The hidden story: male victims of sexual violence in conflict

By Kirthi Jayakumar

12 June 2013: Women are often seen as the sole sufferers of sexual violence in conflict. However, as Kirthi Jayakumar explains, men are as much victims of sexual violence as women are.

While my earlier two posts might have projected the notion that women are the sole sufferers of sexual violence in conflict, the intention was not to do so. In segregating a separate post exclusively to the male victims of sexual violence in conflict, my endeavour was to ensure that equal attention was focused on the lesser heard voices.

Men are as much victims of sexual violence as women are. The war-ravaged warlord-based impunity in Afghanistan allowed the age-old practice of bacha-baazi to thrive in abundance. The Bosnian war saw the vilest forms of castration take place. The protracted armed conflict in the DR Congo created a thriving hotbed of sexual violence against men at the hands of the rebels. As the war in Syria continues, men are subjected to sexual violence in detention centres – including even the ghastly form of electric shocks to their genitals. At the outset, it is important to understand that sexual violence against men in a conflict setting is not something confined to being perpetrated by homosexual men exclusively, but by heterosexual men as well.

As it happens with women who suffer sexual violence in conflict, sexual violence towards men is not about lust. It is directed towards men with the same intention as it is directed towards women with: that of dominance. The stakes are “higher” to the perpetrator if a man is subjected to sexual violence, for not only have they imposed dominance, but they have also emasculated their enemy, or “feminised” the enemy.

Sexual violence against women is a part of the policy of dominance, but this dominance is multiplied further if sexual violence is directed against men. It becomes a case of asserting dominance aggressively, as war is all about breaking society.

By subjecting a man to sexual violence, an act of defilement is committed on their person with the intention of humiliating them. The purpose of using sexual violence against men is to break the men who are supposed to be guardians of society, the breadwinners of families in a social setting, and to erode the sanctity attached to their masculinity. In this backdrop, it is definitely true therefore, that these are planned and anticipated results.

The consequences are testimony to their reasoning. To men who suffer sexual violence or rape, coming out with their story is not just painful, but also terribly difficult considering the taboo that surrounds the issue. To men who suffer sexual violence or rape, the situation they faced is a representation of how “incapable” they have been rendered, of how they failed in being the “men they should be”. From being stigmatised to being perceived as homosexuals by their xenophobic community, (the author wishes to assert that she uses the aforementioned term only to convey that in certain communities, homosexuals are stigmatised for their sexual orientation), men who survive sexual violence also face the risk of being turned out of their homes and families. Sometimes, these men run the risk of being called women.

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Insight on Conflict is the leading online resource for local peacebuilding and human rights in conflict areas. This article was originally published on Insight on Conflict. Published by Peace Direct, Insight on Conflict is the leading online resource for local peacebuilding and human rights in conflict areas.

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Comments

merci castillo on June 21, 2013, 11:02 p.m.

this info to actually come up implies or reflects men's willingness to expose themselves to the stigma of "being less than" "not men enough" to accept being a victim. how are they being helped so there's no passing it on?

Kirthi on June 22, 2013, 5:36 a.m.

Hi Merci, Thank you for reading this article and for sharing your thoughts. I would like to think and hope that society should increasingly work towards perceiving survivors of sexual violence as survivors and not as victims. The whole problem arises from perceiving people as victims: that creates an "us" and a "them", and that sets us apart wider - so because of that, we wind up forgetting the importance of bridging the gap to prevent the crime from occurring over and over again.

CD Tauber, M.D. on July 2, 2013, 4:09 a.m.

I've been seeing such treatment at least since 1988 in people coming as asylum seekers and refugees, and certainly in the war situations in Croatia and Bosnia. There is no doubt that this is a general weapon. Witness "even" such situations as Bagram. One of the tragedies here is that such men are not getting treatment. Our group, the Coalition for Work with Psychotrauma and Peace (www.cwwpp.org), and several others do work with such people and train others to be "lay therapists" with them. Unfortunately, there is no money out there for this, and so groups like ours struggle to survive.

Kirthi on July 2, 2013, 4:39 a.m.

Many thanks for sharing your thoughts, Bagram. Your group sounds fantastic, I hope your endeavour succeeds in coveting the money it needs to grow from strength to strength!

Agunbiade Doyin on July 11, 2013, 3:33 p.m.

this article has gone a long way in showing to the whole world that not only women are at risk of sexual violence, but are also subject to this despicable acts. what we should be deliberating on now is how to bring this social menace to an end.