This article examines the extent and types of sexual violence committed against men in armed conflict. It notes that sexual violence against men involves dynamics of power, dominance and emasculation. Recognition of sexual violence against men has not translated into detailed consideration of the issue. In the longer term, things will only improve if definitions of rape are changed and all forms of sexual assault are more fully prosecuted.
While evidence indicates that sexual violence takes place against men in armed conflict, its precise extent remains unknown. In conflicts in which sexual violence has been properly investigated, sexual violence against men has been recognised as pervasive and widespread, although not as extensive as that against women.
Sexual violence – whether against men or women – is about asserting power and dominance. During conflict, traditional power dynamics break down and rape and other forms of sexual violence become about maintaining and restoring certain power balances.
The construction of masculinity is that of the ability to exert power over others, particularly by means of the use of force. Sexual violence against male members of the household and community therefore suggests not only empowerment of the offender but also disempowerment of the victim. This disempowerment or ’emasculation’ is at both the private and community level.
In armed conflict, power and dominance manifest themselves in various forms of emasculation including:
- Feminisation: Regardless of actual gender of the perpetrator or victim, the characteristic of masculinity is attributed to the perpetrator and femininity to the victim. The intention of the rape may be to ‘lower’ the social status of the male survivor by reducing him to a ‘feminised male’.
- Homosexualisation: When reference is made to masculinity, the dominant construct is that of heterosexual masculinity. The homosexual male is considered less masculine and more effeminate than the heterosexual male.
- Prevention of procreation: Castration and violence against male organs in conflict is about removing the procreative ability, and therefore the virility or manliness of the victim.
- Group emasculation: Sexual violence is also often targeted against individuals belonging to particular ethnic, racial or religious groups in order to symbolically dominate the entire group.
There is a growing recognition of male sexual violence in conflict, although still not enough. More also needs to be done to change gender stereotypes and improve reporting. Concerning the latter, measures include the following:
- Commissions that are engaged to investigate sexual abuse in armed conflict should consider the question of whether male sexual violence has taken place.
- Medical workers treating male survivors should be alert to signs of sexual abuse and encourage reporting.
- Training should be given to all workers who may be the first point of contact for male survivors of sexual violence.
- It is important to make counselling services available to both male and female survivors of sexual assault. Survivors should be able to choose the sex of their medical worker, counsellor or interpreter.