More than half of adolescent girls displaced by conflict-torn areas in Africa suffer some forms of violence, said a new study conducted by researchers at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.

The research, which surveyed girls aged 13-19 years in these humanitarian settings, revealed new details about the abuses they suffered, and “predictors of violence, often perpetrated by family members and intimate partners,” the report said.

The research asked 1,296 girls in conflict-affected South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, and in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia, specifically those in the refugee camps where people fleeing conflict in Sudan and South Sudan were sheltered.

“Girls in conflict settings are the victims of disturbing patterns of violence beginning in adolescence and even earlier,” said lead author Lindsay Stark, associate professor of Population and Family Health.

According to Stark, the research was “one of the first to document high rates of violence against conflict-affected girls as young as age 13,” adding that the data showed that girls as young as 10 were frequent victims of violence.”

The study is published in the Journal of Global Health, the report said.

The report said 52% of adolescent girl respondents reported to have experienced “at least one form of violence victimization” in the last 12 months; 32% reported to have received some beatings; 37% reported having been “screamed at loudly or aggressively;” and 27% said they have experienced “unwanted sexual touching and/or rape.”

Most of the girls said their intimate partners or family member were their offenders.

The humanitarian community had been rendered limited to respond or prevent the violence against adolescent girls because of the research gap, according to the report, and because most studies conducted on violence committed in armed conflicts mainly covered health-related consequences and not their predictors, and only looking at girls over 15 years old.

“Attention should be paid to context, and prevention programming should do more to acknowledge the role of intimate partner relationships, and how dating and early marriage often put girls at greater risk for violence,” Stark said.

The study likewise invalidated the usual belief that girls were more in danger in the hands of strangers or military personnel.

These misperceptions could have been unintentionally bolstered by past research methods, the report said, adding that the method used in this current research offered more privacy to the girls while responding to questions using a tablet.

According to Stark, the tablet method might have given a more accurate picture of the violence experienced by the girls but the group discussions provided “important perspective about how violence is understood and expressed.”

“You want to know how people talk about these issues, so you can design a program that both addresses violence and considers those prevailing social norms,” Stark said.

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