Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Male-Directed Sexual Violence in Conflict: Past and Present

Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Male-Directed Sexual Violence in Conflict: Past and Present

Article excerpt

In his account of his experience of rape at the hands of an older male in Ireland during the 1980's, professor of history Raymond Douglas (2016) refers to a sense of invulnerability as being "preprogrammed" into most males in patriarchal cultures:

There is a conviction that all males over the age of twelve, or nearly all, share: when the chips are truly down, if you are fighting for your life, you will find within you the strength to prevail over anyone who isn't fighting for his ... it allows us to go through dangerous parts of town without worrying or even thinking too much about it. It makes us believe that if we have to fight in wars we may perhaps die but we certainly won't be the first ones to get killed. The reason films like Die Hard resonate among men may in fact be that they appeal to this sense already preprogrammed within us. (p. 11)

Perhaps it is the loss of a preprogrammed sense of invulnerability that makes the topic of male rape such a difficult topic for many men today. In Douglas's case, the pain he experienced was exacerbated by the fact that the perpetrator (a Roman catholic priest) never faced justice in a society where a culture of impunity facilitated the development of an "underground libidinal economy" (Zizek, 1997, p. 25) among predatory priests. In many ways, male rape remains a taboo subject in most social contexts. Yet, this taboo status seems to depend on the silence of many men who have experienced rape, just as the topic of the rape of women was taboo until the 1960's and 1970's when women began to "break the silence" and demand justice. In recent years, more and more men have become willing to speak about their experiences of sexual victimization. Contexts are varied, from prisons and military institutions, to familial and civic locales. The present article focuses on the context of areas in conflict, locations in which armed groups are fighting for political objectives, or objectives which require political influence. The topic of male-directed sexual violence in conflict (hereafter SVC) has been characterized by International Studies scholars Del Zotto and Jones (2002) as "Human Rights' last taboo." Chris Dolan (2009) of the Refugee Law Project in Uganda, who spoke as an "expert witness" for a Westminster, House of Lords committee on SVC in 2015, clarifies that male-directed SVC is much more than a one-percent issue. Yet, there is a deep reluctance to acknowledge the extent of the problem. The present article argues that suspicions about a focus on male-directed (SVC) are unfounded, especially as adherence to dichotomous gender models of "male equals perpetrator/female equals victim" ignore the comparable suffering of male survivors and allows perpetrators to enjoy impunity.

Common themes that emerge in the research literature include the following: identification of under-reporting as a key element in the lack of recognition of maledirected SVC, lack of consensus regarding the causes of male SVC, and an awareness of the role of language in perpetuating misunderstandings surrounding these issues, particularly through the linguistic sleight of hand by which "woman" or "women" becomes equated with "gender", "victim" becomes identified with "female," and "perpetrator" becomes equated with "male." Vermeulen (2011) argues that some scholars who are notable for their expertise in the field of SVC very often exclude the possibility that men are victims of wartime rape.", In contrast, other scholars seek a broadening of the research agenda, including within feminist security studies. Sjoberg (2016) argues that comprehensive gender analysis is vital for an adequate understanding of war and security. Her article is centered on the case of Shane Savage, a U.S. soldier who served five tours of duty in Iraq. She recognizes that many readers will be surprised by her attention to a "White, American, married, heterosexual, middle-class man" (referring to Savage; emphasis in original) (p. 51). …

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