Over three hundred women and girls were interviewed by Human Rights Watch as part of ongoing research and for this report. For a variety of reasons, including the lack of an ideological aspect and the limited ethnic dimension to the civil war in Sierra Leone and the all-pervasiveness of abuse, victims of human rights abuses, including survivors of sexual violence, generally feel free to talk very openly about their experiences.6
Great care was taken with the victims to ensure that recounting their experience did not further traumatize them. While we sought as much information as possible from each interview, the well-being of the interviewee was always paramount and some interviews were cut short as a result. The interviews were conducted in private settings in the presence of a female interpreter. The interviews with survivors were mostly conducted in Krio, the lingua franca of Sierra Leone, or in one of the other languages spoken by the different ethnic groups and interpreted into English. In most interviews only females were present and in the few cases where a man was present, it was with the permission of the interviewee. In order to guarantee the confidentiality of all information, interviewees are not identified by name.
In addition to the survivors, government officials, law enforcement officers, lawyers, key figures from the rebel forces, health personnel, religious leaders, and representatives of local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in the areas of human rights, women's rights, and health, as well as U.N. officials were interviewed.
6 Women and girls who have been raped can be presented and/or perceived either as victims or survivors and there is an ongoing debate as to which is the more appropriate term. In this report, both terms are used interchangeably without significant distinction.