When most people think of sexual violence during armed conflict, they picture the rape of women and girls. While sexual violence against women is an enormous human rights issue, sexual violence against men frequently occurs but is not often talked about.
Men all around the world suffer from sexual violence during war and conflict. Victims can be military or rebel groups, and perpetrators can be men or women. While men are sometimes raped, they are also subject to an array of other horrific indecencies.
Castration, beating and mutilation of the genitals, undressing men and making them remain naked while in prison and even forcing men to rape their own family members have been documented.
The United Nation Commission of Inquiry reports that the extreme sexual violence against both men and women has occurred in detention centers during the current Syrian conflict. There have also been reports of sexual violence against men in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. An academic study found that that 23.6 percent of men in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo had experienced sexual violence.
Another study by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 32.6 percent of the males surveyed had been victims of sexual violence during the conflict in Liberia. While many people were aware of the rape of Bosnian women during the 1992 conflict in the former Yugoslavia, a report from the Peace Academy accounts that rape and sexual torture also happened to men during this war.
The extent of sexual violence in armed conflict varies significantly between regions and between armed groups. Some armed groups permit sexual violence in war and others do not. However, wartime sexual violence occurs across all geographic regions and ethnic groups. State forces are more likely to be named as perpetrators of sexual violence than rebel groups.
In addition, perpetrators of sexual violence are not always armed forces at all; often sexual violence is committed by civilians. Wartime rape and sexual violence is not often ordered or planned but rather tolerated by commanding officers.
Feminist and women’s rights groups have pushed for awareness, education and intervention around wartime sexual violence against women. Because of this there has been significant research and policy work into preventing sexual violence against women. There are also many organizations that exist to support and treat women who have been victims to sexual violence during armed conflict.
There has been little research on male victims of sexual violence in conflict, although it is increasing.
Few human rights groups openly speak about wartime sexual violence against men, this may be because of gender stereotypes and taboos such as the belief that “real men are unreadable.” It is important that researchers, practitioners and the public alike begin to realize that sexual violence is not gender-bias and that men and women can be both victims and perpetrators.
Is it urgent that organizations that support and aid female victims of sexual violence need to equally expand their services to include men.
– Elizabeth Brown
Sources: CNN, Peace Academy, United States Institute of Peace