15 December 2011
Wartime rapes: men, too
Since the beginning of the 2000s, a number of English-language researchers have regularly asked the following question: why do international aid organisations (United Nations agencies and NGOs) pay so little attention to rapes of men and boys committed during armed conflicts?
In fact, the lack of interest is not as systematic as these researchers state. Such wartime rapes have been reported by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In addition, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs held a discussion on the issue in June 2008, where the situation was reviewed and recommendations made to researchers, particularly the following: find a research perspective that avoids reducing men to the status of rapists.
Since the Yugoslav wars, all relief agencies have been primarily focusing on rapes of women and girls. This has become an essential commitment in all of these organisations' programmes, especially those working in the Kivu provinces and Ituri district of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Compared to this major commitment, there appears to be extremely low interest in male rape, with very few programmes providing specific assistance. Only these programmes, however, generate public interest, beginning with media coverage.
Shame and « taboo »
That was the chain of events in August 2009 when the New York Times published a story about Congo highlighting a steep rise in the number of rapes of men during a worsening military conflict, as reported by international organisations, victims, medical staff and the reporter Jeffrey Gettleman. Gettleman stressed that in a region where homosexuality is « taboo », such rapes "carry an extra dose of shame" for victims.
Then, in July 2011, The Observer published a long article entitled "The rape of men" based on a visit to a refugee aid agency in Kampala, Uganda. Among the refugees were victims raped during armed conflict in Congo. Storr noted that he found victims willing to tell their stories due to the British doctor directing the agency. He discussed the only epidemiological survey of sexual violence against men, which estimated its prevalence: 22% of men reported conflict-related sexual violence in Eastern DRC (Ituri, South and North Kivu) between 1994 and 2010 - with 4.4% reporting that they had been victims of rape.
The doctor directing the aid agency said that the NGOs working on gender-based violence remain systematically silent about violence against men or, in exceptional cases, they might mention it briefly at the end of a report. This critical viewpoint is shared by all male and female authors, who have been seeking recognition of wartime sexual abuse against men. Gender perceptions have had the effect of focusing attention on female victims and restricting the definition of rape to women, thereby ignoring "the fact that men can be weak and vulnerable".
Following the article published in The Observer, the United Nations' IRIN information network published two articles highlighting institutions' lack of knowledge about sexual brutality against men, particularly in HCR programmes (IRIN, 2 August 2011). Thus the term "gender-related violence" in conflict zones has become interchangeable with violence against women (IRIN, 13 October 2011).
An approach focused on violence against women
Lastly, in November 2011, Voice of America (VOA) published a story about the exceptional case of a Congolese rape victim lodging a complaint against a lieutenant in the army, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
The repeated inquiries by doctors and researchers, especially lawyers, may be starting to have practical, even modest effects: at least that is what the articles about Uganda and the DRC are trying to show. It is true that since the beginning of the 2000s there have been several consistent arguments in the critiques of the prevailing consensus. In reviewing the research of Augusta DelZotto (2002), Sandesh Sivakumaran (2007), Lara Stemple (2009), Dustin A. Lewis (2009) and Maria Eriksson Baaz (2010), it is clear that their analyses converge on several points. They all underline the influence of the gender approach. This influence has led international relief agencies and the United Nations to give priority to an approach focused on violence against women, thereby legitimising a hierarchy of sexual victims, with men located at the bottom of this hierarchy. Everyone recognises the influence of the most current standards of masculinity hovering in the background of this hierarchy, leading to acceptance of the stereotype that says a "true" man would resist and thus make rape impossible. These attitudes also make it rare for men to see themselves as victims out of fear of being viewed as a "feminised man".
Lara Stemple, however, underlines the emergence of new legal perspectives. The statute of the International Criminal Court provides a gender-neutral definition of sexual abuse that applies to both women and men, therefore refusing to permanently assign the role of rapist to the male side and victim to the female side. Yet an obstacle remains in terms of male rape. Dr Dolan, who works in Kampala, stresses how common it is - "it's systematically silenced" - while a Congolese man was told, "We have a programme for vulnerable women, but not men".
Augusta DelZotto, Adam Jones (2002), "Male-on-Male Sexual Violence in Wartime: Human Rights' Last Taboo", International Studies Association.
Sandesh Sivakumaran (2007), "Sexual Violence Against Men in Armed Conflict", The European Journal of International Law, vol. 18 (2).
Lara Stemple (2009), "Male Rape and Human Rights", Hastings Law Journal, vol. 60, p. 605-646.
Dustin A. Lewis (2009), "Unrecognized Victims: Sexual Violence against Men in Conflict Settings under International Law", Wisconsin International Law Journal, vol. 27 (1).
Maria Eriksson Baaz, Maria Stern (2010), The Complexity of Violence, The Nordic Africa Institute, Sweden.
http://nai.diva-portal.org/smash/searchlist.jsf?searchtype=simple&author=Maria Eriksson Baaz
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