Newsletter. Male rape, a hidden atrocity in wartime

Newsletter No. 2 2017 Male rape, a hidden atrocity in wartime and conflict

24.05 2017

Dear friends and colleagues,

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

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.

Further reading on male GBV as a weapon of war

Male victims of sexual violence: war’s silent sufferers 
Allan Ngari, Institute for Security Studies (ISS). 2016
Sexual violence is a tactic of war, used to humiliate, dominate and instil fear. It is also increasingly being used as a tactic of terrorism. While the focus has largely been on women and girls as victims of sexual violence, boys and men are equally at risk. Sexual violence against men and boys takes on a range of heinous acts, including anal and oral rape, genital torture, castration and coercion to rape others. Many of these acts are seen as emasculating, and while many male victims are willing to give accounts of what they witnessed, they are less likely to express what they themselves had experienced in conflict.

Identifying and Responding to Urban Refugees’ Risks of Gender-Based Violence Men and Boys, Including Male Survivors 
Women´s Refugee Commission (WRC). 2016
Throughout 2015, WRC conducted research in urban settings, the first phase of a multi-year project to improve the humanitarian community’s understanding of and response to GBV risks in urban contexts. Quito, Ecuador; Beirut, Lebanon; Kampala, Uganda; and Delhi, India, were chosen because they are host to diverse refugee populations, have different policy environments for refugees, and are at different stages of humanitarian response. The project looked separately at the GBV risks of different urban refugee subpopulations: women; children and adolescents; LGBTI individuals; persons with disabilities; and male survivors of sexual violence.

Trauma and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse 
Christopher Anderson, American Psychological Association. 2015
Common Types of and Prevalence Estimates for Exposure to Traumatic Stressors. Within the U.S. as many as 1 in 4 males will experience some form of sexual abuse during their lifetime. The number of males who are sexually abused during military service is greater than the number of female service members. As many as 50% of the children who are sex trafficked in the US are males.

Male Rape Victims in the Lord’s Resistance Army war and the Conflict in Eastern Congo 
Linda Lanyero Omona, International Institute for Social Studies. December, 2014
Sexual violence against men in Uganda is an underreported crime. Sexual violence against men is considered a taboo in most cultures. It is an issue not talked about because many consider the rape of men nearly impossible. It is clear that men have also been victims of rape in armed conflicts all over the world. The laws that define rape should be revised to include men and boys as victims of rape.

Working with men and boy survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in forced displacement 
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 2012
Refugee men and boys can be subjected to sexual and gender based violence (SGBV). Survivors have specific health, psychosocial, legal, and safety needs, but often find it hard to discuss their experience and access the support they need. The objectives of this note are to emphasise that programmes on SGBV need to include men and boys and to provide guidance on how to access survivors, facilitate reporting, provide protection and deliver essential medical, legal and social services.

International Human Rights Law and Sexual Violence Against Men in Conflict Zones 
Tom Hennessey and Felicity Gerry, Halsbury´s Law Exchange.
Sexual violence occurs in times of peace and of war. It takes place within committed relationships and between strangers, between people of any gender and sexuality, and for reasons that can be complex. However, despite common misconceptions, it is widely accepted amongst academics and charities that rape and other forms of sexual offences are usually about dominance and control rather than sexual gratification; a form of physical violence that has the power to fundamentally undermine the victim’s confidence and self-identity. Because of this, sexual violence is a common feature of war zones. As armies or militias struggle to assert their dominance, civilians within contested areas often find themselves subjected to widespread sexual abuse. The result is fear, humiliation and trauma.

In some refugee groups, more than one in three men are said to have suffered sexual violence 
Katie, Nguyen, Thomson Reuters Foundation. May, 2014
Sexual violence against men is one of the least told aspects of war. Yet men and boys are victims too of abuse that is frequently more effective at destroying lives and tearing communities apart than guns alone. It can take the form of anal and oral rape, genital torture, castration, gang rape, sexual slavery and the forced rape of others. It is so taboo that few survivors have the courage to tell their story. Besides feeling ashamed and afraid of being ostracised, many victims dare not challenge powerful myths about male rape in their cultures, experts say. A common belief is that a man who is raped becomes a woman.

Hope in the Shadows: Male Victims of Sexual Assault in the Democratic Republic of the Congo 
Miya Cain, Harvard Kennedy School. 2014
As a result of ongoing conflict, poverty and instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congolese men and women have been subjected to various forms of sexual violence by warring rebel militia, government forces, and noncombatants. Most humanitarian aid, money, and international attention supports female victims of sexual violence, but male victims are largely left in the shadows. Simplified narratives of gender violence often define men as “villains” and women as “victims.” This narrative aligns with traditional conceptions of gender roles; however, the oversimplification often leaves male victims overlooked by policy responses designed to address sexual violence.

UNHCR issues guidelines on protection of male rape victims 
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). October, 2012
Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) against men and boys has generally been mentioned as a footnote in reports. There are no detailed statistics on the number of male victims of SGBV but, the phenomenon is increasingly being recognized as a protection concern in conflict and forced displacement situations. Despite the prevailing taboo, there had been progress over the last decade in reporting of incidents.

Access to Justice for Male Victims of Sexual Violence; Focus on Refugees in Uganda 
Meg McMahon, Legal Aid Board.
Sexual violence against men has garnered increasing publicity in recent years[2] but still remains extremely under-researched and under-reported. This paper will examine the challenges facing male victims of sexual violence. The paper will look at the broad international framework, including definitions of sexual violence and international jurisprudence in the area as well as generally looking at how the term sexual or gender based violence has come to be associated with violence against women.

The rape of men: the darkest secret of war 
Will Storr, The Guardian. July 2011
Sexual violence is one of the most horrific weapons of war, an instrument of terror used against women. Yet huge numbers of men are also victims. In this harrowing report, Will Storr travels to Uganda to meet traumatised survivors, and reveals how male rape is endemic in many of the world’s conflicts. Of all the secrets of war, there is one that is so well kept that it exists mostly as a rumour. It is usually denied by the perpetrator and his victim. Governments, aid agencies and human rights defenders at the UN barely acknowledge its possibility.

Male Rape and Human Rights 
Lara Stemple, Program for the Study of Sexuality, Gender, Health and Human Rights, Columbia University. 2009
For the last few decades, the prevailing approach to sexual violence in international human rights instruments has focused virtually exclusively on the abuse of women and girls. In the meantime, men have been abused and sexually humiliated during situations of armed conflict. Childhood sexual abuse of boys is alarmingly common.

All manuals can be downloaded from the MHHRI website

There are three different manuals, which respectively address working with women, with boys and men, and with children who have experienced sexual violence.

The manuals are translated into several languages. The page numbers in each manual remain the same across languages. This allows survivors and helpers to work from copies in their preferred language and read the same content on the same pages. It also makes it easier to teach participants when participants and trainers work in more than one language. The manuals include a toolbox. Survivors can use it individually to regulate their own emotions through grounding exercises or in collaboration with a helper. Helpers can also use grounding exercises to take care of themselves as helpers.

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Sincerely yours,
Take care – and we are wishing you all the best.

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Mental Health and Human Rights Info