Partners as Possession: A Qualitative Exploration of Intimate Partner Sexual Violence in Freetown, Sierra Leone

Luisa Theresia Schneider*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The ‘gender acts’ passed in 2007 and 2012, regarding intimate partner (sexual) violence though extremely progressive on paper, are starkly disconnected from the changing social landscapes, lived experiences and social codes, which govern marriages and cohabitation in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Using practice theory (e.g. Karp 1986, Ortner 2006) to analyze and challenge the social, cultural and historical contexts of intimate partner sexual violence, and to examine notions about and access to justice, this article explores the intersection between human agency, social, legal and institutional structures, and forms of power (Karp, 1986, p.132, 134). Qualitative methodology is used to investigate how sexual assault is conceived in heterosexual relationships in Sierra Leone and to analyze why married or cohabitating women only seldom report the assault they suffer to the police and why cases predominantly end with a dismissal or an out of court solution, euphemistically referred to as ‘friendly settlements.’ The article argues for an intersectional approach towards intimate partner sexual violence. It conceives of women’s responses to such violence within the nexus between individual, community and state regulations, paying attention to the specific socially embedded agency they enable. The article contends that the pressures on women that cause them to prioritize social and economic security over justice need to be accounted for.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-145
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Femininity and masculinity
  • gender studies
  • intimate partner sexual violence
  • marriage and family studies
  • police reporting
  • sexual offenses
  • Sierra Leone
  • West Africa


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