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Uncovering myths of violence that affect conflict transformation

Sexual assault against men and boys

By  4 Aug 2015
Annukka-Kurki
Annukka Kurki

Acquiring an understanding of the dynamics of violent conflict and the opportunities for peacebuilding requires an analysis of gender roles and relations as men, women and gender minorities are both differently impacted by, and involved in, the processes involved.1 Globally men make up majority of perpetrators in conflicts, whereas the burden of violence that women and girls face during conflict or their remarkable contributions as working as agents of peace all around the world cannot be denied.2 Peacebuilding research and practice on gender focuses mainly on women, whereas men’s issues and concerns are relatively less considered and that of sexual and gender minorities is almost nonexistent. Moreover, although slowly changing, debates and interventions in peacebuilding still continue to be dominated by simplistic assumptions on gender roles and relations. The general assumption that men are the aggressors in conflicts, for example, may overshadow the consideration that they could also be victims of violence. Such simple dichotomies to, and narrow approaches on, gender roles and relations do not correspond to the much more complex reality on the ground, and may become harmful to conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts.3

This is manifested in that peacebuilding efforts do not comprehensively take into consideration and address the full scope and dynamics of wartime sexual violence, thereby hindering the achievement of justice to many victims and the progress towards a peaceful society.4 This particular post looks at sexual violence against males; one of the most well-kept secrets of war, and the connotations it creates for peacebuilding.

Sexual violence in conflict is used as an instrument to terrorize and dehumanize the victim.5 Most of the victims are female, but there are also great number of men, both during conflict and post-conflict situations, that are targeted.6 In 2013, Director Dr. Chris Dolan of Refugee Law Project stated that sexual violence against men in armed conflict has occurred in over 25 countries in Africa in the last two decades.7 Since then, additional reports have emerged from major conflict zones, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Central African Republic (CAR). A 2014 survey by American scientists in Eastern DRC, for example, revealed that 40 per cent of women and 23 per cent of men reported having suffered sexual assault, mostly rape. The study was also one of the first to ask about the gender of the attacker; in 41 per cent of the same female survivors and 10 per cent of same male survivors reported that their attacker was a woman.8 In Liberia, a study showed that during the Liberian civil war, seven percent of male civilians and 32.6 percent of male combatants had experienced sexual violence.9 However, these statistics are unique in that as with efforts to document sexual violence against women and girls, evidence on rape of men and boys is hard to come across. According to limited research (yet with many common observations) on the subject, this can arise from internalised feelings of shame, guilt, confusion, and the fear of stigmatisation that prevents male survivors from coming forward and reporting the violations inflicted upon them.10 Research has also shown that reluctance to report is also directly related to the social expectations attached to norms of masculinity; men are not expected to disclose their vulnerabilities or show emotion. Social norms on men have also been found to magnify the impacts of male rape in other ways. Also, different forms of sexual violence, such as rape, castration and other forms of mutilation, are used to ‘feminise’ males by devaluing their personal feeling of identity and emasculating them in the eyes of their communities. Health and psychosocial damages arising from experiencing sexual violence may inhibit men from acting as economic providers for their families; a role attached to masculinity.11

Legal frameworks and social services that do not recognise men as victims also prevent the majority of the male victims from receiving help. Almost all instruments that address sexual violence in International Human Rights law address wartime sexual violence as only affecting women. 2013 marked the first time that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) acknowledged men and boys as victims of sexual violence in a UNSCR (i.e. 2106). However, UN officials have stated that many countries still refuse to recognise the prospect that males can also be targets of sexual violence.12 Similar attitudes are found in the international development and peacebuilding community. A recent study conducted by Lara Temple at University of California, United States of America, found that only three percent of the 4 706 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) addressing wartime sexual violence included men’s experiences in their literature. In practice this means that lot of the services provided by NGOs working survivors of sexual violence are only open to women, while men are excluded.13 A report by the Refugee Law Project; one of the few NGOs working to prevent and address male rape, stated also that “male survivors also report that doctors, counsellors and even aid workers frequently endorse homophobic ideas that male victims are gay. Their reluctance to question this and other related rape myths further reduces the kind of support they are willing to give and increases the likelihood that they contribute to the survivor’s stigmatisation and isolation.”14 In 38 of the 53 African countries homosexuality is a crime, thereby making male survivors of sexual violence at risk of being arrested for being assumed gay.15

The myths and secrets around sexual violence against males undermine the victims’ possibilities to heal and gain access to justice, and hinder the process of reconciliation and the rebuilding of the social fabric in a post-conflict society.16 There is increase in the awareness and efforts to end conflict-related sexual violence (including that which is targeted against men and boys) and this is a positive step forward, but it is still falling short in tackling the issue.17 Reducing the stigma around male rape, and giving recognition to its occurrence is a step forward in addressing the needs of the victims. Awareness raising, and service-providing programmes that would target and be provided for all gender groups can diminish the stigma surrounding sexual violence against males and make it easier for male victims to talk about and report their experiences. Collecting data on the sheer scale and the dynamics involved in sexual violence against men and boys is also absolutely crucial in helping peacebuilding practitioners to understand and address the issue.18 The data should be analyzed in a gender relational manner, that “means understanding gender roles and identities as being constructed through the power relations between men, women and sexual and gender minorities – as well as through the power relations within these groups.”19 It signifies understanding gender roles, identities, and expectations as being closely tied and defined by other identity markers, such as age, marital status, sexual orientation and disability.20 International and domestic legal frameworks and official documents must recognise and address sexual violence against all gender groups in a dignified manner. Finally, transitional justice mechanisms, such as psychosocial programmes, truth commissions and trials can aid in ending the impunity of male rape, while helping the victims to heal and to integrate back into the society.21

References

  1. Myrttinen, H., Jaunoks, J. And El-Bushra, Judy (2014) Re-thinking gender in peacebuilding. International Alert. [Internet] Available from: http://international-alert.org/sites/default/files/Gender_RethinkingGenderPeacebuilding_EN_2014.pdf [Accessed: 30 July 2015].
  2. Wright H. And Welsh, P. (2014) Masculinities, conflict and peacebuilding. Saferworld. [Internet] Available from: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:ZCt5Dv0k4CMJ:www.saferworld.org.uk/downloads/pubdocs/masculinities-conflict-and-peacebuilding.pdf+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=fi [Accessed: 30 July 2015].
  3. Myrttinen, H., Jaunoks, J. And El-Bushra, Judy (2014) Re-thinking gender in peacebuilding. International Alert. [Internet] Available from: http://international-alert.org/sites/default/files/Gender_RethinkingGenderPeacebuilding_EN_2014.pdf [Accessed: 30 July 2015].
  4. Manivannan, A. (2014) Seeking justice for male victims of sexual violence. [Internet] Available from: http://nyujilp.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/46.2-Manivannan.pdf [Accessed: 30 July 2015].
  5. Lanyero, L. (2014) Male rape in armed conflict: Male rape victims in the Lord’s resistance army and the conflict in Eastern Congo. [Internet] Available from: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kk_DW_4yPkQJ:thesis.eur.nl/pub/17397/Linda-Lanyero-Omona.pdf+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=fi [Accessed: 30 July 2015].
  6. MenEngage Alliance and United Nations Population Fund (2012) Sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict: engaging men and boys. [Internet] Available from: http://www.michaelkaufman.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/Sexual-Violence-in-Conflict-Engaging-Men-Boys-MenEngage-UNFPA-Advocacy-Brief-prepared-by-Michael-Kaufman-2012.pdf [Accessed: 30 July 2015].
  7. Lanyero, L. (2014) Male rape in armed conflict: Male rape victims in the Lord’s resistance army and the conflict in Eastern Congo. [Internet] Available from: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kk_DW_4yPkQJ:thesis.eur.nl/pub/17397/Linda-Lanyero-Omona.pdf+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=fi [Accessed: 30 July 2015].
  8. IRIN News. (2010) Analysis: rethinking sexual violence in DRC. [Internet] Available from : http://www.irinnews.org/report/90081/analysis-rethinking-sexual-violence-in-drc [Accessed: 30 July 2015].
  9. Lanyero, L. (2014) Male rape in armed conflict: Male rape victims in the Lord’s resistance army and the conflict in Eastern Congo. [Internet] Available from: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kk_DW_4yPkQJ:thesis.eur.nl/pub/17397/Linda-Lanyero-Omona.pdf+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=fi [Accessed: 30 July 2015].
  10. Sivakumaran, Sandesh (2007) Sexual violence against men in armed conflict. The European Journal of International Law, 18 (2), pp. 253-276.
  11. Wright H. And Welsh, P. (2014) Masculinities, conflict and peacebuilding. Saferworld. [Internet] Available from: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:ZCt5Dv0k4CMJ:www.saferworld.org.uk/downloads/pubdocs/masculinities-conflict-and-peacebuilding.pdf+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=fi [Accessed: 30 July 2015].
  12. Nguyen. K. (2014) Powerful myths silence male victims of rape in war. [Internet] Available from: http://www.trust.org/item/20140515154437-het27/ [Accessed: 30 July 2015].
  13. Storr. W. The Guardian. (2015) The Rape of men: the darkest secret of war. The Guardian. [Internet] Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/jul/17/the-rape-of-men [Accessed: 30 July 2015].
  14. Dolan, C. (2014) Into the mainstream: addressing sexual violence against men and boys in conflict. A briefing paper prepared for the workshop held at the Overseas Development Institute. Plan, Refugee law project, War Child, viewed 30 July 2015, http://www.warchild.org.uk/sites/default/files/Into-the-Mainstream.pdf.
  15. Storr. W. The Guardian. (2015) The Rape of men: the darkest secret of war. The Guardian. [Internet] Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/jul/17/the-rape-of-men [Accessed: 30 July 2015].
  16. International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) (2013) Sexual conflict in armed conflict. [Internet] Available from: https://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/faq/sexual-violence-questions-and-answers.htm [Accessed: 3 August 2015].
  17. Sexual violence research initiative (2011) Briefing paper: care and support of male survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. [Internet] Available from: http://www.svri.org/CareSupportofMaleSurviv.pdf [Accessed: 30 July 2015].
  18. Manivannan, A. (2014) Seeking justice for male victims of sexual violence. [Internet] Available from: http://nyujilp.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/46.2-Manivannan.pdf [Accessed: 30 July 2015].
  19. Myrttinen, H., Jaunoks, J. And El-Bushra, Judy (2014) Re-thinking gender in peacebuilding. International Alert. [Internet] Available from: http://international-alert.org/sites/default/files/Gender_RethinkingGenderPeacebuilding_EN_2014.pdf [Accessed: 30 July 2015].
  20. Ibid.
  21. Manivannan, A. (2014) Seeking justice for male victims of sexual violence. [Internet] Available from: http://nyujilp.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/46.2-Manivannan.pdf [Accessed: 30 July 2015]. 999
TAGS:
  • Liberia
  • Gender-based violence
  • DRC
  • Central African Republic
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