By Shawn Francine Alexandra Reo
Notoriously deemed as a social justice problem by the community, sexual violence is unfortunately a common by-product of a country experiencing ongoing conflict, poverty, or another sense of instability within that state territory. As a result, various forms of sexual violence are committed against both the male and female gender by several belligerent actors – of which include rebels, government forces, and non-combatants. The significance and widespread of this issue has prompted coordinated policy responses from both formal and informal actors. However, policy attempts remain futile as though it managed to give plenty of international support and attention to the vulnerable lot; male victims are almost entirely excluded from its scope of protection. This arguably puts the male gender in a much more difficult position from where they started. The inadequacy and impotence of the policy may follow from the primary ideological reasoning that laws would be ineffective if they do not reflect cultural and social norms – the majority of which predates back to the late thirties and is thus greatly outdated.
Social and Cultural Norms
Linking Norms with Policies
The fact that sexual violence is a multi-pronged problem shaped by the interplay between personal, situational, and socio-cultural factors effectively means that underlying socio-cultural norms and beliefs a community often makes it difficult for victims to obtain support and redress – particularly for the male gender. This is owed towards the vast influence of outdated and rigidly defined gender models, which include the emphasis on masculinity, patriarchy, and overall male superiority. This anachronous mentality effectively suggests that due to concepts of masculinity revolving around ideas of toughness, honour, and dominance of the male gender, the latter is not capable of becoming victims of sexual violence. This also influences behaviour and attitudes on sexual relations, both factors of which plays a significant role in community responses to sexual violence. A couple of significant facets of social and cultural normative influence often simultaneously occur – including male entitlement to sexual relations and sexual relations as a taboo subject matter of conversation. The international community would poorly construe this rationale, leaving the male gender in an ill-fated position. The former would attribute the absence of mutual consent to the so-called individual right for males to have sexual relations. The anathema that sexual relations have also made it difficult for discussions on sexual violence with public health and medical professionals, as well as law enforcement to take place. That being said, seeking public acknowledgement and accountability would almost be virtually impossible. Under such circumstances, sexual violence is only given due consideration as a “confidential and private matter” or as an unfortunate casualty of armed conflict. Re-victimization, ostracism, and discrimination are only some of the things male victims of sexual violence face in seeking accountability. The affiliation between dishonour and sexual violence has led male victims to experience neglect, ignorance, and abandonment by their communities. Sexual violence reporting particularly endangers the status and social standing of males. The relationship between perpetrators and victims within the community can also be a factor preventing males from speaking out. Moreover, male victims might be intimidated by the likelihood of presenting claims to inimical or unscrupulous authorities.
Addressing this issue is only possible if the socio-cultural context in crimes is considered, as well as the calamitous effects sexual violence has on the individual and their community. The fact that people shape and are shaped by the environment they inhabit means that an individual’s well-being and welfare cannot be separated from the community in which they populate. The knowledge, behaviour, and attitude obtained by individuals are determined by what cultural or social relations they have experienced in their community. The traditional and cultural portrayal of the male gender in social-cultural norms managed to result in a seemingly harsh depiction of the male gender – putting them in a bad light. Policymakers should instead be aware that while the law is a lasting social institution, in a constantly changing society, it must also be open to change.