In situations of armed conflict, many foreign soldiers are instructed to use sexual abuse as a weapon to demoralize victims and establish dominance. Women are the predominant targets for these attacks, but there is an increased pattern of male victimization that humanitarian groups are not recognizing.
“At all levels there is a resistance at organizations to help these people,” Andrew Park, Director of Internal Programs at the Williams Institute said in an interview with SFGN. “They want to care for women as survivors, but they feel uncomfortable giving the same attention to men.”
The Williams Institute is aiming to bring attention to the male victims that are affected every day through exposure to violent conflicts and refugee displacement. The study, titled “The All Survivors Project,” recognizes the lack of targeted services for male victims, and stresses that the victimization of males through sexual violence may have disruptive long-term impacts if left unaddressed.
“The main beneficiaries of this project are men and boys who have been victims of sexual and gender based violence in situations of armed conflict and displacement,” Charu Hogg, the project’s founder and director said in a phone call.
“Boys and men are typically excluded in terms of humanitarian response, mainly because the issue is highly stigmatized and survivors don’t come forward,” Hogg continued. “They are not recognized as victims of sexual violence. Health care and psychosocial health services that are available to women have not been made available to them.”
Hogg and other researchers believe that the lack of documentation on the sexual violence toward male victims in these situations is the reason why many humanitarian relief programs have not offered services to these men. Record of the severity, patterns of abuse and the scale of these attacks will be a major focus of this study.
Geographically, the study will include the areas of conflict in Africa and Asia, from Shri Lanka to Central Africa.
“The goal is to interview 800 survivors over the course of three years,” Park said. “We plan to have meetings with rescue groups and advocates along the way so that this information gets into the right hands.”
The information will be presented in a series of national situational analysis reports, which focus on sexual and gender-based violence against both men and boys, according to a press release.
The reports will provide recommendations to improve the procedures in place for responding to the physical and psychosocial needs of the victims, as well as establishing procedures in organizations where they are absent.
According to Hogg, male victimization takes many different forms depending on the nature of the conflict, and she has had experiences with a number of these disputes.
For example, in 2015 soldiers in Central Africa were caught in a sexual abuse scandal in which they offered young boys in displacement camps food in exchange for sexual favors.
Hogg also did research in Afghanistan, in which young boys (referred to as “boys without beards” in the context of Afghani society) are abducted by warlords, businessmen, and people of power to serve several purposes that are frequently sexual in nature.
“There is a huge level of stigmatization,” Hogg said. “This concept of victimhood is limited to females and a binary discourse has developed in which males are nearly always regarded as perpetrators. We do not yet know the patterns, severity or scale of these problems.”
“Ideas about gender and masculinity play a major role in sexual violence against men and boys,” Lara Stemple, the Director of the Health and Human rights Law Project at UCLA said in a press release. “Sexual violence against men and boys is also fueled by homophobic norms which see same-sex victimization as the ultimate way to humiliate victims in situations of conflict.”
There is little previous research on the sexual assault of male victims, and this is the first time that the use of homophobia as a weapon is being studied, according to Park.
“There is a huge discomfort talking about assault on men, and even greater discomfort talking about gay assault on men,” Park said. “This project is part of a larger effort to get policy makers to give attention to men as victims, and homophobia as a dangerous effect of that.”
The All Survivors Project will have staff in Los Angeles and London, and the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) will be facilitating researchers in other countries.