Conflict Related Sexual Violence Towards Men: Engendering Change

(18 min read)

Conflict Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) is generally depicted as a female-centric issue, with limited acknowledgement of and research into men as victims. As a result, male sexual violence during conflict is a severely under-problematised issue within both the theory and practice of International Relations (IR) and global security.

This article will therefore analyse the efficacy of the current UN security agenda in tackling and addressing CRSV towards men as a legitimate security issue. The research undertaken here will be both empirical and interpretive in nature. An analysis of UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions and reports pertaining to sexual violence in conflict between 2000 and 2017 will be undertaken in order to assess the effectiveness of the UN’s past and present responses to CRSV towards men. In addition, the gendered discourses underpinning the current security agenda will be critically analysed. It will be concluded that, as it stands, the UN is unable to effectively tackle CSRV towards men due to the underlying gendered discourses underpinning its current security agenda, which serves to reinforce the binary of women as victims and men as perpetrators. Male sexual violence in conflict is therefore rendered invisible despite the alleged increase in international attention. For the current security agenda to treat CRSV towards men as a serious threat to individual security, there must be a shift from the current sex-based framing towards a more gender-inclusive approach.

It should be emphasised that this research does not aim to downplay female sexual violence. The motivation for focusing exclusively on male sexual violence is due to the severe under-problematisation of the issue within security policy and discourse, despite its pervasiveness. As Stemple accurately puts it:

“In a world in which, one hopes, compassion is not a finite resource, new concern for one type of victim, in this case, men and boys, need not signify the lessening of concern for women and girls. It is not a zero-sum game”.[1]

When referring to conflict related sexual violence, this includes actions directed at an individual’s “sexual or reproductive health or identity, for example: rape, whether oral or anal, involving objects, the perpetrator or two victims; enforced sterilisation; enforced nudity; enforced masturbation … castration; genital violence and enforced incest of enforced rape of female or male others”[2]  and all “other forms of sexual violence of comparable gravity”.[3]

The Futility of the Current Agenda: Practical and Theoretical Blind Spots

Conflict Related Sexual Violence has received increased attention over the past decade. In 2000, the United Nations (UN) passed Resolution 1325 – the first of its kind to recognise the impacts of armed conflict on women and girls. This landmark resolution emphasised the need for special measures to be undertaken to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly “rape and other forms of sexual abuse”.[4] While a vast amount of international attention has been directed towards the alleviation of CRSV towards females, the same cannot be said for similar atrocities inflicted upon men. For example, one in three women from the Eastern DRC are estimated to be survivors of rape, yet no such statistics exist for men.[5] Similarly, reports of the systemic use of male rape as a weapon of war in Libya have recently surfaced, however little solid data is yet to exist.[6]

Women as Victims, Men as Perpetrators 

Despite its prevalence, the severity of sexual violence towards men is diluted particularly in comparison to female atrocities of a similar nature, due to the traditional gender assumptions attached to masculinity and femininity. This constructed binary reinforces the idea that women are “more nurturing and less bellicose than men, either by their nature or through socialization”.[7] This is then transferred into the conflict setting, wherein women are perceived as victims of war, “regardless of their relative risk of death or injury as compared with men”.[8] As a result, sexual violence during armed conflict is traditionally depicted in black and white terms – sexual violence is perpetrated by men towards female victims. This is not only problematic when trying to account for men as victims, but also when trying to account for women as perpetrators.

Research into female perpetrators of sexual violence is dangerously scarce, especially within those organisations responsible for the alleviation of sexual violence. According to the 2012 Human Security Report, only two major population surveys have acknowledged female perpetrators. These include the 2004 survey by Jana Asher and the 2010 survey undertaken in the Eastern DRC. Asher outlined how in war-affected sierra Leone “women participated in mixed gender groups of perpetrators in some 26 percent of the reported incidents of gang rape”.[9] In addition, female survivors of CRSV in the Eastern DRC reported that 41 percent of their perpetrators were also female, where male survivors reported that 10% of their perpetrators were female.[10] Similarly, female perpetrators of sexual violence are widely documented in Haiti, Liberia, DRC and Rwanda, as well as in Abu Ghraib.[11] It is therefore evident that, despite claims otherwise, the “women as victims, men as perpetrators” narrative is wholly over-simplified within the security discourse; it is this gendered over-simplification that is failing men in many conflict zones around the world.

Analysis of UN Resolutions Pertaining to CRSV

The UN, one of the leading bodies responsible for the alleviation of sexual violence during conflict, is unable to look past this binary. This was made evident through an analysis of UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSC RES) pertaining to CRSV between 2000-2017.

UNSC RES 1820 in 2008 was one of the first resolutions to address CRSV without a specific focus on women. This resolution calls on the Secretary-General to “provide an analysis of the prevalence and trends of sexual violence in situations of armed conflict”.[12] From this one would assume all genders would be included, yet the resolution refers to “sexual violence” and “women” thirty times respectively, whilst men are referred to zero time.[13]

A year later, Resolution 1888 on civilians and armed conflict was passed. This resolution calls on the Secretary-General to facilitate a “more systematic reporting on incidents of trends, emerging patterns of attack, and early warning indicators of the use of sexual violence in armed conflict in all relevant reports”.[14] This seems promising as there is no conflation between sexual violence and gender. However, the resolution proceeds to call upon the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women to assist in the implementation of this initiative.[15] Following this, women are mentioned 27 times within this resolution, whereas men are referred to zero times.

In a similar vein, Resolution 1960 in 2010 requested for information on those involved in sexual violence during armed conflict to be made available to them. Again, this resolution makes no reference to sexual violence towards men. “Men” were referred to nine times in UNSC RES 1960, but only within the word “women”.[16]

Whilst the pre-2010 data substantially disregards male sexual violence, the first reference to men occurred in UNSC RES 2106 in 2013. This may seem promising, however the resolution primarily commits to “the enlistment of men and boys in the effort to combat all forms of violence against women”.[17] This essentially recognises men and boys, not as victims, but as perpetrators of sexual violence by alluding to the need for them to modify their behaviour as it affects women and girls.[18] Similarly, during the 1994 UN International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, it was claimed that “relevant programs to reach boys before they become sexually active are urgently needed” to facilitate the respect of women and girls.[19] The second and final reference to men within Resolution 2106 notes that men, boys and those secondarily traumatized may be affected as “forced witnesses of sexual violence against family members”.[20] The only two references to men and boys within this resolution either recognises them as likely perpetrators in need of education or as being indirectly affected by sexual violence. As of 2013 therefore, men were not included as potential victims of CRSV within the UN’s security agenda.

The latest document pertaining to the issue is the 2017 UNSC Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence. Here, “conflict related sexual violence” is defined as “rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilisation, forced marriage, and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against men, girls, or boys that is directly or indirectly linked to a conflict”.[21] Although the UN finally included men for the first time within their 2017 definition of CRSV, this is all they did. The remaining pages of the report outline policy recommendations for sexual violence committed in various conflict zones, one of which being Libya. Despite recent exposure of the systemic use of male rape as a weapon of war in Libya, the Libyan policy recommendations claim, ‘women and girls are exposed to sexual violence by some parties to the conflict” and “ISIL have been involved in the abduction and sexual abuse of women and children”.[22] Whilst it is vital to direct advocacy tools towards the sexual violence of women and girls, this UN report completely glazes over the vast atrocities of systematic male rape in Libya that have been occurring alongside instances of female sexual violence. This trend reoccurs throughout the policy recommendations for many of the conflict zones outlined within the report. Therefore, although the UN now acknowledge male rape within their definition of CRSV, the issue remains unheeded in practice.

This research therefore confirms the severe under-problematisation of male-specific sexual violence during conflict by the UN. One potential reason for the UN’s omission of men in this instance is arguably due to the gendered classification of male inflicted violence.

Rape or Torture?

CRSV towards men has been dramatically over-simplified due to its conflation with torture, which has further pushed the issue into the dusty corners of the international security agenda. For example, the human rights community have been slow to label violence against males, such as rape or sexual mutilation, as sexual violence specifically. Although the sexual mutilation of men in Bosnian concentration camps was reported, it was not prosecuted as sexual violence as it was deemed to represent “torture” or “degrading treatment”. In addition, witness-protection initiatives identified female survivors of rape as the only group in need of “protection and psycho social attention”.[23] Evidently, instances of male sexual violence are downplayed by the international community by incorrectly conflating these atrocities with torture. This further depicts how sexually motivated violence is predominantly seen as a female issue.

As a result of these systemic gendered assumptions, male survivors feel personally isolated by the very bodies set up to tackle the issue. Men very rarely report these atrocities to the relevant bodies for fear of embarrassment, stigmatization or demasculinisation.[24] These fears have been reinforced by the gendered narratives constructed by the international community. The failure to acknowledge CRSV as a serious threat to the individual security of all genders arguably acts as a catalyst to the under-reporting of male sexual violence; male survivors may feel discouraged to come forward as a result if the issue is constructed as affecting women only.[25]

In order to move beyond this female-centrism, there needs to be a wholesale dismissal of gender-specificity in favour of a more gender-inclusive approach when tackling conflict related sexual violence.

Engendering Change

For CRSV towards men to be seriously tackled, the UN must move beyond their “sex-based framing” towards a more gender-inclusive approach. This will serve to emphasise that masculinity is socially and culturally constructed and not a universal, biological fact. This assumption of a biological “masculinity”, which is ripe in the security discourse, perpetuates the conflation of masculinity with (sexual) violence by forwarding the assumption that “real men” are (sexual) aggressors, placing females as the antithesis. Under these gendered assumptions, male aggression is therefore justified as an “archetypal manifestation of maleness”.[26] A gender rather than sex-based framing would therefore, in addition to recognising CRSV towards men, remove the socially constructed assumption of women as docile and men as belligerent. This is not to discredit the current efforts of many feminist-activists and women’s rights organisations in relation to female sexual violence; the reinforcement of the “women as victims” narrative has arguably been an unintended consequence of this female-centric approach to CRSV.

Coupled with this gender-based framing, there must be change in the way human rights data is collected and interpreted. According to Campbell, there is a sufficient lack of gender specific data on “atrocities in complex emergencies”, with the general assumption being that women are more likely to be sexually assaulted whereas men are more likely to be massacred or detained. It is difficult to gauge the severity or accuracy of these claims without “the collection of data that takes seriously the experiences of both men and women in complex emergencies”. While it is conceivable that CRSV towards females is higher than towards males, without “gender-disaggregated prevalence data”, there is no accurate way of proving these assumptions. Until this is implemented, sexual violence towards men remains largely overlooked.[27]

Lastly, a gender analysis is not necessary for the inclusion of both men and women in sexual violence policy, but to ensure the complexities of male on male rape are understood. As Stemple outlines “when both the perpetrator and victim are men, the interaction often typifies a gendered power-play of masculinised dominance and feminised subordination”, this can only be understood through a gender analysis. The current female-centric approach cannot account for both male-on-male rape and gender as a category for analysis.[28]

A gender-based focus will therefore facilitate an appreciation within the security agenda that all genders and sexual orientations are – albeit at potentially different rates – subject to sexual violence during conflict. If fully adopted this will eradicate the sole assumption of the female victim.

Conclusion

This article has therefore analysed the efficacy of the UN’s agenda on conflict related sexual violence through the analysis of UNSC Resolutions from 2000-2017. From this, it can be concluded that the UN have failed to acknowledge, let alone tackle, CRSV towards men as a serious threat to individual security. This omission of male inflicted violence is due to the UN’s sex-based framing of CRSV which; a) depicts male rape as torture and; b) reinforces the binary of men as perpetrators and women as victims. For conflict related sexual voice towards men to be treated as a legitimate security issue within international policy and discourse, the UN must drop their sex-based framing in favour of a more gender-based approach. Only in this way can the security agenda move past their female-centric approach and fully take into consideration the complexities of conflict related sexual violence inflicted upon all genders.

 

Notes

[1] Lara Stemple, Male Rape and Human Rights, Hastings Law Journal, 60 (2009), p. 646.

[2] Sarah Solangon and Preeti Patel, ‘Sexual Violence Against Men in Countries Affected by Armed Conflict, Conflict’, Security and Development, 12 (2012), p.418.

[3] United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict Related Sexual Violence, (UN, New York, 2017), p.1.

[4] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1325, (UN, New York, 2009) p. 3.

[5] Gender Against Men, Dir. Daniel Neumann, Otim Patrick and Ann Chang. Refugee Law Project. 2008.

[6] Cecile Allegra, ‘Revealed: male rape used systematically in Libya as instrument of war’, (The Guardian), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/03/revealed-male-used-systematically-in-libya-as-instrument-of-war (Accessed 8th November 2017). (Para. 2).

[7] Dara Kay Cohen, ‘Female Combatants and the Perpetration of Violence: Wartime Rape in the Sierra Leone Civil War’, World Politics, 65 (2013), p.389.

[8] Ibid., p.389.

[9] Human Security Report 2012: Sexual Violence, Education, and War: Beyond the Mainstream Narrative (Vancouver: Human Security Press, 2012), p. 32.

[10] Ibid., p.32.

[11] Dara Kay Cohen, ‘Female Combatants and the Perpetration of Violence: Wartime Rape in the Sierra Leone Civil War’, World Politics, 65 (2013), p.384-5.

[12] Sandesh Sivakumaran, ‘Lost in translation: UN responses to sexual violence against men and boys in situations of armed conflict’, International Review of the Red Cross, 92 (2010), p. 263.

[13] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1820, (UN, New York, 2009) pp. 1-5.

[14] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1888, (UN, New York, 2009) p. 7.

[15] Ibid., p.7.

[16] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1960, (UN, New York, 2010) pp. 1-4.

[17] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2106, (UN, New York, 2013) p.1.

[18] Lara Stemple, Male Rape and Human Rights, Hastings Law Journal, 60 (2009), p. 623.

[19] Ibid., p.623.

[20] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2106, (UN, New York, 2013) p.2.

[21] United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict Related Sexual Violence, (UN, New York, 2017), p1.

[22] United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict Related Sexual Violence, (UN, New York, 2017), .13.

[23] R. Charli Carpenter, ‘Recognizing Gender-Based Violence Against Civilian Men and Boys in Conflict Situations’, Security Dialogue, 37 (2006), p.95.

[24] Lara Stemple, Male Rape and Human Rights, Hastings Law Journal, 60 (2009), p. 638.

[25] Ibid., p.638.

[26] Ibid., p.635.

[27] R. Charli Carpenter, ‘Recognizing Gender-Based Violence Against Civilian Men and Boys in Conflict Situations’, Security Dialogue, 37 (2006), p. 98.

[28] Lara Stemple, Male Rape and Human Rights, Hastings Law Journal, 60 (2009), pp. 619.

Bibliography

Acharya, A., ‘Human Security: East versus West’, International Journal, 56 (2001), pp. 442-460.

Allegra, C., ‘Revealed: male rape used systematically in Libya as instrument of war’, (The Guardian), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/03/revealed-male-used-systematically-in-libya-as-instrument-of-war (Accessed 8th November 2017).

Carpenter, C., ‘Recognizing Gender-Based Violence Against Civilian Men and Boys in Conflict Situations’, Security Dialogue, 37 (2006), pp.83-103

Cohen, D., ‘Female Combatants and the Perpetration of Violence: Wartime Rape in the Sierra Leone Civil War’, World Politics, 65 (2013), pp. 383-415.

Gender Against Men, Dir. Daniel Neumann, Otim Patrick and Ann Chang. Refugee Law Project. 2008.

Human Security Report 2012: Sexual Violence, Education, and War: Beyond the Mainstream Narrative (Vancouver: Human Security Press, 2012), pp. 1-239.

Lara Stemple, Male Rape and Human Rights, Hastings Law Journal, 60 (2009), pp. 605-647.

Paterson, K., ‘A Competition of Suffering: Male vs Female Rape’, (Women’s Media Centre), http://www.womensmediacenter.com/women-under-siege/a-competition-of-suffering-male-vs.-female-rape (Accessed 27 December 2017).

Sivakumaran, S., ‘Lost in translation: UN responses to sexual violence against men and boys in situations of armed conflict’, International Review of the Red Cross, 92 (2010), pp. 259-277.

Solangon S., and Patel P., ‘Sexual Violence Against Men in Countries Affected by Armed Conflict, Conflict’, Security and Development, 12 (2012), pp.417 – 442.

Storr, W., ‘The Rape of Men: the darkest secret of war’, (The Guardian), https://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/jul/17/the-rape-of-men (Accessed 8 December 2017).

United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 1994, (Oxford University Press, New York, 1994) pp. 1-136.

United Nations General Assembly, Report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, Suppl. No. 3, A/S-23/10/Rev.1 (UN, New York, 2000), pp. 1-54.

United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict Related Sexual Violence, (UN, New York, 2017), pp. 1-32.

United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1325, (UN, New York, 2009) pp. 1-4.

United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1820, (UN, New York, 2009) pp. 1-5.

United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1888, (UN, New York, 2009) pp. 1-7

United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1960, (UN, New York, 2010), pp. 1-5.

United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2106, (UN, New York, 2013), pp.1-6.

United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2122, (UN, New York, 2013) pp. 1-6.

United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2331, (UN, New York, 2013) pp. 1-8.

United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security, Human Security in Theory and Practice, (New York, United Nations Human Security Unit, 2009), pp. 1-45.