Broad Recognition

A Feminist Magazine at Yale

The Invisible War: Male Rape in Conflict Areas

Wars always have devastating impacts beyond the deaths of soldiers. Particularly in the developing world, displacement, starvation, malnutrition, and crime are common side effects of war. One of the most common and profoundly damaging of these is rape.

Globally, it is estimated that hat about 13% of women and 3% of men have experienced rape. Rates, though, are far higher in conflict areas, where human displacement and increased violence make male rape commonplace. In the United States an estimated 3% of men have been raped. As the US is not a war zone, it logically follows that these numbers are much higher in conflict areas.

While there are 4,076 NGOs that address wartime sexual violence only 3% of them mention the experience of men in their literature—and the vast majority of these references are in passing. The United Nations uses the term “violence against women” as a synonym for rape in well over 100 pieces on human rights. Not one human rights instrument, though, directly mentions the sexual assault of men. This organizational complacency leaves men with almost no medical, psychological, or emotional support after incidents of sexual violence. These men are ignored by the very organizations that help thousands of women every year.

While accurate global statistics have not been collected, small case studies are deeply troubling. According to The Guardian, the Refugee Law Project of Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda states that eight in ten of the clients they see have been raped. Every single male client, though, had been raped. A Journal of the American Medical Association study revealed that 22% of men and 30% of women in Eastern Congo had experienced sexual violence as a direct result of conflict.

Men, like women, face a host of health and social issues after sexual violence. Many men are raped anally, which can lead to severe rectal tears and intense pain. These men are at high risk of HIV and other STIs. Rape can be psychologically traumatic and can lead to a host of mental health issues. Men are unlikely to receive any help with any of these issues even if they do report their rapes. These men are highly stigmatized, and are often persecuted for homosexuality, which is illegal in 38 of the 53 African nations. Seeking help, then, is simply not an option for the uncounted masses of men struggling to continue their lives after sexual violence.

The silence surrounding male rape does not only harm men. Denying that men can be the victims of sexual violence supports a construction of men as an untouchable, all-powerful, monolithic class that is in no way vulnerable to violence. This, of course, naturally leads to a dichotomous worldview in which women complement the omnipotent men as weak, disenfranchised, passive victims. Working towards a clear and honest discussion of rape as an act of violence that impacts all people can shift global paradigms and, in the long run, grant women greater rights as their agency becomes more fully recognized.

The United States’ domestic and foreign policies only serve to encourage global silence on male rape. Within the United States, the rape of men is rarely acknowledged. For Uniform Crime Report purposes, men simply cannot be raped. Cases of male rape, “must be classified as assaults or other sex offenses depending on the nature of the crime and the extent of injury.” This makes men ineligible for the legal resources and support available to rape victims in the United States. This domestic policy does not define global policy, but it clearly establishes that, as far as one of the most powerful nations in the world is concerned, women are victims and men are perpetrators. This plays a role in the United States’ complacency about global male rape. In 2009, Secretary of State Clinton made a clear promise that she would “banish sexual violence.”   In her statement, though, she made not 0ne mention of the rapes of men, despite the aforementioned fact that 22% of the men in East Congo, the very region in which she pledged to banish sexual violence, were victims themselves.

Global activists must take steps to open the discussion on male rape and thereby open services to help male victims recover. This is a key step towards preventing all sexual violence globally. NGOs must expand their research and services to include all people. Further recognition of gay rights in developing nations will help to end the homophobic stigma surrounding these incidents. Similarly, the media must send the unequivocal message that male aggressor/female victim constructions are inherently flawed. Only by honestly discussing the complexities of this issue can authorities hope to create lasting change for the uncounted men who are suffering in silence.

Chamonix Adams Porter is a freshman in Yale College.  She is a staff writer for Broad Recognition.

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