Why have women in eastern DR Congo increasingly turned to domestic courts in the aftermath of sexual violence, despite the fact that the state has consistently failed to provide basic goods and services to its citizens? Moreover, how do victims of violence interpret their first encounters with state law in an environment characterized by institutional fragility and humanitarian governance? This article analyzes the experiences and reflections of 50 self-reported victims of sexual violence in eastern DR Congo. We find that human rights NGOs have served as critical mediators in persuading victims of violence to pursue legal remedy for sexual crimes. However, rather than being socialized to prioritize formal accountability mechanisms in precisely the ways that the architects of legal outreach programs intended, we find that victims of violence have turned to the law for a combination of material and ideational factors. Some appear to have internalized emerging norms of punitive criminal justice, while others have adopted the language of law instrumentally, in order to access crucial socio-material benefits. We identify a paradox of opportunity and disempowerment, therefore, that characterizes our interviewees' experiences with the law.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science