In no other area is our collective failure to ensure effective protection for civilians more apparent… than in terms of the masses of women and girls, but also boys and men, whose lives are destroyed each year by sexual violence perpetrated in conflict
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 2007
Dear friends and colleagues,
Sexual violence is one of the most horrific weapons of war used against women. And men are also becoming subjects of this horrendous human rights violation which, at times, reaches endemic proportions in wartime and conflicts.
HHRI acknowledges that women are more frequent targets of this horrific crime and, at the same time, through this edition, we wish to present the evidence that sexual violence against men is becoming a more frequent occurrence in the context of war and conflict. Therefore, it must be addressed as a serious human rights violation, and one with devastating mental health consequences.
Perhaps male rape is one of the most hidden atrocities of war. This may be so because it is denied or kept secret, given that both the perpetrator and the victim enter into a form of “conspiracy of silence”. However, when the stories are unveiled, those who have been victims to these crimes risk losing the support of those around them. Male survivors of sexual violence are often disdained and marginalized by their own communities. In patriarchal societies, a man who has been exposed to this type of violence may be seen as a “women”, and given stereotypical gender-role definitions, no man is allowed to be vulnerable.
Further, there has been a failure, including human rights advocates and states, in acknowledging the problem described. As Lara Stemple –one of the few academics to have looked into the issue– states: “There are well over one hundred uses of the term ‘violence against women’ – defined to include sexual violence – in U.N. resolutions, treaties, general comments, and other documents.” While this statement remains relevant, it must be acknowledged that until recently (2012) the UN, started to address this issue. For instance, the UN Agency for Refugees, UNHCR, developed some guidelines to address the needs of men and boy survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (see list of related literature below).
Stemple´s study Male Rape and Human Rights presents cases of male rape used as weapon of war or political aggression in a number of countries, such as Chile, Greece, Croatia, Iran, Kuwait, the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia .
The belief that rape cannot happen to men is of course a false one. The increasing number of reported incidences underlines that male rape is a huge problem. The overview over literature on this issue listed above, underscores this serious situation.
The men affected suffer not only deep physical and emotional traumas, but many may become socially ostracized, isolated and often at risk of danger, and rejected by family and friends. Also, there is the chance that their spouses may abandon them because they do not see them as “real men” any more.
We know today that helping services supporting female survivors often do not address male survivors, maybe because they are not sensitized, trained or equipped to deal with their needs, in particular when they chose to give up their “secret” and talk about the violence. Given the seriousness of this situation, it is of priority to break the silence and create the opportunity for raped men to speak up and be protected and supported.
Those of us working with the psychological consequences of human rights abuses should strengthen our commitment and readiness to help male survivors. In this way, we will strengthen our understanding and ability to fight against human rights abuses perpetrated on all victims, men, women and children alike.
On this regard, HHRI will be proactively addressing this important matter by including GBV perpetrated on male as a subject on its database, and will aim to include a module in its manual: Mental health and gender-based violence, Helping Survivors of sexual violence in conflict (GBV Manual), in order to give basic, but crucial, psychosocial support to male survivors of sexual violence in the context of war and conflict.
The Civil Society Development Foundation (CSDF) and HHRI conducted a training on the use of the Mental health and gender-based violence, Helping Survivors of sexual violence in conflict (GBV Manual) in Bucharest, Romania 11-13 April 2017. The 24 participants to the training, included representatives of Romanian NGOs working in the field of welfare and basic services for vulnerable people. The training aimed to promote a human rights approach in social services, with a focus on victims or persons at risk of violence and abuse (women, children etc.) and to develop capacity of Romanian NGOs for more efficient and specific interventions to answer the needs of vulnerable groups. Participants to the training appreciated both theoretical and practical tools and referred that gained knowledge and tools will be useful for their day-to-day work. Some of them, will reproduce the training to scale up the number of beneficiaries.
The Arabic version and the second edition of the manual can be downloaded from our GBV manual web page. If you would like a hard copy, please send us an e-mail explaining what kind of work you are doing and why would you need the manual. Our sponsors have graciously covered the costs of printing as well as shipping of the manual. In return, we would highly appreciate if you could provide us with feedback on how you used the manual; in training; as part of supervision; or in any other way that facilitated your work/helped the beneficiaries. A few weeks after you have received the manual, we will send you a link to a google questionnaire covering these issues. We hope that you will be able to spend some minutes to give us some feedback on your experience of using the manual and how it was applied in practice.
Also, please note that complementary to the GBV Manual, we have developed a tool box which you also can accessed for free in English, Spanish and Romanian if you wisit our GBV manual web page.