Gender, relationships and sexual violence in the lives of women from Chuuk, Micronesia

Sarah A. Smith

Chuukese women’s sexual experiences provide a salient example of the ways in which sexual violence is a threat for women inside and outside intimate relationships throughout their lives. In this study, women experience and embody their roles as the gender responsible for sex in all its forms, resisting or providing for the needs of men. Chuukese women’s responsibility for managing sexuality begins in youth through incest taboos and lessons to avoid boys, and continues into intimate relationships in which women navigate the sexual needs of their partners. The power of husbands in Chuuk, Federated States of Micronesia, was in part imported from colonizing forces who did not approve of women’s complementary roles or their higher regard for clan kin over spouses. Based on data collected through two years of participant observation and in-depth life history interviews with (n = 15) Chuukese women, this study demonstrates how these negotiated changes, combined with the gendered impacts of poverty and postcolonial transnational migration, increase women’s vulnerability to sexual assault by their intimate partners. Women’s stories reveal the ways in which they perceive their bodies as belonging to their husbands, and how they see forced sexual relations as a hazard of marriage, normalizing its incidence. This study is an ethnographic example of how forced sexual relations in intimate relationships are produced, contested, and negotiated for Chuukese women in the context of colonial history, neocolonial policy, poverty and transnational migration.

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Research Type(s)
Journal Article
Submitted by Anita Togolo
October 27, 2022
Published in

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