With the welcoming of Prof. Jutta Lindert to the Women’s Studies Research Center on Tuesday Sept. 13 came a renewed conversation about violence against women globally to campus. Lindert, a professor of public health at the Protestant University of Ludwigsburg, Germany and WSRC scholar, has spent much of her career researching health impacts on interpersonal and domestic violence and the long-term impacts of violence against women. 

    She has travelled to six European countries collecting data and doing field work on the determinants and consequences of violence against women and now looks to cover new territory in her research: violence against women refugees.

   Lindert began her talk by discussing some of the research she has done along with presenting data from a recent European survey related to violence against women. She explained the various forms of violence and how they manifest throughout girlhood and womanhood. 

     Lindert cited examples of female infanticide and sex-specific abortions, saying, “A high number of baby girls in India and China are simply missing.” Furthermore, she noted that girls are often fed less frequently as infants because “there is a preference for sons. 

Sons are simply better cared for.” Childhood violence takes many forms, she says, including female genital mutilation, rape, child marriage or even sex slavery, the last being more likely in poverty-stricken areas. 

    The WSRC Scholar continued by discussing many contributing factors to the influx of violence against refugee women, including the “breakdown of social structure, collapse of family support and lack of security in camps.” 

     Furthermore, she broke down travel-related exposure into four phases: exposure prior to departure, during the flight, in the country of asylum and during reintegration. 

   The experience for women in the country of asylum is one that “centers around survival,” Lindert expressed. 

     Inadequate language skills as well as mistrust of western aid workers contributes greatly to the effects of violence. The most at- risk, Lindert said, are the women travelling alone and those without personal documents. 

     In terms of next steps, Lindert believes that a major setback to finding a solution is the lack of data available surrounding the issue of violence against women in refugee camps. “We need to overcome the reasons for underreporting.  “We need to encourage women in general — and especially refugee women — to speak out,” she said. “This is the only way to prevent health consequences.” 

     One audience member had an alternative opinion, saying, “I feel that as much as we need the tools and technology to collect data, we need even more the personal narratives.” 

 Lindert agreed, saying, “It’s not the only answer, but it’s very important, [because] at the end of the day, the main aim is to improve data to counteract the health consequences.”

   In collecting data, Lindert says, it is necessary to be precise in defining terminology. Lindert preferred to use the term “violence against women” throughout her speech rather that the term “gender based violence,” saying the latter does not “accurately reflect the problem.” Similarly, Lindert was careful to refute the notion that the definition of violence against women changes from culture to culture. “I would say that that’s wrong,” she said, “because violence against women is clearly defined.”  

  Lindert also recognizes that collecting data on issues that come with many cultural stigmas of varying severity can be extremely challenging and often dangerous unto itself, and in fact, we don’t even know “how accurate existing data really is.” But regardless, she persists in her assertion that more must be done to obtain statistics, because “without data, we do not have a clue how many are exposed.”

   Lindert’s original plan for her talk was to discuss her research exclusively, but she decided last-minute to additionally discuss violence against women refugees to shed light on the critical importance of this issue. “I would hope,” she told the Justice, “that it would be possible to get the opportunity to do research on refugee mental health because we have a huge amount of refugees [in Europe], but there isn’t any concrete research on their mental health: only on their diseases. So this talk is a call for action.”