"If there is ever going to be long-term peace in South Sudan, violence against women and girls must be addressed"
By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK, Nov 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Civil war in South Sudan is generating unseen levels of domestic violence, according to a study released on Wednesday showing a reported increase in the brutality and frequency of assaults.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and a third of the East African country's 12 million residents have been forced to flee since civil war broke out in 2013.
Militia attack kills 43 in South Sudan's Jonglei state
More than half of the South Sudanese women interviewed said they have suffered domestic abuse in their lives, according to the study by George Washington University (GW) and the International Rescue Committee.
But in wartime, the assaults have grown more brutal and frequent, they told researchers.
Most of the victims pointed to their husbands or partners as the culprit, while a third said they had suffered violence as part of warfare such as during raids or in refugee camps.
Overall, the rates of violence against women in South Sudan was double the global average and among the highest in the world, the research found.
"We are tired of being raped," one woman was quoted as saying. "We met with the chiefs and raised our concerns - we have had no response yet."
But half of the women who reported suffering harm said they kept it to themselves rather than seek medical help or support.
Researchers attribute their silence to stigma and distrust in the legal system.
"If there is ever going to be long-term peace in South Sudan, violence against women and girls must be addressed," said Mary Ellsberg, lead researcher of the study and director of GW's Global Women's Institute, in a statement.
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after protracted bloodshed, then fell into civil war in late 2013.
The study, which included interviews with about 2,700 women and men, shows a need to supplement aid such as food and medical supplies with domestic violence prevention, the researchers said.
Globally, one in three women is estimated to have experienced violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence by others, according to World Health Organization estimates.