Somali and Oromo refugee women: trauma and associated factors


  • Cheryl Lee Robertson MPH PhD RN,

  • Linda Halcon MPH PhD RN,

  • Kay Savik MS,

  • David Johnson MD MPH,

  • Marline Spring PhD,

  • James Butcher PhD,

  • Joseph Westermeyer MD MPH PhD,

  • James Jaranson MA MD MPH

Cheryl Lee Robertson,
School of Nursing,
University of Minnesota,
WDH 5-160,
308 Harvard St,
Minnesota 5 5455,


Aim.  This paper reports a study identifying the demographic characteristics, self-reported trauma and torture prevalence, and association of trauma experience and health and social problems among Somali and Oromo women refugees.

Background.  Nearly all refugees have experienced losses, and many have suffered multiple traumatic experiences, including torture. Their vulnerability to isolation is exacerbated by poverty, grief, and lack of education, literacy, and skills in the language of the receiving country.

Method.  Using data from a cross-sectional population-based survey, conducted from July 1999 to September 2001, with 1134 Somali and Oromo refugees living in the United States of America, a sub-sample of female participants with clearly identified parenting status (n = 458) were analysed. Measures included demographics, history of trauma and torture, scales for physical, psychological, and social problems, and a post-traumatic stress symptom checklist.

Findings.  Results indicated high overall trauma and torture exposure, and associated physical, social and psychological problems. Women with large families reported statistically significantly higher counts of reported trauma (mean 30, P < 0·001) and torture (mean 3, P < 0·001), and more associated problems (P < 0·001) than the other two groups. Women who reported higher levels of trauma and torture were also older (P < 0·001), had more family responsibilities, had less formal education (P < 0·001) and were less likely to speak English (P < 0·001).

Conclusion.  These findings suggest a need for nurses, and especially public health nurses who work with refugee and immigrant populations in the community, to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the range of refugee women's experiences and the continuum of needs post-migration, particularly among older women with large family responsibilities. Nurses, with their holistic framework, are ideally suited to partner with refugee women to expand their health agenda beyond the biomedical model to promote healing and reconnection with families and communities.