The Khmer Rouge tribunal has been lauded for “breaking ground” in acknowledging crimes of sexual violence committed against men, where other international transitional justice systems have failed, a new report says.
The paper – When No One Calls It Rape – released late last week, maintains that the tribunal is unique in its efforts to recognise male victims of sexual violence, specifically under the Khmer Rouge’s regime of forced marriage.
The International Center for Transitional Justice report says there was a significant risk that “male victims will remain invisible and left out of responses to sexual violence” due to a “generally lackluster response” by courts and truth commissions.
One factor in past failures was “the tendency to conflate sexual violence with violence against women and girls, which contributes to the perception that it is a women’s issue”. “This means that male victims’ experiences of sexual violence continue to be underreported, misunderstood, and mischaracterized in transitional justice processes.”
The report added that male victims could be reluctant to come forward, due to social stigma or for fear of being labelled homosexual. While a recent decision from the International Criminal Court that forced male circumcision in Kenya was a form of “physical” rather than “sexual” violence was “disappointing”, the report said, Cambodia’s stance is more “progressive”, the report said.
In August and September of this year, male victims of forced marriage, including Seng Soeun, spoke of the intense fear instilled in them by the Khmer Rouge that compelled them to marry, consummate and procreate against their will.
Another victim, known only as 2-TCCP-232, spoke of the emotional scars he still bore after being forced to abandon his fiancée and marry another, while expert witness Kasumi Nagakawa testified that men were forced into the “inhuman act” of raping their wives.
Theresa de Langis, a research-practitioner on sexual violence under the Khmer Rouge regime, said the Khmer Rouge tribunal had used “gender neutral terms” when it came to forced marriage, which meant both men and women could “testify to the traumatic effects of that violation”.
“However, testimony on the rapes related to those marriages, charged also as a crime against humanity, appears to have been solely focused on female testifiers,” she said.
“As a result, we have missed an opportunity to better understand sexual violations as they happened to men, including being forced to rape for their own survival, and the trauma caused by such a situation.”