A recent Observer investigation into male rape as a weapon of war contained a shocking statistic about Sri Lanka. The article states that ‘…21% of Sri Lankan males who were seen at a London torture treatment centre reported sexual abuse while in detention.’ This comes from a report in the medical journal The Lancet from 2000, before the escalation in the Sri Lankan conflict in 2009. The abuse suffered included forced nudity, taunting, verbal sexual threats, genital mutilation and forced sex acts.
There have been hardly any statistics on male rape in Sri Lanka since this report. The recent Channel 4 documentary ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ showed authenticated footage of women who appeared to have been sexually abused and naked male and female prisoners being killed. Given the culture of impunity at the end of the war, plus the lack of independent witnesses, the possibility and scale of male rape can only be guessed at.
The Observer article, and the report it cites by academic Lara Stemple at the University of California, outlines how infrequently cases of male rape are reported to authorities and dealt with by governments and NGOs. Stemple’s ‘study cites a review of 4,076 NGOs that have addressed wartime sexual violence. Only 3% of them mentioned the experience of men in their literature. “Typically,” Stemple says, “as a passing reference.”
There are many reasons for this secrecy. Male rape is still a taboo and there are only very few organisations that help male rape victims. The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims states that rape was not classed or ‘prosecuted as a crime against humanity under international humanitarian law until the mid 1990s’.
A New York Times article on the subject earlier this year adds:
‘Our failure to acknowledge male rape leaves it in the shadows, compounding the humiliation that survivors experience. For instance, the majority of Tamil males in Sri Lanka who were sexually assaulted during that country’s long civil war did not report it to the authorities at the time, later explaining that they were simply too ashamed.’
There is also an argument that male rape is not possible, especially in conservative or patriarchal cultures like Sri Lanka as the perpetrators would not want to be deemed homosexual. However experts say that ‘ male rape, in time of war, is predominantly an assertion of power and aggression, rather than an attempt on the part of the perpetrator to satisfy sexual desire. The main aim of such an attack is to damage the victim psychologically, rob him of his pride, and intimidate him.’
The IRCT article in 2007 on male rape states: ‘We should emphasize the fact that wartime rape is the ultimate humiliation that can be inflicted on a human being, and it must be regarded as one of the most grievous crimes againsthumanity. The international community has to consider wartime rape a crime of war and a threat to peace and security.’
If there is a war crimes investigation into the conflict in Sri Lanka, sexual abuse of both men and women must be investigated too.
If you know of any research or rehabilitation around Sri Lanka rape victims, please do get in touch with us: [email protected]