The ways in which migration and corruption can be interlinked are increasingly receiving attention among scholars. Not only can corruption contribute to the formation of migration aspirations, but it can also impact the migration process. Existing research on corruption during migration mostly focuses on monetary corruption. However, little research looks at the importance of gendered forms of corruption, namely sextortion. Existing research on sextortion, particularly during migration, has been focusing on female survivors and overlooked the experience of male migrants. This study thus analyses the experience of migrant men survivors of sextortion and the stigma they may face because of gender norms associated to masculinity. The researcher analysed documents pertaining to sexual violence against migrant men and conducted interviews with key informants working with migrants. The main findings illustrate that sextortion is embedded in a system of hegemonic masculinity in which the most powerful perpetrate sextortion, while survivors of sextortion are often emasculated, ashamed, and stigmatized.
Keywords: migration, corruption, sexual violence, sextortion, masculinity, men
While crossing borders or waiting in refugee camps, migrants often experience different forms of sexual violence, on top of exploitation, kidnapping, or extortion. While it has been argued that perpetrators of sexual violence are mostly men, very little is known and researched about male survivors of sexual violence (Carpenter, 2006). These knowledge gaps are of concern, given the fact that the physical and mental consequences are as harmful for men than for women and should thus be acknowledged and tackled (Carpenter, 2006). It is therefore important, in addition to focusing on experiences of women survivors of sexual violence, to analyse the experience of migrant men. One new aspect of sexual violence that has recently been discussed in the context of migration is sextortion, namely the intersection of corruption and sexual violence (Merkle, et al., 2018). However, the main focus was on sextortion perpetrated against women due to their vulnerability in patriarchal societies. An analysis on male survivors of sextortion and the role masculine gender norms play on their experiences has not yet been researched. This research thus fills these different research gaps by focusing on the perpetration of sextortion against migrant men through the lens of masculinity.
Concerning the academic relevance, firstly, this research furthers the knowledge on gendered corruption, as well as sexual violence against men migrants. This thesis focuses on migration, since corruption has been found to be an essential part of the process. Moreover, researchers have started to emphasise the high prevalence of sextortion in migration (Merkle et al., 2018). Secondly, it advances the body of literature on sextortion by providing a perspective on men that has not been researched yet. Concerning the social relevance, firstly, this thesis aims to raise awareness about the experience of male migrants and the sextortion they face. Secondly, migration is a global phenomenon that is not expected to disappear, and sextortion has been shown to be a prevalent practice in migration. Tackling the root of the issue could thus help prevent it, as well as improve the way male survivors are treated nowadays. Thirdly, on a very broad scale, this research highlights clear examples of the damages of hegemonic masculinity as an ideal by linking sextortion to masculinity. Hence, it adds to the work of those who aim to make society rethink toxic gender norms.
This thesis thus aims to research the question: how is sextortion, experienced by migrant men, embedded in a system of hegemonic masculinity? It argues that migrant men often experience sextortion when they are in a vulnerable position and are dependent on others for provision of services and basic needs. Moreover, because of masculine gender norms, male migrant survivors of sextortion are ashamed and stigmatised. Thus, they do not seek for help to overcome the physical and psychological consequences.
The rest of the capstone is structured as follows: Firstly, the main concepts for the research and a literature review are presented. Then, the theoretical framework consisting of hegemonic masculinity, power, shame, and stigma is explained. This is followed by the explanation of the methodological approach and design used in the research, as well as the main limitations faced by the researcher. The analysis and findings of a document analysis and interviews are then presented. Finally, the thesis is concluded with a discussion and recommendations for future research.
Key Concepts and Literature Review
This section defines the key concepts of this research. It elaborates on the existing academic literature on the topics of sextortion and corruption in migration, as well as sexual violence against migrant men.
Migration, as defined by the International Organization for Migration (IOM, 2021), refers to “the movement of persons away from their place of usual residence either across an international border or within a State”. Migration is a global phenomenon and often a mean for people to seek for a better life. While it is in some cases voluntary, in other cases people are forced to migrate from fear of persecution, war, or natural disasters. Crossing borders and seas has however become, especially for irregular migrants, a very dangerous route. Irregular migration refers to undocumented migrants who travel outside of the laws and regulations (IOM, 2021). Therefore, “the irregular status during transit makes people most vulnerable to corruption and exploitation”, as they often rely on illegal and unsafe options to move (Merkle et al., 2018, p.8). It is thus essential to research about the risks migrants face when they are searching for better livelihoods (Armith, 2014). Migrant is an umbrella term which refers to “a person who moves away from his or her place of usual residence, whether within a country or across an international border, temporarily or permanently, and for a variety of reasons” (IOM, 2021). For the purpose of this exploratory research, the word ‘migrant’ is used as an inclusive word encompassing regular and irregular migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people.
Sexual violence against men
Sexual violence as defined by the WHO (2003) is:
any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic a person’s sexuality, using coercion, threats of harm or physical force, by any person, regardless of relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work (p.6).
Sexual violence happens in all spheres of life against both women and men (Fahlberg & Pepper, 2016). Literature and policies on sexual violence, however, have mostly focused on women as survivors and men as perpetrators, as it has been argued that women are more frequently vulnerable to sexual violence (Carpenter, 2006). It has been shown that sexual violence is a mean through which men can assert their dominance over women but also over other men (Fahlberg & Pepper, 2016; Sivakuraman, 2007). Power and dominance are thus an essential aspect in the perpetration of sexual violence. Due to shame, guilt, and stigma, sexual violence against men is often under-reported. Moreover, in general, men do not want to be victimized, as this is seen as incompatible with their masculinity (Sivakumaran, 2007). Indeed, it is expected that men should be able to defend themselves and not talk about their emotions. Nevertheless, sexual violence against men is extremely prevalent and can include rape, enforced sterilization, enforced nudity, enforced masturbation, and genital violence but also enforced incest or rape of others (Sivakumaran, 2007; Solangon & Patel, 2012). On top of the direct violence that male survivors face, men can also experience long-lasting physical and psychological health problems (Solangon & Patel, 2012). However, if men manage to go past the shame, doctors, counsellors, and other professionals are often better trained to assist female than male sexual violence (Sivakuraman, 2007).
In this thesis, the term ‘survivor’ is used when referring to migrant men that have experienced sextortion. It was privileged to the word ‘victim’ as it can give more agency to the person and is therefore more empowering (Schwark & Bonner, 2019). Moreover, as already mentioned, men often do not want to be referred as victims because of masculine norms. Hence, the term ‘survivor’ seems more fitting.
Corruption and sextortion
Transparency international (2021), the global coalition against corruption, defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for personal gain”. Sextortion is a form of corruption that involves an abuse of power to request and engage in unwanted sexual activities (IAWJ, 2012). It represents the “intersection of corruption and sexual violence” (Merkle et al., 2018, p.10). It consists of three distinct features. Firstly, it must involve the abuse of authority which means that “someone who has legitimately been entrusted with power seeks to use that power for personal benefit” (IAWJ, 2012, p.9). Secondly, “the abuse of authority to obtain a sexual favor implies an exchange” (IAWJ, 2012, p.11). Thirdly, sextortion relies more on psychological coercion rather than physical force by the authority to obtain the sexual favour (IAWJ, 2012, p.11).
Corruption and sextortion in migration
In migration, corruption can take the form of bribery, falsification of documents, extortion, human smuggling, and human trafficking. It can mostly be experienced in the origin country and during transit (Merkle et al., 2018). In the home country, some experiences of corruption can act as push factors for migration. For example, high levels of corruption can motivate citizens to seek for better and equal opportunities to leave the country, while at the same time help them to easily falsify documents and accelerate the process (Merkle et al., 2017; UNODC, 2013). However, corruption can also hinder safe migration as it can be less affordable to obtain official documents (Merkle et al., 2017). The research on the corruption-migration nexus has found that in transit, migrants are vulnerable to more intense forms of corruption. It is experienced when organizing the journey, paying bribes to cross borders for example, but also as the only way to access certain services such as healthcare (UNODC, 2013; Merkle et al., 2018). While academic literature has increasingly researched the link between corruption and migration, a gender lens has only been recently applied. Based on gender norms and patriarchal structures, women are more vulnerable to corruption because they often leave alone, without the support of family and with low financial means (Merkle et al., 2018). Moreover, the type of corruption that men and women experience may be different based on gender norms. Indeed “while men pay with money, women’s experiences [of corruption] are shaped by the fact that, if they have nothing, they still have female bodies’” (Merkle et al., 2018, p.11). In the case that men cannot afford to pay, they risk severe beatings, while women are more likely to face sexual violence (Bruni & Merkle, 2018). Thus, women are “especially vulnerable to atypical forms of corruption such as sextortion in addition to more typical forms of corruption that are also experienced by men” (Merkle et al., 2018, p.13).
An example of sextortion in migration can take place at a border crossing, when a border official exerts coercive pressure on a migrant and forces them to engage in sexual activity in return for the opportunity to cross the border (Merkle et al., 2018). The existing paper on sextortion in migration argues that sextortion is mostly perpetrated against women because it is “the direct result of a patriarchal configuration of power in institutions, where power is systematically held by male hegemons and exerted principally against women and non-masculine men” (Merkle et al., 2018, p.12). Women’s bodies are hence often used as the means of exchange in corruption (Merkle et al., 2018). While these findings are significant, research on the perpetration of sextortion against migrant men has yet to be investigated.
Sexual violence against migrant men
While the literature on sexual violence against men is gaining more importance, the literature on sexual violence perpetrated against migrant men remains very scarce. The Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), however, launched a Sexual Violence Project, in which for three years they analysed the effects of sexual violence perpetrated against people identifying as male. Three refugee settings were selected: (1) Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, (2) refugees and migrants travelling through Libya to Italy, and (3) Congolese, Somali, and South Sudanese refugees residing in Kenya. The most common forms of violence across these settings were rape, genital violence, and forced witnessing of sexual violence. It mostly took place on roadsides, at border crossings, and in detention. Moreover, while residing in host countries, migrants experienced sexual abuse, exploitation and rape, especially younger boys and people with different gender identities and sexual orientations. The findings showed that male survivors showed signs of short and long-term, psychological, physical, and social impacts. Through this research project, the WRC aimed to emphasize the importance for intervention mechanisms to be put in place for migrants of all genders (Chynoweth et al., 2020a; Chynoweth, 2018; Chynoweth, 2019a; Chynoweth, 2019b). On top of the main reports, the author also wrote a comparative paper on the three case studies focusing on the many barriers male survivors face to access services (Chynoweth et al., 2020b).
Another research analysed the experience of migrant survivors of sexual violence receiving care in the MSF clinic on the Lesvos Island in Greece. It found that 28% were men, and it was mostly experienced in transit in Turkey. The most common type of sexual violence experienced was rape. The research argues that the available mental health facilities were lacking compared to the need for it (Belanteri et al., 2020). Moreover, Freccero et al. (2017) also looked at migrants in Greece, but specifically the sexual exploitation young boys face. The findings show that unaccompanied migrant boys are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation and that while most prevention services focus on women and girls, there should be more emphasis placed on boys (Freccero et al., 2017). Furthermore, one research analysed the risks migrant men experience in refugee camps, but also the sexual exploitation of boys on the streets in Greece (McGinnis, 2016). McGinnis (2016) exposes the lack of services and assistance for these men in a hope to draw attention to the issue and find better solutions. Finally, Chynoweth, the author of the WRC reports, also published a report for the UNHCR in 2017 about the sexual violence against men and boys in the Syria crisis and the access to services in Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. The main findings are that sexual violence against Syrian men in displacement is prevalent especially in makeshift detention centres. LGBTI people and young boys are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. Finally, refugee men and boys also experience sexual exploitation in host countries. Chynoweth (2017) found that there were several physical, social, and economic consequences on male survivors of sexual violence. However, services and skilled professionals are lacking for male survivors, and many barriers hinder service provision and accessibility, including stigmatisation against male survivors and the lack of awareness on their experiences (Chynoweth, 2017). All this literature on sexual violence against migrant men is investigated in more details in the analysis.
This section presents the theoretical framework chosen for this thesis. Based on the literature review and the existing research on gendered corruption and sexual violence against migrant men, this thesis uses the theoretical concepts of hegemonic masculinity, power, stigma, and emasculation. All of these concepts are essential to understand the experience of migrant men who are survivors of sextortion, as these terms are interlinked and sustain each other. These concepts specifically help to understand how the perpetration of sextortion against migrant men is embedded in a system of hegemonic masculinity and power relations because of the gendered dimension of sextortion and the stigma and emasculation male survivors experience or fear to experience. In this thesis, the theoretical framework will serve as a guide for the analysis.
Hegemonic masculinity and Power
Gender and Masculinity
According to Judith Butler (1990), one of the most prominent researchers in gender studies, gender is socially constructed and exists through the repetition of gendered acts. For her, gender is a performance because gender norms are repeated and reenacted so many times that they construct one’s identity and become to be seen as natural (Alsop, Fitzsimons & Lennon, 2002). Similarly, West and Zimmerman (1987) argue that people ‘do’ gender, and that differences between genders are not natural but rather constructed and institutionalised while being maintained through interaction with others. Individuals thus perform their gender according to societal, historical, and cultural norms. In the case that individuals do not conform to the ideal ways gender should be performed, they will be socially treated as outcasts (Alsop, Fitzsimons & Lennon, 2002; West & Zimmerman, 1987).
Masculinity is defined “as a socially constructed set of practices within a system of gender relations that is predicated upon unequal power both between men and women and among men” (Fahlberg & Pepper, 2016, p.674). Men need to perform these practices that are perceived as masculine and re-enact them repeatedly to maintain their masculinity (West and Zimmerman, 1987). Characteristics of masculinity come into existence through social norms, practices, institutionalised laws, and actions of individuals and groups (Enloe, 2000). Connell (2005), who has provided the foundation for masculinities studies, also points to the importance of acknowledging that there are multiple masculinities and that researchers should analyse the gender relations among men. Indeed, masculinities are not a fixed category. They differ in terms of place, class, race, education, or authority (Connell, 1987; Noble, 2011). Thereby, since there are multiple masculinities, it also implies a hierarchy (Connell, 2001). Some masculinities will be marginalized because of a lower economic status for example, while hegemonic masculinity is seen as the ideal (Connell, 2001).
Hegemonic masculinity represents a form of manhood which is seen as superior to other masculinities but also the entire gender structure (‘weaker’ men, women, and non-binary people) (Connell, 2001). Hegemonic masculinity is hence considered the ideal and may be defined by access to money, political power, or physical stature (Fahlberg & Pepper, 2016). Men will therefore often aspire to hegemonic masculinity and their actions will be shaped by that. In the process, men at the bottom of the masculinities’ hierarchy will be subordinated (Connell, 2005). In order to attain power and status, men must continually compete with other men through practices considered to be masculine. These often entail the marginalization of women and other subordinate groups (Fahlberg & Pepper, 2016). As Sivakuraman (2007) declared, “men are considered to represent the virility, strength and power of the family and the community, able to protect not just them but others” (p.268). Consequently, feminist scholars argue that violence perpetrated by men stems from their desire to maintain dominance in patriarchal societies (Fahlberg & Pepper, 2016). Masculinities and specifically hegemonic masculinity are thus inherently linked to power relations.
Power is “a relationship that structures social interaction not only between men and women but also among men and among women” (Messerschmidt, 2018, p.120). Hegemonic masculinities form a hierarchical social structure with the more powerful at the top (Messerschmidt,2018). Messerschmidt (2018) defines hegemonic masculinities “as those masculinities that legitimate an unequal relationship between men and women, masculinity and femininity, and among masculinities” (p.120). The ability to exercise power is thus strongly linked to the gendered position. It is through socialisation that gendered power is constituted and maintained (Messerschmidt,2018, p.122). Power and hegemonic masculinity ideals are crucial dynamics that impact how male survivors perceive themselves and are perceived by others. Since male survivors may not be seen as performing their gender according to masculine norms, the researcher expects that the perpetration of sextortion can have impacts on their masculine identity.
Stigma and Emasculation
According to gendered stereotypes, men are expected to be perpetrators and cannot be victims. Indeed, there is a certain “boy code” that insists on men as being invulnerable (Hlavka, 2017, p.484). “A man should have been able to prevent himself from being attacked – and in dealing with the consequences of the attack – to be able to cope ‘like a man’”, explained Sivakuraman (2007, p.255). They will thus never perceive themselves as victims of sexual abuse for example (Sivakumaran, 2007). Moreover, “power and dominance are linked with masculinity and in the context of male sexual violence in armed conflict, power and dominance manifest themselves in the form of emasculation” (p.270). Emasculation refers to the idea of ‘losing’ the masculinity. The fear to be emasculated is a constant concern of survivors (Sivakumaran, 2007). Most of the time, the perpetrators are associated to masculinity, while survivors are associated to femininity, regardless of the actual gender of the individual. Consequently, male survivors of sexual violence are sometimes perceived as ‘feminized’. Moreover, male survivors can also feel emasculated through ‘homosexualisation’ (Sivakumaran, 2007). In the hierarchy of masculinities, homosexual men are perceived to be at the bottom (Connell, 2005). Indeed, a key feature of hegemonic masculinity is that it is heterosexual (Connell, 1987). Consequently, constructing a man as a victim and as homosexual is a way to emasculate them.
Since victimhood is seen as incompatible to masculinity, male survivors of sextortion may fear to be stigmatized and therefore can develop feelings of shame and embarrassment. Stigma mainly refers to social exclusion (Mburu et al., 2014). Male survivors are not seen as strong, powerful, and independent anymore, rather they can be socially stigmatized and seen as having failed to perform their masculinity (Hlavka, 2017). To avoid being stigmatized, individuals may develop strategies in order to protect their identity (Hlavka, 2017). Hlavka (2017) declared that “stigmatizing responses promotes feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment, and research shows that men often do not report rape when it jeopardizes their masculine self-identity” (p.486). Due to stigma or the fear to experience stigma and emasculation, male survivors often do not dare to speak about their experiences as these do not correspond to their gendered identity.
This section presents the methodology used for conducting the research for this thesis. First, the research paradigm is presented. Second, the methods of data collection are explained, as well as the way these were analysed. Finally, the limitations of this study are introduced.
Epistemologically and ontologically, this thesis takes a critical and structuralist position. According to critical theory, the researcher should “confront those in positions of power and expose the oppressive structures that subjugate people and create inequality” (Rehman & Alharthi, p.57). Thus, the aim of this research is to challenge and transform the current masculine gender ideals by analysing the experience of male survivors of sextortion and how norms of hegemonic masculinity exercise power over them. According to a structuralist ontology, individuals are not aware of the social powers and structure that control them (Hollis, 1994). As Hollis (1994) explained, “individuals are always set about with social constraints, especially with inherited obligations, which cannot be explained by reference to individuals alone” (p.101). Masculinity studies are situated within a broader feminist paradigm which perceives the social world as shaped by power relations (Fahlberg & Pepper, 2016). Therefore, this paper focuses on the role masculinities, as a structure, play on the survivors. Social constraints relate here to gendered expectations of masculinity.
Overall methodological approach
In this thesis, the researcher chose to use a qualitative research approach in order to understand and explore in-depth the under-researched topic of sextortion against migrant men (Gray, 2014). A qualitative method focuses on the interpretation of words (Braun & Clarke, 2013). This research thus analyses both written and verbal data in order to find overarching themes that can help answer the research question. With a qualitative approach, this thesis could generate “rich data” and “thick descriptions” for the topic of interest (Braun & Clarke, 2013, p.24). Due to the lack of research about sextortion against migrant men, a qualitative approach was the most appropriate.
In order to collect the data, two methods were used. Firstly, the researcher collected different literature. Secondly, semi-structured interviews were conducted.
As the first part of the data collection, the researcher collected eleven different academic and grey literature pertaining to the topic of sexual violence against migrant men. This method was chosen in order to have an overview of the research that had already been conducted and to generate new findings. These sources were found on the search engines Google and Google Scholar after searching ‘sexual violence AND migrant men’. The timeframe used was the last ten years, from 2011 to 2021. This timeframe was chosen because the topic of sexual violence against migrant men has only started to be researched recently. The migrant populations in the documents were (1) Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, (2) refugees and migrants who had traveled through Libya and resided in Italy, (3) Congolese, Somalian and South Sudan refugees in Kenya, and (4) migrants who travelled to Europe. These sources were already summarized in the literature review to give the reader an overview of the existing literature on the topic of sexual violence against migrant men. However, the author decided to go beyond the literature review and analyse these articles in-depth. The aim was not to only look at sexual violence but also understand sextortion specifically. It was thus necessary to analyse these papers through the lens of sextortion and masculinity.
Secondly, to go beyond the existing literature and generate new data, the researcher conducted three semi-structured interviews. Interviews were chosen as a second method for this thesis in order to get “rich and detailed data about individual experiences and perspectives” (Braun & Clarke, 2013, p.80). The researcher decided to interview key informants (KI) who work or volunteer in different European organisations working with and for migrants. The participants were chosen through a purposive sampling method as the researcher wanted to target a specific group which could help answer the research question (Gray, 2014; Smith & Osborn, 2007). The objective was to interview people that could provide a broad overview and professional insights on the corruption and sexual violence perpetrated against migrant men and the stigma they experience. After contacting more than 50 organisations and professionals considered to be “knowledgeable informants”, only three key informants replied positively and were thus interviewed (Guba & Lincoln, 1994, p.234). A possible explanation for this limited number of interviewees is that the stakeholders often did not feel informed enough because the topic is sensitive and under researched. The participants were found through online research of different organisations. They were then contacted by email, in which the researcher briefly presented the aim of the research and asked for their participation.
Two of the interviewees agreed to disclose their name and organisations for this project. Jasmijn Helsen is a social worker for the social service of Caritas an International NGO. She works in Brussels and helps people, especially undocumented people, with their questions on the procedure to receive residency or international protection. Simone Innico is the communications, fundraising and advocacy coordinator of Samos Volunteers in Greece. This grassroot NGO provides hygiene services, informal education as well as psychosocial support for refugees and asylum seekers living in the camp in Samos. The third interviewee preferred to stay anonymous and is therefore referred by his profession: a social worker working with migrants.
The interviews were semi-structured, as the interviewer prepared an interview guide relevant to the research question but wanted to leave space for participants to raise other issues if needed or for the interviewer to probe for further details. The interview guide was created according to the codes and themes found during the analysis of the literature. This guide consisted of open-ended questions in order to encourage the interviewees to provide in-depth and detailed responses (Braun & Clarke, 2013). These questions served as a guide, but the list was ongoing, which meant that it could be tweaked depending on the interviewees’ answers. The interviews then took place online on Zoom and lasted between 30 minutes to 1 hour. The interviews were recorded and then transcribed manually with the method of intelligent verbatim.
In this research, the data was analysed both deductively and inductively. First, to analyse the documents, the researcher came up with different codes from the theoretical framework and literature review. By creating codes, the researcher could search for overarching themes across the different sources (Sage, 2019). In order to be transparent about the meaning of each code, the researcher created a code book in which each code was defined (Sage, 2019). It allowed for the researcher to stay consistent throughout the analysis but also to provide context for anyone wishing to examine the data (Sage, 2019). The documents were thus coded deductively using atlas.ti according to the code book. The aim was to understand where the codes were mentioned and in what context. Since the documents focused on sexual violence, the researcher specifically looked at cases of sextortion and took into account the location of the incident, the type of perpetrator, and the context in which it happened. From this first analysis, the codes were organised into overarching themes. After that, the same data was analysed inductively using the method of a thematic analysis. This method was used in order to have a deeper understanding of the sources and was particularly useful since the topic investigated is under-researched (Braun & Clarke, 2006). After interpreting the data, new codes were found and added to the code book. These were also structured into broader themes (Braun & Clarke, 2006).
Afterwards, the interview transcripts were coded deductively on atlas.ti according to the code book created from the theoretical framework and the documents analysis. The interviews were also coded inductively using the method of thematic analysis to find new important themes. The final overarching themes were sextortion, power, emasculation, shame and social stigma, and in each of them all the codes were split. These were then interpreted, linked to the theoretical framework, and written in the thesis. Although, the researcher acknowledges that masculine norms are not universal and cannot be applied to all men, the findings reflect that the main themes were prevalent across all cases. Because of the exploratory nature of this capstone, the researcher preferred to keep it broad and find the similarities present across the different migrant populations. Moreover, because of the lack of existing research, it would have been limiting to focus on one region. Hence, further research could specifically focus on masculine norms in a region in the world and collect data exclusively on migrants from there.
This thesis is part of a larger project led by Dr. Ortrun Merkle at UNU-Merit, for which three master students and one bachelor student analyse sextortion in migration but look at different sub questions. Since the topic of sextortion is ethically sensitive, the project has been ethically reviewed and approved by the Ethics Review Committee Inner City faculties (ERCIC) of Maastricht University. Therefore, before the interviews, the participants were asked to sign a consent form. In this form, participants could choose whether they preferred to stay anonymous and whether the researcher was allowed to use direct quotes in the capstone. The transcripts were also stored safely in Surfdrive in accordance with GDPR compliance. To avoid any ethical concerns, this study relied on published literature available online, and the migrant survivors mentioned in the interviews were anonymous.
This study presents some limitations. Firstly, since the specific topic that is investigated in this thesis has not been researched yet and that in general sextortion and sexual violence against men are topics that are under-researched, the available literature was scarce. Secondly, the sensitivity of the topic coupled with the status of the researcher as a bachelor student did not allow for migrant men, and specifically survivors of sexual abuse, to be interviewed. Nevertheless, although future research could consider interviewing male survivors, the researcher of this study made a conscious decision to interview key informants since male survivors may have been reluctant to be interviewed due to the associated stigma. Moreover, it could have been inappropriate to make them reexperience their trauma. Finally, due to limited time, the COVID-19 situation, and the sensitivity of the topic, the researcher could only conduct a few online interviews.
Analysis and Findings
The analysis shows that sextortion is perpetrated against migrant men and is embedded in a system of hegemonic masculinity. It argues that power is an essential component in the perpetration of sextortion, which leads to subordinated men at the bottom of the masculinities hierarchy to be emasculated. Since male survivors of sextortion are seen as not having fulfilled their masculine gender role, they will express feelings of shame, while people around them will stigmatize them. The following section elaborates on the main findings, linking them back to the theoretical framework and literature review. It is important to note that the documents mainly focused on sexual violence. Therefore, in some cases, when the context is missing, it may be unsure whether the male migrant experienced sextortion or another form of sexual exploitation. Nevertheless, since sextortion represents the intersection between sexual violence and corruption, the findings about sexual violence are still relevant for the analysis on sextortion, as the experiences of male survivors may be similar. This is further discussed in the analysis.
Sextortion against migrant men
Although research on sextortion against migrants has only analysed the perpetration of sextortion against women due to their vulnerability in a patriarchal system (Merkle et al., 2018), the findings of this research show that men are also affected by and can be survivors of sextortion. It is by analysing the documents and interview transcripts through a sextortion lens, namely looking at the location of the incident, the perpetrator, and the context, that different instances of sexual violence against migrant men were coded as sextortion. In these situations, sexual violence was enforced on a male migrant by a person abusing their position of power, and it involved a form of exchange (IAWJ, 2012). According to the different documents analysed for this research and the conducted interviews, sextortion against men takes place in different settings, such as in the home country, in transit, and in the host country. One of the interviewees (KI Simone), working in a refugee camp in Samos, argued that certain migrant men “living in unstable situations and who are easily reached by people with intentions of sextortion” can be especially exposed to sextortion. In these cases, they are “‘offered some comfort in the form of sleeping in a real house for one night, having access to a shower stuff like that or maybe even just food” in exchange of sexual violence. This can show that migrant men can experience sextortion in places such as refugee camps, in transit or in the host country when they are in a vulnerable position and are dependent on others for provision of services and basic needs.
When further analysing the location where sexual violence against migrant men took place, borders, checkpoints, and detention centres were prevalent. Border crossings were dangerous for migrant men as for example Somalian refugees were “required to pay official and unofficial armed guards and groups to continue their journey, and often face physical and sexual violence if they are unable to do so” (Chynoweth, 2019a, p.15). These findings present the same points than the research on sextortion experienced by women (Merkle et al., 2018). For example, a Senegalese migrant, at a checkpoint in Burkina Faso experienced sextortion. “They asked him for money to pass through the checkpoint, but he didn’t want to give it to them, so they raped him in order to get the money” (Chynoweth, 2019a, p.15). Border guards use their power to grant a passage across a border by perpetrating sexual violence in return (IAWJ, 2012). Moreover, a migrant in Kenya shared: “it’s always happening when they want money. If you don’t have any money, they might treat you like woman [rape you]” (Chynoweth, 2019b, p.15). In this quote, the migrant uses a euphemism for rape which reflects it as something that only happens to women. This aspect will be analysed and discussed in the section about sextortion and emasculation.
Moreover, one Nigerian man on his journey through Libya was captured and experienced sextortion because he did not have money to give to the captor: “‘they hooked my neck. When they thought I was dead, they shocked me in my private parts. This happened every day—electroshock to genitals every day. … If you don’t run away, they will abuse you until you die” (Chynoweth, 2019a, p.27). These findings illustrate how in some cases male bodies are not sufficient to do the exchange. Indeed, for men, in the case that they cannot afford to pay for corruption, there are two possible scenarios. Either they experience sextortion, such as for the Somalian refugees fleeing to Kenya, and are able to cross the border afterwards, getting their part of the exchange. Otherwise, men who cannot comply with the bribes will face sexual violence as punishment, such as the Nigerian man, but will not receive anything in exchange. Even though men can also experience sextortion, the latter example shows that men’s bodies are sometimes not sufficient when they cannot afford to pay. This is different in the case of women as it was found that their bodies may be a more desired currency, which explains why sextortion may still happen more regularly to women (Merkle & Bruni, 2018). Nevertheless, the violence perpetrated against migrant men can still have a sexual component to it thereby still having an impact on their masculinity.
Moreover, in detention, cases of sextortion were prevalent. For refugees in Kenyan prisons for example: “performing sexual favors … may be necessary to receive food or protection” (Chynoweth, 2019b, p.26). Moreover, “police officers may request sexual favors in exchange for release or in lieu of paying a bribe” (Chynoweth, 2019b, p.30). The exchange aspect of sextortion is here very explicit.
In the reports, there were also examples of sextortion which took place not only in transit but also in host countries such as Italy, Greece, or Kenya. While the author often refers to prostitution and sex work, when analysing the actions of the migrants and the context in which it takes place, it is possible to claim that they experience forms of sextortion. Indeed, while it can be argued that migrants have the agency to use their body in exchange for money or other goods, in many cases they do not have a choice and are forced to engage in these sexual activities by a person abusing its power, such as an official or an employee in an NGO. “In Greece, shelter providers told stories of older men sexually exploiting unaccompanied boys aged 14–17 … in Athens, in exchange for money, food, clean clothing, and other basic needs” (Chynoweth, et al. 2017, p.90). Similarly, for Syrian LGBTI refugees who are paid very little, the perpetrators only give them their salary after they engage in sexual activities (Chynoweth, 2017, p.34). In these two examples, it is not sure who exactly the perpetrators are. However, in the case that they were people who had been legitimately entrusted with power, it can be argued to be sextortion and not prostitution (IAWJ, 2012). One of the interviewees (KI, Jasmijn), talked about how romantic relationships between migrants and people working in reception centres could maybe be referred as sextortion, although she was not sure at all. She said:
“The relationship is not fair because one person is working there [the reception center] and the other person is depending on the other person. I think that it’s possible that it would happen that a migrant would easily go into having sexual contact with somebody who works there with maybe the idea that he can help me or she can help me to get my documents.”
Despite being an interesting observation about the way sextortion can be perpetrated, it is indeed difficult to know exactly what the reception centres’ person’s intentions are and whether the migrant is forced into engaging into the relationship in order to receive help in exchange. These examples highlight the difficulty of exactly defining sextortion and therefore the current grey area on the topic.
As shown, several examples of sextortion refer to the perpetrators as being guards, officers, smugglers, or armed people. This reflects the unequal power relations present in the perpetration of sextortion. The type of perpetrators will be further analysed in the next section about power and hegemonic masculinity in sextortion.
To conclude, sextortion can take different forms, however, it is something that migrant men often experience. As one of the interviewees, Simone, said: “everything can be used as a weapon …, when people are cut off from the basics, even really the essential of human life can become a weapon in the hand of sextortion”.
Sextortion, power, and hegemonic masculinity
The perpetration of sextortion is a way for the perpetrator to express power. While some men are powerful, others are subordinated. As mentioned above, perpetrators are in positions of power because they can take advantage of migrant men who are in vulnerable situations compared to them. When discussing about the profile of perpetrators of sextortion, Simone (KI) said that, although being a taboo topic, sometimes humanitarian workers can be perpetrators of sextortion. “The personnel of humanitarian organisations find themselves to withhold an incredible amount of power in their hands so this means that they can potentially be, if there is the intention, they can be actors of sextortion, extortion and sexual abuse.” In general, Simone (KI) argued that it is essential for the perpetrator to have “even the slightest amount of more power than the other person”. According to the system of hegemonic masculinity, while some men are superior because of their access to power in this case, others are subordinated. Sextortion is seemingly embedded in this system. While the documents analysed did not elaborate on the perpetrators, they did mention that the majority were men (Chynoweth, 2019a; 2019b). As explained in the literature review and theoretical framework, sexual violence can be a mean through which men claim dominance and assert their masculinity (Falhberg & Pepper, 2016). “Sexual violence is a sexualised expression of violence, and when it is perpetrated against men, it is often an assertion of (hypermasculine) power over another man” (Touquet et al., 2020, p.28). Based on the stories and the migrants they have met, one of the interviewees (KI, social worker) also said that when instances of sextortion or sexual violence are discussed, it is mostly men that are perpetrators. By being armed, in uniforms or by being in a position to grant or deny access to something that the migrants need, male perpetrators exercised power over subordinated men.
Through the analysis, several categories of men were coded as subordinate. Young boys are an example. Simone (KI) argued that young boys, “or very young adults, or even mislabelled minors, so minor people who have been mislabelled during age assessment” can be more vulnerable to sextortion. The reports also strongly emphasized the vulnerability of young migrants to sexual violence, which implies that they might also be more vulnerable to sextortion. Moreover, homosexual men were also often targeted by perpetrators of sexual exploitation or sextortion (Chynoweth, et al., 2020a, p.4). In the hierarchy of masculinities, homosexual men are at the bottom, which can explain why they are also more likely to become survivors of sextortion (Connell, 2005). One of the interviewees (KI, social worker) kept referring back to homosexual people when asked about survivors of sextortion. He also argued that they have been so targeted in their home country that even when they arrive to the host country in Europe, they will not want to disclose their sexuality by fear of being violated again. The interviewee declared: “Most of the time when we know that someone is gay, they specifically say please don’t mention to other people that I am gay, so the fear that they have in their country of origin is taken also here” (KI, social worker). Moreover, a Syrian homosexual refugee recalled:
I was taking a taxi and the driver took me to a checkpoint. This military guy, he put a knife to my waist. He looked at the photos on my phone and saw that I was gay. He said, ‘Why don’t you have any pictures of girls?’ He threatened to take a photo of me and tell [the police] that I was with ISIS. Then he used me sexually at the checkpoint. (Chynoweth, 2017, p.27)
Although here it is not sure whether the perpetrator allowed the refugee to cross the border afterwards, it can be assumed that it was a form of sextortion since the refugee probably had the hope that he would be able to go. Furthermore, Simone (KI), also talked about the vulnerabilities of irregular migrant men:
“Some form of exploitation is easy to happen in a situation in which people are left out from any form of welfare so … undocumented people, perhaps people whose legal status is not perfectly clear, so they are either undocumented or rejected from the asylum service. They are probably cut off from cash assistance, probably cut off from any form of accommodation … this probably can make them easily victims of exploitation and also sexual exploitation, sextortion.”
Conclusively, while some men are the perpetrators that demonstrate power and sustain the ideal of hegemonic masculinities, other men such as young boys, homosexual men, and irregular migrants are subordinated and more at risk of sextortion.
Sextortion as emasculation
Across the different data, sextortion impacted the masculine identity of the male migrants, their perception of it, and people’s perceptions around them. Emasculation, homosexualization and feminization of male migrants were common themes. While in some cases, the reports only referred to survivors without mentioning the context of the sexual violence, it is still relevant to analyse their experience, as it can illustrate how migrant men may feel after experiencing sextortion. It may even be possible that survivors of sextortion will blame themselves even more and feel more emasculated than survivors of sexual violence. This blame might be caused because they engaged in an exchange that they think they could have resisted by acting ‘like a man’, in order to avoid engaging in a sexual activity.
As seen already above, in some cases, after experiencing forms of sextortion, men either saw themselves or people around them saw them as having ‘lost their masculinity’. Indeed, sometimes, refugees claimed that “the male survivor is no longer [seen as] a man” (Chynoweth et al., 2020b, p.8). A mental health worker in Sicily working with male refugee survivor said:
The rape has hurt their personal identity, their masculine identity. They don’t feel like the man or boy they were before … Especially if they are from a culture that puts a lot on male identity, like if the man is the head of family, the most important part of society. (Chynoweth et al., 2020a, p.20)
Similarly, another key informant in Kenya said about the male survivors: “He is no longer the man that he used to be—his ego, his personal status is completely diminished” (Chynoweth, 2019b, p.40). A survivor from Sierra Leone also said: “You are transformed into something different, no longer a man. I preferred they kill me. They made me a disgrace to my family, my country, and myself” (Chynoweth, 2019a, p.24). Sometimes, after disclosing to their families, it can indeed have consequences. In the case of Syrian refugees, there were several instances where “a woman divorced a male survivor because he was ‘no longer perceived as a strong male’” (Chynoweth, 2017, p.38). All these examples illustrate how male survivors can be emasculated. “For men, the gender stereotype of the strong, powerful man feeds into this. Many survivors internalise these beliefs. Even men who were detained may feel that they weren’t ‘man enough’ and should have resisted” (Touquet et al., 2020, p.28). Simone (KI) said that “men and especially straight men” are expected to be “strong and that they don’t need defense because they are their own defense” and that the survivors of sextortion then “are victims so they have been in a position that is against what is accepted as a gender norm for male character”. Moreover, he argued that men are often perceived as emasculated if they need protection: “because of them being victim, them being through traumatic experiences and being victim of sextortion, this doesn’t make them less men.” This is supported by a statement in the reports about Syrian refugees: “A number of refugees reported that men are expected to be stoic, and that the community perceive men who seek services as weak” (Chynoweth, 2017, p.53). As illustrated by the above-mentioned examples, male survivors of sextortion may feel emasculated as it has a very strong impact on their masculinity.
Furthermore, a South Sudanese boy said: “If you are man and you are fucked by a man, they call you a woman. You are not [a] man. They say it is better for you to die than to accept to be raped by another man” (Chynoweth et al., 2020a, p.21). On top of ‘losing their masculinity’ in some cases, perpetrators feminize the migrants. A Congolese migrant referred to what the militia that captured him and sodomized him said: “We are going to make you a wife, you don’t want to be a man anymore” (Chynoweth et al., 2020a, p.19). Male survivors are thus in some cases perceived as ‘women’ if they experienced sextortion.
Another impact on their masculinity is the concept of homosexualisation. “The damage to a male survivor’s identity can be severe. Heterosexual survivors may believe that rape or other sexual violence ‘turned them gay’, causing confusion about their sexuality” (Chynoweth, 2019a, p.97). Migrant men survivors of sextortion may think that they have been homosexualised, or they will fear to be perceived as homosexual and thus rejected. Indeed, Rohingya “refugees described the isolation, shame, and humiliation that a boy survivor would encounter if his victimization became known to the larger community, including the perception that he is gay” (Chynoweth, 2018, p.38). Similarly for Syrian refugees, “survivors may face ostracisation, shaming, persecution, and even death threats, and may be perceived as gay” (Chynoweth, 2017, p.37). When male survivors were not able to defend themselves, which is expected according to masculine gender norms, it may be said that “‘he must have accepted it’, implying that male survivors are gay” (Chynoweth, 2017, p.53). Consequently, there is overall a very big misconceptions on the effects of sextortion on male survivors because of the importance of masculinity.
Finally, in some cases, it was mentioned that survivors of sextortion may start acting violently as a response of their experience. Analysing it through a masculinity lens, it is possible to say that they may want to regain their masculinity that they may think they have lost. After sextortion has happened,
If there is no process of healing, and the only people the man encounters are his wife and family, he will definitely be violent … they fear the wife will ask, ‘Are you man enough? Then why were you violated?’ The man tries to fill the gap, and the way to do that is to become violent and to become more controlling of the family. (Chynoweth, 2019b, p.40-41)
Moreover, “two key informants reported that adolescent boy survivors were unable to have healthy relationships with girls as result of their sexual victimization; one began ‘acting out’ towards girls in an effort to confirm his heterosexuality” (Chynoweth, 2019a, p.35). Since male survivors may feel like they are at the bottom of the masculinities hierarchy because they were either feminized, homosexualized, or not seen as men anymore, they may act in a way that will be in accordance with the ideals of hegemonic masculinity, namely heterosexuality (Connell, 1987). Furthermorer male survivors may take on hyper-masculine traits after their manhood was “beat”; “they become hostile, they can become violent. They will drink more alcohol. The man just keeps it inside and gets angry” (Chynoweth, 2019b, p.40). In one interview, Jasmijn (KI) also said:
“I can imagine that they even react more that they would as a result maybe sexually assault a woman to prove that they are masculine, I don’t know but I could imagine that that’s something they would feel that they fear that their masculinity has been affected and that they have to prove for themselves that they are true men.”
It is thus common that in order to reassert their masculinity, male survivors may engage in violence. Consequently, in several cases, male survivors of sextortion may feel that they have failed to perform their masculinity and therefore feel emasculated, feminized, or homosexualized. On top of the perception, they may have on their own masculine identity, people around them may also project the same ideas of emasculation.
Sextortion and shame
Another aspect that is strongly linked to the impact of sextortion on male migrants’ masculinity is that after experiencing sextortion, often male migrants will be ashamed as they fear to be stigmatized. As a consequence, they often do not talk about what they have been through, or they say very little; “men may find it more difficult to talk about it, as they are not expected to show weakness or lack of masculinity” (Belanteri et al., 2020, p.2). Here again, when the authors of the reports focus on the feelings of male migrants after the incident, it is not always clear what the circumstances of the sexual violence were. Nevertheless, as mentioned in the IAWJ (2012) report about sextortion, “when … a boy or a man is asked for a sexual bribe rather than a monetary bribe, [he] may experience the same kind of shame that rape and other sexual violence victims experience, and [he] may fear that revealing what happened will incur the same kind of social stigma” (p.6).
One Somali migrant said: “it is very shameful to talk about [sexual violence against men and boys]” (Chynoweth et al., 2020a, p.11). The three interviewees of this research had talked to very few male migrant survivors of sexual violence. While the social worker (KI) talked to two and Jasmijn (KI) talked to one, Simone (KI) had not had any direct contact with a male survivor. They had all heard stories from colleagues and were therefore well aware that the reason they had not been in contact with many survivors was not because it did not happen. They rather acknowledged that it can be linked to the shame and taboo surrounding sextortion against migrant men. For example, Simone (KI) said:
“I can easily imagine that I actually encountered a lot of them [male survivors] but it’s just something that is behind so many levels of taboo and of stigma and of course it never really gets out in the light. So, I can imagine that in general even if SGBV is always wrapped in many levels of taboo, of stigma even for women so the fact that these people are men or young men is also, is just one more level of reason why people don’t talk about it.”
Similarly, Jasmijn (KI) declared: “With men I think there is in general there is a big taboo around it. So, if a man has been a victim of sexual assault or any crime related to sexual criminalities, I don’t hear much about it.” For her, this can be explained by the fact that
“for them [men] it’s not normal that another man sexually assaults him, … They have to be strong, they have to be the man and it affects also their masculinity and I think if they talk about it, it really happened, so that’s why I think they don’t want to talk about it in that way it’s like it never happened and their masculinity hasn’t been affected, I think.”
The social worker (KI) said:
“I think they [male survivors] grew up with specific values in their country of origin, social codes, some codes that tell them how to behave like a man … I think the people that I met had so much negative experiences with sexual violence that even after several years they are really afraid to talk about it …. I know that people that I met that they also get a lot of help from psychologists, from several organisations but it remains a problem for them, they feel like it’s a problem that they carry through their life even if they are safe here.”
In the documents, similar feelings of shame related to gender norms were present among different migrants. A Syrian refugee said: “Of course these things [SVM] are happening but our traditions do not let us talk about it” (Chynoweth, 2017, p.53). For Rohingya refugees, sexual abuse is also “deeply taboo” (Chynoweth, 2018, p.31). For a young boy who had to give oral sex to a guard in Libya, it “was an experience of humiliation that he cannot stand. He thinks about it a lot, that he was forced to do something against his will. … it wasn’t the physical act that traumatized him but the emotional and cultural violation” (Chynoweth et al., 2020a, p.20). Consequently, “refugees consistently reported that (heterosexual, cisgender) men and boys would never seek services due to shame, fears of stigmatization and ostracism, religious taboos, and social constructions of masculinity” (Chynoweth, 2019b, p.62).
Moreover, health workers may see the physical impacts on the survivor, but the migrant man will feel very ashamed to say explicitly what happened. “It’s very very shameful for them to tell you directly what’s going on. Not sure if it’s a fistula or haemorrhoids … They mention ‘down there’ but don’t mention it by name” (Chynoweth et al., 2020a, p.19). Some migrants also fear that by going to the doctors, the doctors will see that they survived sexual violence and that would make them feel too ashamed. For a Congolese migrant, for example, “he still could not go to hospital to seek help because he couldn’t come to terms with what happened to him. He was afraid to tell anyone, even for medical care” (Chynoweth et al., 2020a, p.19). As mentioned in the theoretical framework, shame comes from the idea that victimhood is seen as incompatible with masculinity (Sivakuraman, 2007). This is why on the one hand, migrant men survivors of sextortion will be ashamed it happened to them, and on the other hand, this shame will lead to them not reporting and thus not getting better. Although, it was mentioned that it is not always sure whether the feelings of shame were expressed by survivors of sextortion or sexual violence, one could expect the shame of survivors of sextortion to be even stronger since they participated in an exchange and thus received something in return. They may feel that they played an active role in sextortion and hence feel more ashamed of themselves.
Sextortion and social stigma
On top of the shame that men migrants experience themselves, they will also be stigmatized. Since people surrounding male survivors do not consider it to be normal for men to experience sexual violence and sextortion, male survivors will likely be rejected. For example, “adolescent boy survivors might be blamed for the assault and rejected by their families” (Chynoweth et al., 2020b, p.8). Moreover, for Syrian refugees, “male survivors whose sexual victimisation becomes known to the community experience debilitating social stigma and marginalisation. Survivors may face ostracisation, shaming, persecution, and even death threats” (Chynoweth, 2017, p.37).
Community stigma is the biggest issue for these men. A man must be strong enough not just to defend his family but also himself. The community will not excuse this from a survivor. He would not be respected as a man by the values we have here. He will be known as weak, incompetent, and inappropriate. (Chynoweth, 2017, p.37)
This example again exemplifies the importance that is placed on masculine gender norms. In Rohingya communities, a boy who has been sexually abused is judged. “They will not allow him to mix with the community. Others will not allow their child to play with. The parents may also beat him—that’s why he won’t speak. He feels very ashamed” (Chynoweth, et al., 2020a, p.21-22).
As seen, male survivors of sextortion experience a very large amount of social stigma. This is strongly linked to masculine norms, hegemonic masculinity and the fact that it does not equate with victimhood. Consequently, often “people can’t imagine that it can happen to men” (Chynoweth, 2018, p.42). Some service providers only focus on women, disregarding the existence of violence perpetrated against men (Chynoweth, 2018). As Simone (KI) said:
“There is … a huge gap, a lack in attention and focus on male victims. In general, there is a problem in the general approach to vulnerable categories in the fact that in general men are not considered as part of the vulnerable categories worth of protection, specific protection mechanisms. They’re not women, they’re not, especially if they are healthy and don’t have any conditions and they are not minors they just are left at the bottom of the priorities. … They really just rule out the fact that adult male healthy people can be subject of violence, abuse, sextortion and therefore should have some protection mechanisms targeted, tailored specifically to them.”
There is thus a large misconception around the idea that men do not experience forms of sexual violence and specifically sextortion. As a result, services can also be limited because of the stigma surrounding sextortion against migrant men (Chynoweth, 2018, p.49). On top of maybe not taking men seriously, health care providers sometimes make fun of them: “Even sensitized health care providers, they gossip about them, ‘He has a boyfriend, he should have a girlfriend. Look at this discharge in the rectal area.’ They are gossiped [about] and laughed at by health care providers” (Chynoweth, 2019b, p.59). Therefore, social stigma, stemming from masculine norms on what a survivor of sextortion is supposed to be like, can also lead to inadequate help and support provided to male survivors, if there is any.
Finally, the migrant men’s family can also be stigmatized as a result of his experience. In Somalia for example, “on behalf of the son [who was sexually victimized], the community will abuse the family. They cannot even live in the community anymore; all the family will be impacted. Because it happened to their son, they will have to leave” (Chynoweth, et al., 2020a, p.22). Similarly for Syrians, “the family as a whole becomes stigmatised, as the survivor is perceived as failing his primary role as protector. Families of a boy survivor are blamed for neglectful parenting or poor morals” (Chynoweth, 2017, p.38). The stigma migrant men experience can thus be extended to their family. Consequently, due to masculine norms, male survivors of sextortion will be stigmatized by their communities, their families may also be ostracized with them, and they will not be able to receive appropriate care.
Discussion and Conclusion
The aim of this research was to analyse how sextortion experienced by migrant men is embedded in a system of hegemonic masculinity. The theoretical framework on hegemonic masculinity, power, shame, and stigma has been useful to analyse the experience of migrant men and the power of masculine gender norms on male survivors.
Sextortion and both the sexual violence and corruption components rely on power relations to be exercised. Similarly, hegemonic masculinity is sustained by power relations between men and women but also among men. Hegemonic masculinity enables sextortion because of the gender ideals associated to it. While some men are at the top of the hierarchy because of their status and their legitimate role of authority, others are subordinated by them (Connell, 2001). In a system of hegemonic masculinity, the powerful ones are thus encouraged to maintain their dominance. Men that are most vulnerable to sextortion are already at the bottom of the masculine hierarchy. As seen in the findings, migrant men and specifically boys, LGBTQI+, and irregular migrants are the most vulnerable to sextortion. Survivors of sextortion are then considered to be even lower in the masculinity hierarchy because they did not conform to the ideal ways gender should be performed. Male survivors did not protect themselves and they are thus seen as outcasts (Alsop, Fitzsimons & Lennon, 2002; West & Zimmerman, 1987).
A significant finding was that often, survivors of sextortion feel ‘emasculated’ or are seen as having ‘lost their masculinity’. It was very common across all settings, and it illustrates the pressure of masculine norms that men should adhere to. In that case, because male survivors were not able to defend themselves and were not invulnerable, they are not perceived as men anymore (Hlavka, 2017; Sivakuraman, 2007). Moreover, a key feature of hegemonic masculinity is that it is heterosexual (Connell, 2005). Findings across cases of sextortion against migrant men found that either the survivors themselves or the people around them believed survivors were homosexualised. People thought sextortion could make the survivor become homosexual, while the male survivors feared that others would think they were homosexual and thus be ostracized. Homosexual men are at the bottom of the masculinities hierarchy, thus for a men to be so far from the ideals of hegemonic masculinity creates feelings of insecurity (Connell, 2005). As mentioned in the theoretical framework, to maintain their masculinity, men need to repeatedly re-enact masculine gender norms (West and Zimmerman 1987). In some cases, migrant men who were survivors of sextortion wanted to reassert their masculinity and ‘regain’ the masculinity they ‘lost’ by behaving violently. Findings showed that male survivors became aggressive with their families after experiencing sextortion. Consequently, it is possible to say that masculine gender norms ideals are harmful as they create expectations and unequal power relations among men.
While on the one hand, norms of hegemonic masculinity enable the perpetration of sextortion, it is also important to understand how they sustain it and prevent it from ending. The masculine norms are so deeply embedded that it harms the male survivors in many ways. On top of feeling confused and having misconceptions about their masculine identity thinking they were emasculated or homosexualised, male survivors express many feelings of shame. Because victimhood is seen as incompatible with masculinity, male survivors do not dare to speak out about their psychological and physical health which hinders their healing process (Sivakumaran, 2007). This was very common among the different findings, as migrant men often did not talk about their experiences. Moreover, masculine norms also mean that people expect men to behave in certain ways. As a consequence, male survivors are often stigmatized in their community because of what happened to them. This leads to survivors not being supported or helped by their families but also professionals. Indeed, most of the literature on sexual violence against men found that most male survivors did not have access to specialized services. Because of gender norms, men are never considered as vulnerable and are thus often not considered as needing of help. As Simone (KI) said, there needs to be an “actual implementation of real protection mechanisms, that are open also … to people that are not generally accepted as vulnerable categories, not minors, women etc, to actually access sexual violence protection and psychological support and trauma management”.
After seeing that the perpetration of sextortion against migrant men is deeply embedded in a system of hegemonic masculinity it is important to acknowledge the need to question and transform what is currently perceived as gender ideals. In this context, it does not bring any benefit to men, but only affects their identity and prevents them from accessing the care they need. The author thus argues that one of the only possibilities to change the way male survivors are treated is to change the dominant system of hegemonic masculinity and to leave space for more fluid understandings of gender, without such strict gender norms.
This research presented a first attempt in analysing gendered corruption against migrant men and, thus, opens up a new field of research which would benefit from further studies. This research most specifically focused on the role masculinity plays for survivors and while it does mention the role of perpetrators, future research could do more extensive research on perpetrators of sextortion and the links with hegemonic masculinity. Moreover, future researchers could conduct interviews with male survivors of sextortion in order to receive first-hand knowledge on how they really experienced it. Finally, other studies could choose specific populations of migrants in specific regions of the world and study masculine norms from these cultures in order for the findings to be more focused.
Louise Bossière is a Master student in International Humanitarian Action of the NOHA+ Erasmus Mundus Joint Master’s Degree Programme, with a particular interest for the field of gender and migration.
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