Image Source: paolobarzman/Flickr
December 2016
REGION: Global

In “When No One Calls It Rape: Addressing Sexual Violence against Men and Boys in Transitional Contexts,” Amrita Kapur and Kelli Muddell first discuss the context of sexual violence against men and boys, as well as its effect on the victims. Second, they explore why sexual violence against male victims has often been difficult to detect, as well as the effects of the unavailability of redress, particularly in the context of transitional justice. They also discuss ways to combat sexual violence against men and boys and identifies steps to address the needs of victims.

Sexual violence against men is often reported in contexts of deprivation of liberty, as well as during and outside of armed conflicts. Its impact on victims include physical consequences such as but not limited to damage to the victims’ reproductive or sexual capacity, sexually transmitted diseases, damage to genitals, incontinence, and chronic pain, as well as psychological harm.

Under-reporting is a significant challenge to addressing sexual violence against men. Sexual violence may be perceived as emasculating in cultures that interpret masculinity as the ability to exert power over others, and thus victims are reluctant to express the sexual aspects of the abuse they suffer and are more likely to communicate their experiences as torture or abuse. Such perceptions are exacerbated when there is a suggestion of homosexuality, or where the victim is presumed to have sought the abuse, particularly if the victim experienced physical arousal. Victimization is compounded by the criminalization of homosexuality and attempts to increase punishment for it in some countries. Some legal frameworks do not recognize males as victims of sexual violence, reflecting cultural perceptions, effectively denying male victims of sexual violence redress and discouraging the reporting of such crimes. Because of these various factors, many reports of sexual violence against men come from people other than the victims themselves.

Overcoming legal and social barriers does not guarantee that the victims’ experiences will be received with sensitivity. In many cases, medical personnel may not be trained to identify and treat male victims, or they may not believe that men can be victimized. Similarly, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and intergovernmental organizations have also historically overlooked male victims. Because transitional justice efforts often rely on NGOs, medical professionals, and oth­ers for basic information towards the identification of those who experienced violations in their outreach for engagement with victims, these actors can serve to limit attention to male victims of sexual violence in transitional justice processes.

Sexual violence against males is often mischaracterized as torture or inhumane treatment, leading to under-recognition of its occurrence and other indirect consequences. For example, in Sierra Leone, male victims of sexual violence not included in the truth commission were ineligible for reparations.

The authors make a series of recommendations, addressing issues such as the following (not an exhaustive list):

For Truth Commissions and Truth-Seeking Bodies

  • The need to properly categorize sexual violations other than rape against men and boys so they are not hidden in other categories of data
  • Training interview staff to detect signs of sexual violence when dealing with male victims
  • Providing safe spaces for male victims, especially boys, to participate in truth-seeking processes

For Criminal Justice Actors

  • Educating justice sector personnel about how to “identify, include, and support” male victims

For Reparations Programs

  • Including psychological support for male victims in reparative measures

For Institutional Reform Initiatives

  • Decriminalizing homosexuality
  • Adopting gender-neutral language in legislation, policies, programs on sexual violence

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

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