Male Rape in Armed Conflicts: Why We Should Talk About It
Sexual violence represents one of the most serious forms of violation of an individual’s human rights. Although statistics for sexual violence against women are significantly higher than for men, it should not be forgotten that rape not only affects the female population, but is also a concern for many men and boys who have been exposed to it, particularly in warfare conflicts.
The issue of sexual assault of men and boys on the current global agenda is not raised nearly enough, and remains largely under-reported. The cultural barriers to recognising and addressing male sexual abuse are currently under-researched, and remain primarily a taboo topic. In addition, the lack of widespread institutional recognition of male rape, combined with feminist movements, defining sexual violence as exclusively a women’s issue, has resulted in the failure to include this section of the population in policy and research agendas of governments, donor agencies and academic institutions. This framework has created a lack of attention to male victims in sexual abuse scenarios. Most of the international and national institutions barely acknowledge sexual violence against men that occurs in armed conflicts. Because the topic of male rape in our often male- dominated culture remains largely unaddressed, there is little understanding about the issue and hence it is considered for many to be an unmentionable subject. As a result, cases of reporting such abuse remain rarer than those for women, mainly because of shame and fear of stigmatisation.
Research focusing on male sexual violence also reveals that there is a lack of adequate services in place to respond to the victim’s needs. A study carried out in 2002 notes that out of 4076 non-governmental organizations that worked in the area of war rape and other forms of political and sexual violence, only 3% mentioned sexual violence against men and boys ‘in their programs and informational literature’. Similarly, there are reports that many international initiatives, while addressing the issue of war rape, lack clear understanding and consensus around the topic in general, and as such remain poorly designed for addressing war rape abuses against men and boys in particular. In the United Nations (UN) Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict (September, 2013), there is only one line mentioning that men and boys are also subject to sexual violence. In many of the UN’s key documents, sexual violence is considered solely as a gender issue involving only women and girls. This reflects the lack of mobilisation and understanding by the UN agencies, governments and NGOs on the topic of sexual violence perpetuated against men and boys in conflict zones.
There is a need to address causes of sexual violence and to create greater emergency responses. For our society to end sexual violence around the world, organisations such as the UN should first recognise that men can be as vulnerable as women. It should not be forgotten that although there is a higher prevalence of sexual violence against women in war zones, ultimately both form part of the gender dimension of conflict. The need to put more emphasis on men and boys as victims of sexual violence in the UN Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict can perhaps be the first starting point. It is insufficient simply to state that ‘men and boys are also subject to sexual violence’. There is indeed a need to create awareness not only about women‘s rights, but more generally about human rights. Only then can we start to break down the wall of silence and adopt proper strategies to bring change in this field.