The hidden story – male victims of sexual violence in conflict

Women are often seen as the sole sufferers of sexual violence in conflict. However, men are as much victims of sexual violence as women are.

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By Kirthi Jayakumar

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. 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.

Kirthi Jayakumar is a Lawyer, specialized in public international law and human rights. A graduate of the School of Excellence in Law, Chennai, Kirthi has diversified into research and writing on public international law and human rights. She has worked as a UN Volunteer, specializing in human rights research in Africa, India and Central Asia and the Middle East. She also runs a journal and consultancy that focuses on international law, called A38.

This article was originally published by Insight on Conflict and is available by clicking here.

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