Suffering in Silence? The Silencing of Sexual Violence Against Men in War Torn Countries

  • Élise FéronEmail author
Part of the Social Indicators Research Series book series (SINS, volume 56)


The suffering induced by sexual violence against men and boys in conflict zones has not yet been the focus of many studies, and can be explained by several reasons. Research on sexual violence during conflicts focuses mainly on girls and women, who make up the great majority of victims of such types of violence. “Rape as a weapon of war” has almost become synonymous with sexual violence against girls and women during conflicts. Since men are generally seen as the perpetrators of such atrocities, it can be difficult and confusing to conceptualize them as victims. This type of sexual violence stands in contrast with common narratives on war and suffering. It seems that speaking about sexual violence against men would somehow undermine policies and programs designed to fight rape of women during wartime by demonstrating that women are not the only victims – and might even also be perpetrators – of sexual violence. Sexual violence against men and boys is a taboo issue, especially in countries where male-on-male rape is confused with homosexuality. As a consequence, victims fear stigmatization, and would rather not speak about it at all. This contribution explores what triggers such a silencing, as well as its consequences at the political, social, and cultural levels.


Sexual violence Suffering Gender Masculinity Ethnic cleansing Rape Stigmatization 


  1. Anderson, R. E. (2014). Human suffering and quality of life, conceptualizing stories and statistics. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Carpenter, C. R. (2006). Recognizing gender‐based violence against civilian men and boys in conflict situations. Security Dialogue, 37(1), 83–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Christian, M., Safari, O., Ramazani, P., Burnham, G., & Glass, N. (2011). Sexual and gender based violence against men in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Effects on survivors, their families and the community. Medicine, Conflict, and Survival, 27(4), 227–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Connell, R. W., & Messerschmidt, J. W. (2005). Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender and Society, 19(6), 829–859.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Department of Defense. (2012). Sexual assault prevention and response, department of defense annual report on sexual assault in the military (Vol. 1). Washington. Accessed 13 Mar 2014.
  6. Dumas, M. (2011, August 2). Viols au Congo: Le jour où ils ont fait de moi une femme. Rue 89.Google Scholar
  7. Féron, É., & Hastings, M. (2003). The new hundred years wars. International Social Science Journal, 177, 490–500.Google Scholar
  8. Gettleman, J. (2009, August 5). Symbol of unhealed Congo: Male rape victims. New York Times.Google Scholar
  9. Haugen, G. A., & Boutros, V. (2014). The locust effect: Why the end of poverty requires the end of violence. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Human Rights Watch. (2005). Seeking justice: The prosecution of sexual violence in the Congo War. Human Rights Watch, New York. (Vol. 17(1(A))).Google Scholar
  11. Johnson, K., et al. (2010). Association of sexual violence and human rights violations with physical and mental health in territories of the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. JAMA, 304(5), 553–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Morrell, R., & Swart, S. (2005). Men in the third world. Post colonial perspectives on masculinity. In M. S. Kimmel, J. Hearn, & R. W. Connell (Eds.), Handbook of studies on men and masculinities (pp. 90–113). Thousands Oaks/London: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Moser, C. O. N., & Clark, F. C. (Eds.). (2011). Victims, perpetrators or actors? Gender, armed conflict and political violence. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  14. Nizich, I. (1994). Violations of the rules of war by Bosnian Croat and Muslim forces in Bosnia‐Herzegovina. Hastings Women’s Law Journal, 5(1), 25–52.Google Scholar
  15. OCHA. (2011). DRC-Uganda: Male sexual abuse survivors living on the margins. Accessed 13 Mar 2014.
  16. Okot, A. C., Amony, I., & Otim, G. (2005). Suffering in silence: A study of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) In Pabbo camp, Gulu district, Northern Uganda. UNICEF, District Sub-Working Group on SGBV.Google Scholar
  17. Oosterhoff, P., Zwanikken, P., & Ketting, E. (2004). Sexual torture of men in Croatia and other conflict situations: An open secret. Reproductive Health Matters, 12(23), 68–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Russell, W. (2007). Sexual violence against men and boys. Forced Migration Review, 27, 22–23.Google Scholar
  19. Sabo, D. (2005). The studies of masculinities and men’s health. An overview. In M. S. Kimmel, J. Hearn, & R. W. Connell (Eds.), Handbook of studies on men and masculinities (pp. 326–352). Thousands Oaks/London: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Schwartz, S. (1994). Rape as a weapon of war in the former Yugoslavia. Hastings Women’s Law Journal, 5(1), 69–88.Google Scholar
  21. Sivakumaran, S. (2007). Sexual violence against men in armed conflict. The European Journal of International Law, 18(2), 253–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Stemple, L. (2009). Male rape and human rights. Hastings Law Journal, 60, 605–645.Google Scholar
  23. Stener, E. C. (1997). Sexual assault on men in war. The Lancet, 349, 129.Google Scholar
  24. UNHCR. (2012). Working with men and boy survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in forced displacement. Accessed 13 Mar 2014.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Conflict Analysis Research CentreUniversity of KentCanterburyUK

Personalised recommendations