Male-on-Male Sexual Violence in Wartime: Human Rights’ Last Taboo?


Del Zotto, Augusta, and Adam Jones. 2002. “Male-on-Male Sexual Violence in Wartime: Human Rights’ Last Taboo?” Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, New Orleans, March 23-27.

Authors: Augusta Del Zotto, Adam Jones


Del Zotto and Jones explore the complex cultural and institutional factors that have contributed to the silencing of men's and boy's experiences of sexual assault in warfare. They state that the lack of widespread institutional recognition of male-on-male sexual violence in wartime stems form three conditions: (1) The historical silencing of men's experiences of intra-gender abuse and cruelty. (2) The far-reaching dissemination and institutionalization of narrow feminist constructions of masculinity and sexual violence, reflected in the academic and activist literature as well as the actions of international organizations and the coverage offered by mass media. (3) The appropriation of this narrow construction of masculinity by political elites as a way of upholding regional security interests

The authors examine in turn the agendas and discourse of policymakers, non-governmental organizations, and feminist scholarship. They argue that, because institutionalized recognition of war sex crimes performs a strategic function, the construction of this human rights problem calls attention to certain types of victims, while ignoring others.  Human rights policies and activism are determined by narrow constructions of masculinity and femininity. Some indication of the power of the dominant framework can be found in a random sample of 60 NGO reports that address the issue of sexual assault in wartime. The authors find that 58 NGO reports framed victims of sexual assaults solely as “women or girls.”   An analysis of 4,076 NGOs conducting work on sexual violence and assault during wartime shows that only 3 % of the organizations specifically mention the experience of male victims in their programming or literature, while roughly 25 % of the groups deny male on male sexual violence as a problem. Del Zotto and Jones argue that one key reason for this neglect is that NGOs rely on both government and private funding to operate their services. Another influential element is the framing of sexual violence by feminist scholars and activists.In the second part of the paper, the authors look at feminism and sexual victimization in the Balkan’s War, arguing that there has not been a serious attempt to explore the subject of male sexual victimization in the feminist study of the Balkans wars. The authors also argue that the ICTY’s mandate focused on the protection of women, argue that male victims were omitted, conceptually and de facto, from the trial process. 

19 of the reports actually used the phrase ‘war against women’ as a central one in their literature. 58 framed victims of sexual assaults solely as ‘women’ and/or ‘girls.’ The remaining two used the generic phrase ‘person.’ 13 referred to sexual torture as deriving from male heterosexual desire (all were agencies based in the Third World). 24 evinced a preoccupation with female ‘honor’ (sexual assault reduces or eliminates the female's chances of marriage, etc.). This construction pervaded both western and non-western sources, including reports by the respected organization Human Rights Watch. 7, including OXFAM, did mention the sexual exploitation of male children, though.


"Elite political actors, non-governmental organizations, and feminist scholars and activists must all be pressed to incorporate the male victim into their analysis of wartime sexual violence, and to work to provide the necessary resources to meet that victim's needs. Until they do so, the prevailing framing of sexual violence in war will continue to be one-dimensional and woefully inadequate, and the survivors will continue to suffer in silence imposed from both within and without." 

“Between 1998 and 2000, over a half-million women applied for asylum or refugee status in the U.S. based on gendered persecution, including war-related persecution. Meanwhile, approximately 70,000 men apply for U.S. asylum each year (over the past 10 years), representing 15% more applications than women. How many applications cited sexual violence? None.”

“An examination of 36 asylum cases involving women and 44 involving men found that all but two women were questioned by INS officials as to whether they faced sexual danger in their homeland; none of the males was asked a similar question (U.S. Justice Department Immigration Briefs, 1997-2001).”

“A hermeneutic reading of 360 transcripts from the U.S. Congress and State Department as well as British, German, and Canadian parliaments between 1977 and 1989 indicates that rape and sexual assault in wartime have been defined as exclusively heterosexual (more specifically, male-on-female) acts. The framework throughout was informed by a narrow definition of sexual assault stemming from a monolithic view of masculine power and a one-dimensional interpretation of female victimization.” 

“To our knowledge, no international organization or NGO has established a research program or policy initiative specifically focused on male victims of sexual violence in wartime; and not a single international NGO mentions wartime sexual violence against males in its annual report. These are oversights that in our view urgently need to be addressed and rectified.”

“There are currently 4,076 non-governmental groups that address war rape and other forms of political sexual violence (Del Zotto, 2001). Out of this number, only 3% mention the experiences of males at all in their programs and informational literature. About one quarter of the groups explicitly deny that male-on-male violence is a serious problem.” 

Topics: Gender, Men, Masculinity/ies, International Organizations, Justice, War Crimes, Rights, Human Rights, Sexual Violence, SV against Men

Year: 2002

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