of sexual violence score low on reflective functioning. They seem to be less able to assess their child's emotions than traumatised mothers whose child was not born of sexual violence. However, there are also themes that are reported as challenging by all traumatised mothers: mental health, general challenges of parenthood and residence status in the Netherlands. The latter is mainly due to the fact that the women in this study have fled their homeland to the Netherlands. As a result, these women often lack a sense of connection with their environment.
Reference: Anderson, K., & Van Ee, E. (2020). Reflective functioning of refugee mothers with children born of conflict-related sexual violence.International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,17(8).https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17082873
Interventions for mothers with a child born of sexual violence
When a child is born of sexual violence, the child can be a constant reminder of the traumatic experience for the mother. It is still unclear what the best interventions are to support these mothers in their motherhood. In this study, experts are interviewed about their knowledge in the field of interventions for mothers with a child born of sexual violence. Regarding the process, clinicians say that it is important to work with the entire system, i.e. with parents and children together. Experts describe various themes that can be discussed with the aim of improving the attachment between mother and child and reducing trauma-related symptoms. The stigma should also be reduced, but clinicians indicate that they do not have a clear approach to this. The treatment is considered
effective by the clinicians when the mother accepts both herself and her child. To make the treatment effective, a relationship of trust between therapist and mother is very important.
Reference: van Ee, E., & Blokland, J. (2019).Bad blood or my blood: A qualitative study into the dimensions of interventions for mothers with children born of sexual violence.International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(23). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16234810
Descendants of victims of sexual violenc
In this study, Rwandan young adults (18-25 years) were asked about their daily lives and what it means for them to grow up with a mother who is the victim of sexual violence. Almost all young people interviewed mention being physically or emotionally abused by their mother. In addition, they indicate that mothers do not disclose anything or just bits when they ask about their past. Children born of sexual violence mainly have questions about their biological father. Finally, young adults mention that they have mixed feelings when their mother does tell them what happened. On the one hand it hurts the young people to hear their mother's experience, on the other hand they feel relieved to be able to talk about it. Children born of sexual violence also say that they are ashamed of their identity and the lack of clarity about who their father is. Finally, these young adults feel happier and have more hope for the future and certainty about the present when their mother receives therapy. It is therefore clear that both the mother and their children can benefit from therapy.
Kagoyire, M. G., & Richters, A. (2018). “We are the memory representation of our parents”: Intergenerational legacies of genocide among descendants of rape survivors in Rwanda. Torture, 28(3), 30-45. https://doi.org/10.7146/torture.v28i3.111183
Attitude and experience of men regarding sexual violence
This study interviews male relatives of Congolese women who have been victims of sexual violence. The role of these men is important for the mental health of women. This study shows that there are various reasons for men to reject their wives or send them away after sexual violence: fear of a sexually transmitted disease, infection, the status of the man within the community, the idea that sexual contact with another person (voluntary or not) does not fit into the marriage, the cost of help,
traumas of the men themselves and possibly a child that is not their own. Yet there are also reasons for men that can help with acceptance: love for their wife, financial contributions from the wife, care for the children and religion. So it seems important to involve men in the treatment of trauma after a woman has experienced sexual violence. Their involvement can promote acceptance.
Reference: Kelly, J., Albutt, K., Kabanga, J., Anderson, K., & VanRooyen, M. (2018). Rejection, acceptance and the spectrum between: understanding male attitudes and experiences towards conflict-related sexual violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. BMC Women’s Health, 17, Article 127. https://doi-org.ru.idm.oclc.org/10.1186/s12905-017-0479-7
Mental health, stigma, and acceptance among women with a child born of sexual violence
Sexual violence is known to affect mental health. However, there is still little knowledge about women having children as a result of sexual violence. The role of stigma and acceptance in their well-being is also unclear. In this study, 757 Congolese women were interviewed who have a child born of sexual violence. Women are more likely to report symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts when they feel stigmatised. They may feel stigmatised by the community or their own husband. Such stigma can also prevent women from seeking help with mental health problems. Yet not all women report experiencing stigma. When they feel accepted by their husband, this even protects them from mental health problems. Support for women and partners to find their place in the community after sexual violence can therefore help to prevent complaints.
Reference: Scott, J., Rouhani, S., Greiner, A., Albutt, K., Kuwert, P., Hacker, M.R., Van Rouen, M., & Bartels, S. (2015). Respondent-driven sampling to assess mental health outcomes, stigma, and acceptance among women raising children born from sexual violence-related pregnancies in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.BMJ Open, 5(4), e007057. https://dx-doi-org.ru.idm.oclc.org/10.1136%2Fbmjopen-2014-007057
Important issues in research into and treatment of children born of sexual violence
This study examines whether there are risk factors for the well-being of a child born of sexual violence. Four risks are identified based on a literature review. The first one is pregnancy and birth. Maternal stress during pregnancy can have a negative impact on the child's development. Secondly, these children are more likely to have a problematic parent-child relationship. In addition, they are also at risk of discrimination or stigmatisation from their environment. And finally, these children often have identity problems because of their father's identity.
It also identifies issues that should guide research and practice. Firstly, these children should also be seen as victims of sexual violence. Secondly, these children can be seen as victims in several ways: of genocide, war, neglect, abuse or discrimination. Thirdly, clinicians must strike a balance between the rights of mothers and children, for example, the right of mothers not to tell the child and the right of children to know their origin.
Reference: Van Ee, E., & Kleber, R. J. (2013). Growing up under a shadow: Key issues in research on and treatment of children born of rape.Child Abuse Review, 22(6), 386-397. doi:10.1002/car.2270