The Ignored Victims of Wartime Rape

Originally posted on March 4, 2011

Sexual violence has long been a tool of warfare. However, contrary to feminist theories, rape has never been the exclusive domain of female victims. Sexual violence has often been used against males as a means of torture, humiliation, and terrorism. It is not uncommon to hear reports of male prisoners or combatants captured by the enemy being sexually tortured. What differs is that male victims are far less likely to report being raped or consider the acts done to them rape. Males are also less likely to come forward in part because of culture stereotypes and stigmas they face, particularly the loss of their status as men in their given cultures.

Yet another reason was mentioned in a recent New York Times article written by Lara Stemple:

As disturbing new reports of male rape in Congo made clear, wartime sexual violence isn’t limited to women and girls. But in its ongoing effort to eradicate rape during conflict, the United Nations continues to overlook a significant imperative: ending wartime sexual assault of men and boys as well.

Sexual violence against men does occasionally make the news: the photographs of the sexual abuse and humiliation of Iraqi men at the Abu Ghraib prison, for example, stunned the world.

Yet there are thousands of similar cases, less well publicized but well documented by researchers, in places as varied as Chile, Greece and Iran. The United Nations reported that out of 5,000 male concentration camp detainees held near Sarajevo during the Bosnian conflict, 80 percent acknowledged having been abused sexually. In El Salvador, 76 percent of male political prisoners told researchers they had experienced sexual torture.

Rape has long been a way to humiliate, traumatize and silence the enemy. For many of the same reasons that combatants assault women and girls, they also rape men and boys.

Nevertheless, international legal documents routinely reflect the assumption that sexual violence happens only to women and girls. There are dozens of references to “violence against women” — defined to include sexual violence — in United Nations human rights resolutions, treaties and agreements, but most don’t mention sexual violence against men.

In short, the international human rights groups do not seem that concerned about male victims of rape. The groups ignore male victims even when their own reports suggest that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of male rape victims in a given area. It is astonishing, not only because these are human rights groups supposedly considered with protecting all people from this kind of harm, but also because as a result of ignoring male rape victims the act of rape gets framed as something that can only happen to females.

It is one of the reasons why there has been little coverage of the mass abuse of boys in Afghanistan. Every now and again it gets mentioned, yet there does not appear to be any human rights groups or organizations trying to bring this issue to light. This stands in contrast to the numerous campaigns over the last few years concerned with stopping violence against women in Dafur and the Congo. The message is unfortunately crystal clear: rape boys and men, no one cares. Rape girls and women, get international support.

Stemple goes on to write:

Ignoring male rape has a number of consequences. For one, it not only neglects men and boys, it also harms women and girls by reinforcing a viewpoint that equates “female” with “victim,” thus hampering our ability to see women as strong and empowered.

On this point I disagree. Ignoring sexual violence against males does no harm to females. Women and girls receive support regardless of whether their brothers, fathers or sons do. However, ignoring male victims does reinforce the notion that only or mostly females are victims of rape, a notion that is likely not true.

Stemple continues:

In the same way, silence about male victims reinforces unhealthy expectations about men and their supposed invulnerability. Such hyper-masculine ideals encourage aggressive behavior in men that is dangerous for the women and girls with whom they share their lives.

Sex-specific stereotypes also distort the international community’s response. Women who have suffered rape in conflict have likely endured non-sexual trauma as well. But when they are treated as “rape victims,” their other injuries get minimized.

That does not appear to be the case. Human rights groups frequently mention other types of violence women endure. Yet many of these organizations fail to mention any of the specific violence males endure. The few instances in which they do tend to focus on violence against gay men, but ignore general violence against males.

This ignoring of male victims may stem in part from stereotypes, however, male victims are rather easy to find if one bothers to look for them. It seems more likely that the lack of acknowledgment stems from the organizations simply not trying to address the issue. Again, this would be somewhat understandable if there were no reports about violence against males. However, since there are, it appears that these organizations may intentionally ignore human rights violations against males.

The reasons for this may range from political biases driven by ideologies like feminism to plain old ambivalence. What is clear is that very little, if anything, is actually being done to address the problem of sexual violence against males. One of the main reasons male victims do not come forward is because they are too ashamed to. One of the best ways to tear down the wall of shame is by providing male victims with services and reaching out to them. In the few cases where that has occurred, one finds that there are more male victims than anyone thought.

Given the amount of violence committed against males in war-torn areas like the Congo, it is very likely that far more males than anyone thinks are victims of rape. It may be the case that there are more male victims than female victims. The only way to know is by asking boys and men, not by ignoring them.

14 thoughts on “The Ignored Victims of Wartime Rape

  1. We’ve all gotten so upset about how that white reporter chick got roughed-up in Egypt a few weeks back that none of us have any sympathy left to spare for anybody else.

    Not until the next white chick gets roughed-up.

  2. Ignored perpetrators of wartime sexual violence is another aspect of this. If you look at the post I made about some recent research in the Congo about this you can see that there is some researchers taking a more gender neutral approach.

    One comment made by the researchers was:

    Lawry and Wagner explained that sex and gender based violence in the DRC is not just “violence against women” and programs that focus only on male perpetrators and female victims are addressing only half of the problem.

    But you also have people such as Eve Ensler (who wrote the vagina monologues) in the Congo pushing the other way:

  3. A piece of the transcript from where they presented this to US Africa Command:

    Now, if you don’t hear anything else that I’m about to say or that I’ve said, listen to the next one. And it’s — I’m sorry that it’s the last bullet on the slide, but this is the kicker. When we asked survivors what the sex of their perpetrator was, 40 percent of women said that their perpetrator was female, and 15 percent of men said their perpetrator was female. This was not something that was unknown. Anecdotally, we had heard this. The only difference is that I’ve now put a number to it. We know that it existed. We just didn’t know at what rate and at what prevalence we could find this to be happening. And I think you’ll see that Dr. Wagner will show you that although we hear about it anecdotally, it actually does exist.

  4. I knew I had read that somewhere, but I could not recall the source. I saw that article earlier this year. It is pretty sad how easily female perpetrators get overlooked in favor of playing politics or playing on expectations.

  5. Not until the next white chick gets roughed-up.

    You know aych, I noticed that too.

    It really disturbs me that the msm doesn’t seem to think it’s news until it involves a pretty blond woman being assaulted by dark skinned foreign brutes.

    The more we change, the more we stay the same…

  6. It really disturbs me that the msm doesn’t seem to think it’s news until it involves a pretty blond woman being assaulted by dark skinned foreign brutes.

    That is not entirely true. there was non-stop coverage of Anderson Cooper’s assault. What made the coverage of Lara Logan’s assault different was the immediate attack on Egyptian men and the Egyptian revolution. Another difference is that Cooper and other reporters’ assaults were comedy fodder despite that they could have been seriously injured.

  7. What made the coverage of Lara Logan’s assault different was the immediate attack on Egyptian men and the Egyptian revolution.

    Do other westerners ever get the feeling that the msm is manipulating them?

  8. I think what set people off in the Lara logan case as opposed to Anderson Cooper was the sexual aspect of the assault, which is still the blond white girl thing. Same old same old. But something else whcih really got people going at Feminste for instance was the commentary about what Logan was or was not wearing, her hair color as putting her at special risk, etc. That part was valid, I think.

  9. The reason I think that male rape victims of rape are ignored, or denigrated as comedy subjects, which is heinous, is that people do equate rape victim with female, with weakness, with victim and erroneously with sex, rather than with violence and power over scenarios. And rape of men by men in wartime is profoundly about power over and/or violence, as is all rape. So if in most peoples mind rape = a man as the rapist, and a woman as the victim and reason is sex (and that IS the predominant view, horribly wrong) therefore, if a man is a victim of rape, then there is a subconscious equation with being female, feminized, being weak, with sex with another man rather than with power over; therefore, the man becomes the subject matter of ridicule or totally ignored. Until all rape irregardless of the gender and orientation of the person is understood as violence and power over, every rape victim irregardless of gender or orientation will be betrayed by the damaging myths that surround the act of rape.

  10. Until all rape irregardless of the gender and orientation of the person is understood as violence and power over, every rape victim irregardless of gender or orientation will be betrayed by the damaging myths that surround the act of rape.

    The hindrance is less that people think rape is about sex, but that rape is regarded as something that only happens to women. The sexual element of rape cannot be denied. There are thousands of ways to have power and control over a person. Why would anyone who just wanted to control another person rape them? It is much easier to torture them, imprison them, or psychologically manipulate them. Rape is in part about sex, primarily using another person’s body to fulfill one’s desires. It is ironic that sexual violence gets treated as only about power and control while other forms of torture and cruelty get frequently labeled as having a sexual motive.

  11. Yes Toysoldier is right: Rape can have as many different motives as MURDER. Sometimes Rape is about Sex and sometimes it´s about Power and sometimes it´s about Sex and Power and sometime´s it could be about another whole thing entirely. The cause could be a profound sickness or perception disorder. There have been cases where people were forced at gunpoint to rape other people, we can term that even double rape.

    Concerning Lara Logan: She suffered an absolute horrible assault and it is very cheap hitting her or the media over the head with that she is blonde. It´s just that she is a journalist and thus covered by media from the very beginning. That is not the same with other journalists that are not so in the spotlight. Or with non-journalists altogether.

    The real downturn is that rape has serious consequences on the victims. It´s not important what the cause for rape was it is more important what damage it causes: and the damage is great and needs much resources to be mended. And that is Congo lacking ultimately. Lara Logan and others have luckily the resources to recapture their spirit once again. I wish them well. I hope they will get their lives back.

  12. Pingback: War’s invisible victims | Toy Soldiers

  13. Pingback: G8 announces initiative to tackle sexual violence in conflict | Toy Soldiers

  14. Pingback: Male rape victims in Uganda speak out | Toy Soldiers

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