Just One Voice….

Sometimes all it takes is just one voice, not so much singing in the darkness, as per the Barry Manilow song, but speaking with passion, with barely suppressed horror at an injustice so that it forces a global organisation to make a small but profound change.

In 2011 Will Stow writing in the guardian/observer wrote an article about the suffering, shame and hidden pain of male victims of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rape used as a weapon of war, to humiliate, to injure, to punish and shame men and damage them so much both physically and psychologically that they would be unable to fight.

“Of all the secrets of war, there is one that is so well kept that it exists mostly as a rumour. It is usually denied by the perpetrator and his victim. Governments, aid agencies and human rights defenders at the UN barely acknowledge its possibility.” [1]

Yes, I know, rape as a weapon of war has been used to highlight how the horror of war impacts on women and girls and children. Hilary Clinton’s now iconic remark.

“And the fact is that in today’s wars around the world, the primary victims are women and children [2]

But that is only half the story, the reality of sexual violence in high conflict situations does not endorse or legitimate the current rape hysteria being whipped up in western “democracies” and the now debunked “rape myths” in Helen Reece’s article Rape Myths: Is Elite Opinion Right and Popular Opinion Wrong? Helen Reece [3] and excellently summarised by Diana Davison in her piece; The myth of rape myths November 15, 2013 By Diana Davison. [4]

Because rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war need to be put into the context in which they are used as said weapon. Into the religious, ethnic, political and historical inter-ethnic tensions that precipitated these conflicts. It is those forces driving the use of sexual violence as another facet of the overall violent nature of these conflicts. Comparing sexual violence in “democratic” western countries with unstable, inherently undemocratic and volatile territories is to put it crudely comparing apples and oranges.

One cannot simply point to atrocities committed in Rwanda, Bosnia, Serbia and the DRC and draw analogies that paint all men everywhere as rapists, especially not in long established “democratic” states. The seeds of the conflicts in these places would take a longer and more in depth analysis than this essay could, or should attempt other than to acknowledge that, yes; sexual violence/rape has, and will probably continue to be used as a weapon of war. But until recently we have only been allowed to focus on half the story, on half the victims, and only some of those victims have had their suffering, their pain, their trauma acknowledged.

Now at this point I am going to use the UNHCR terminology – SGBV – Sexual Gender Based Violence – not because I believe it has any more validity than the word rape, but because it allows us to challenge the very definition of “Gender Based Violence” because the men we are about to talk about are targeted for the type of sexual violence they are subjected to in high conflict situations because they are men, and because they represent a threat, an enemy, an opponent to be crushed.

Before Will Stow’s article, which was published on 17th July 2011, the prevailing attitude which existed and still exists towards male victims of SGBV was dismissive, was apathetic and barely rated a mention, well just a small mention in passing, as illustrated for example by a couple of lines in a 100 page document called:

Guidelines for Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings Focusing on Prevention of and Response to Sexual Violence in Emergencies September 2005 [5]

On page 13 of these guidelines the UNHCR quickly establishes the “mythical” basis upon which it rests its policy on responding to SGBV in high conflict situations, with this statement.

At least one in three of the world’s female population has been either physically or sexually abused at some time in her life.[2] Although in most countries little research has been conducted on the problem, available data suggest that in some countries nearly one in four women may experience sexual violence by an intimate partner, and up to one-third of adolescent girls report their first sexual experience as being forced.[3] ……………. Sexual violence is often used as a weapon of war, targeting civilian women and children.”

Am I disputing the last part of that statement? No, it is true, but it is only half the story.

One does have to ask the obvious question, if “little research” – let me just rephrase that, if little VALID research has been done, then how can one make statements such as those quoted above: “one in three? “One in four”? “Up to one third”? If not based on “research” then what are these figures based on?

It is on page 17 that men and boys get a mention:

Around the world, GBV has a greater impact on women and girls than on men and boys. The term “gender-based violence” is often used interchangeably with the term “violence against women.” The term “gender-based violence” highlights the gender dimension of these types of acts; in other words, the relationship between females’ subordinate status in society and their increased vulnerability to violence. It is important to note, however, that men and boys may also be victims of gender-based violence, especially sexual violence.”

So, gender actually means “women” exclusively. There it is in black and white in the UNHCR Guidelines.

But of course it is not difficult to spot how the “gender-based violence” that men and boys may suffer is easily dismissed in the context of an overall feminist interpretation of “gender-based violence” in high conflict unstable non-democratic states by referring to an amorphous undefined entity called “society” patterned on of course “western” ethnocentric views of complex non western cultural and ethnic conflicts.  And of course emphasising that men and boys don’t qualify as a “gender”, well they didn’t in 2005.

While male rape is reluctantly acknowledged, extra commentary is added to reinforce the superior victim status of women and reinforce the message that men and their suffering is not only practically invisible but is relatively unimportant compared to women’s Page 18.

Rape of women and of men is often used as a weapon of war, as a form of attack on the enemy, typifying the conquest and degradation of its women or captured male fighters. It may also be used to punish women for transgressing social or moral codes, for instance, those prohibiting adultery or drunkenness in public. Women and men may also be raped when in police custody or in prison.4

On Page 43, this message is again hammered home.

Women and children are entitled to protection from sexual violence, which involves two-pronged protection and security measure to……..

……It is important to continuously analyse the risk factors and consequences for sexual violence in each setting. While gender inequality and discrimination are the root causes of sexual violence, various other factors determine the type and extent of sexual violence in each setting

I am not disputing that women, children and girls are vulnerable in high conflict situations, what I am disputing is the dismissal of, the lack of acknowledgment of the almost equal vulnerability of men and boys, the default position that only women and children are “entitled to protection from sexual violence” to casually dismiss any victim of SGBV in order to continue to promote a gender biased “ideology” by ignoring male victims on the basis of their “gender”.

In the context of high conflict situations “gender inequality and discrimination” as interpreted through the prism of ethnocentric western paradigms is ridiculous, if not naive, in war, in conflict, the object is to crush your perceived enemies, to decimate and undermine the abilities of your perceived enemies to fight back, to resist, to survive.

Thus it was that Will Stow’s article became that One Voice, not that he was the only voice ever raised in protest at the wilful blindness practiced when it came to male rape/sexual violence, but his voice did manage to penetrate the darkness, his voice did manage to pierce the carefully cultivated feminist white noise surrounding the issue of SGBV in high conflict situations. Which is not to say that other voices have not been raised.  Just not listened too.

Sexual Violence Against Men in Armed Conflict; 2007 – Sandesh Sivakumaran. [6]

Male Rape and Human Rights; February 2009 – Lara Stemple [7]

The Rape of Men: Eschewing Myths of Sexual Violence in War in On Politics, Vol 6, Issue 2 Fall 2012 – Don Couturier. [8] 

The Article Dying of shame, 30 May 2012 published on the christianaid.org.uk website [9]

Had this to say:

Just weeks after an article instigated by Christian Aid journalist Emma Pomfret in the Observer Magazine earned a prestigious One World Media award for highlighting the controversial subject of male rape, the piece also scooped the Amnesty International Media Award for Best Magazine supplement of 2011………

…..The impact of the article – which was shared more than 17,000 times on Facebook and hailed as one of the most ever read articles on the Guardian’s website – resulted in the United Nations changing its definition of ‘rape’ to include men and boys.”

Which led to this:


These Guidelines comprise a slim 20 page pamphlet; it is a start, albeit a rather limited start, bearing in mind the massive attention still being focused almost exclusively on female victims, not to mention the massive amounts of funding still also being almost exclusively directed at “women’s issues”

From pages 4 – 5

“Entrenched gender norms combined with cultural and religious taboos, and scarce services, make it very difficult for males to disclose that they are survivors of sexual violence, while service providers may not recognize the male experience of SGBV. 11 Communities are frequently reluctant to acknowledge the experience of male survivors because it may be seen, among other things, as conceding weakness and bringing shame to the community.

Left unaddressed, the effects of sexual violence magnify the risks inherent in conflict and displacement contexts and gravely harm the social and economic wellbeing of survivors. The effects of sexual violence on individuals, households and entire communities seriously damage social relationships, thereby undermining peace and security and the likelihood of achieving durable solutions.

Sexual violence against men is also a threat in displacement and asylum situations. Where they face serious livelihood challenges, men as well as women are at risk of sexual exploitation and abuse in return for shelter and food, or other forms of survival sex. Men who are subject to detention may be at risk of rape or demands for sexual favours in return for release. Though asylum and conflict situations are different, the essential protection needs of survivors are the same.”

I have highlighted perhaps the most important phrases, the position and policy focus that SHOULD have been the norm all along. That sexual violence is perpetrated against INDIVIDUALS, that the effects of sexual violence are felt just as traumatically by men and women and the most important.

“……..the essential protection needs of survivors are the same”


[1] http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/jul/17/the-rape-of-men

[2] http://www.pbs.org/wnet/women-war-and-peace/features/our-interview-with-secretary-of-state-hillary-clinton/

[3] http://ojls.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2013/03/13/ojls.gqt006.full.pdf+html?sid=abf0e5fb-13fb-4025-9ef6-9b1056e1aaec

[4] http://www.avoiceformen.com/feminism/feminist-governance-feminism/the-myth-of-rape-myths/

[5] http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendocPDFViewer.html?docid=453492294&query=

[6] http://www.ejil.org/pdfs/18/2/224.pdf

[7] http://scienceblogs.de/geograffitico/wp-content/blogs.dir/70/files/2012/07/i-e76e350f9e3d50b6ce07403e0a3d35fe-Stemple_60-HLJ-605.pdf

[8] http://web.uvic.ca/~onpol/fall2012_issue.pdf

[9] http://www.christianaid.org.uk/whatwedo/in-focus/africa-partner-speaks-out-against-male-rape/award-winning-article-changes-un-definition-of-rape.aspx

[10] Working with men and boy survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in forced displacement (PDF, 548kb)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: