Sexual Violence Against Men in War

Historically sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war, for as long as there have been wars on earth. Rape is used to instill terror, and humiliate people, to destroy not only individuals, but families, communities and society as well. The consequences of this organized crime, which is used as a weapon of war, are deeply felt even when the war is over.  I, who work with survivor of  sexual violence during the war,  I see  every day the pain that the survivors face not only because of what happened during the war, but also the stigma that they face today.

Twenty three (23) years have passed since the end of the war, and Arbeni (name changed) comes for the first time to the Kosovo Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture Survivors, for the first he reveals the painful experience of sexual violence he experienced in 1999, and the pain feels fresh as if the event had happened yesterday. It is very difficult for him to speak, but two drops of tears flow down his cheeks and he quickly tries to wipe them away, as if with this he could erase his entire painful experience, although it is impossible. The only thing that he constantly repeats is: “My life is destroyed, I used to be a teacher, and now I’m nobody”

The trauma experienced by sexual violence and the fear of stigmatization made Arbeni change his place of residence, lose his job, and isolate himself and suffer in silence.

Like Arbeni, many others continue to suffer in silence. In the Kosovar society, sexual violence continues to be silent and hidden. Sexual violence, among other things, is precisely imposing  silence, guilt and shame. The essence of sexual violence against men and boys is their humiliation and degradation.

Sexually abused men and boys live with tremendous stigma in our society, just like the women and girls who experienced this war crime. They live with the heavy burden of shame that they could not defend themselves from the humiliating act of rape, they feel discouraged and guilty, unable to access sources of help. Psychologically, the experience of sexual violence shakes the foundations of their identity as men and leads them to keep this suffering secret, embarrassing. But suppressing the pain does not undo it, rather it cuts it off from the possibility of treatment and healing.

Kosovo is working hard to fight the stigma of sexual violence during the war. As a psychotherapist, my colleagues and I , every day we are working hard to creating a perception of acceptance, encouraging survivors for accessing treatment and overcoming trauma. We all can do something to make a positive difference in the survivors’ lives.

Seville Izeti

Sexual Violence Against Men

This article is by Selvi Izeti, a traumatologist whom I met in Italy at an advanced Harvard training program. I visited Ms Izeti in Kosova and sat in on her trauma resolution groups. Ms Izeti, an Albanian was a refugee during the Serb attempt at Albanian genocide.

Andrea Steffens
Sexual violence against men and boys in Kosovo during the recent war is estimated to be about 20,000.

Most victims were women and girls. but there have also been reports of incidents with male victims of sexual violence. 

The actual number of rape victims will never be established, but the estimates range from several thousand  to tens of thousands and  only for period between August 1998 and August 1999 (Amnesty International. Time for EULEX to Prioritize War Crimes. 2012).
In general when we talk about sexual violence during the war,  it is the sexual violence against women as a weapon of war but does not place much emphasis  on men which also happened  as well.

Even  physicians and counselors are  not well trained to recognize the signs of rape in men, which makes men feel less understood and supported.

There is a lack of data on sexual violence in Kosovo against men but from counselors Like myself,  working with former war prisoners, it is reported that sexual violence occured while they were  held in arbitrary detention in Kosovo and Serbia. Sexual violence during the war against man happen  also in public facilities/hostages situation, displacement situation, and in their homes in the presence  of family members.

From experience in my clinical work ,male survivors are even more reluctant to talk about sexual violence than women because of the shame, guilt and stigma associated with male sexual violence.Shame and social stigma keep many survivors silent. For men, the idea of being a victim of sexual violence is very difficult to cope with. 

Men have grown up with the belief that they should be able to protect themselves and that they should be willing to risk their lives or serious injury to protect their pride and self-respect. These beliefs about “manhood” are deeply rooted in most survivors of sexual violence and can lead to intense feelings of guilt, shame, and disability.

It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, sexual violence is a trauma. The trauma of sexual violence comes from losing control of your body due to fear of death or injury. 

Talking about sexual violence against men and boys helps break the stigma that, and hopefully, will result in more support for survivors.

We all can help survivors of sexual violence by being their voice, by being there TO HEAR them, to understand and  to help them. We cannot change their past but we certainly can change their future! 

Selvi Izeti, traumatologist
Pristina, Kosovo

Unable to Speak Their Truth

An Ashlar associate describes a barrier to healing for women in traditional cultures who were raped during war. (note: English is not her native language – these are her words with little editing)

Before the war, our society had close connections, large families which were very close emotionally. Since the war ended, not only had huge losses, with regard to the dead, but also has a sense of detachment, lack of connections. Many large families were separated, often for economic reasons but major changes have occurred in the culture of life. Many people thought that when they were free, everything will be fixed and in fact see that the situation is still very difficult. And now, 15 years after the war, the psychological problems are not cured, in the opposite they are increased. We have hundreds of people that come to our organization seeking help for PTSD, Depression, Anxiety and other psychological problems.

People who experienced different traumatic event don’t hesitate to talk about their trauma – in the opposite they need to talk to someone who listen to them, who understand them, who support them, but when we talk for raped women in our society there is something else they call them self “”the dead among the living.”

Even it is considered that are around 20,000 women from age 12 -50, were raped during the war, just 70 women came to our organization, which is the main center in our country for trauma rehabilitation, talked about their stories!

Stories of raped women begin like: “I was raped from Serb forces …”. Only places differ:  “At home, on the road, in the mountains, on the premises, in school building …”. Differentiate number of times “1, 2, 5, 10th…”! Or, duration: “One day, a week, a month, two…!”

The majority were aged 12 to 45 years, while rapes are done in a group, in the presence of relatives in various facilities and camps. They are accompanied by sadistic acts, cruelty and rudeness unexplained, while most of the victims were killed after rape.

Since the end of the war in Kosova, these victims were left without institutional care, except treatments from women’s organizations, who have dealt with this issue but because of shame and stigma, just few of them seek help, and no one from them talk openly for their experience, because if the talk they will have consequences, So they choose the SILENCE, because they think it has less consequences.
Many women who told their husbands that they was raped from Serbs, are divorced. The young girls that were raped, most of them are married with old people, or someone with disability, or they could not marry after the rape happened. Often, survivors feel ashamed and afraid, and some women even been charged for adultery or even as incitement to violence.

I personally offer therapy for 60 rape victims, and 90% of them didn’t dare to tell their husbands that were rape because of the consequences I mentioned above. We had a case when a women told her husband about the rape, he never saw her like her women any more, but used her for prostitution. This lack of understanding in society and coldness cause additional trauma survivors, which finally gather the courage to talk about their experiences.

After a decade and more, the treatment of sexual violence as a war crime finally is going to have institutional support as the Assembly has decided to know raped victims by law. But now the biggest challenge remains that the victims have to declare as victims of sexual violence, the only possibility to realize their legal right. But they still choose SILENCE , without knowing that their silence is poisoning them and their children… SO WE HAVE TO FIND WAYS TO BREAK THEIR SILENCE, TEACH THEM TO SPEAK , OR SPEAK FOR THEM , BECAUSE WORLD HAS TO KNOW WHAT THEY EXPERIENCED AND ARE STILL EXPERIENCING!

“There is no life for me anymore “

“They don’t recognize us as victims of war, but as victims of shame “

“How I wish to sleep quietly for a single day and see a beautiful dream”

“The enemy wounded our soul, but our people stepped in our wounds “

“I’m not alone, I’m never alone …. shame, pain and suffering are my inseparable company.

Journey of Survivors: Sexual Violence in War

Eliminating Sexual Violence in War, was the summit held in London on June 10th, 2014. This Summit welcomed over 900 experts, NGOs, survivors, faith leaders, and international organizations from more than 140 countries.  It was the biggest global meeting on this issue ever convened.

According to Amnesty International, rape is now used deliberately as a military strategy… by the spread of AIDS, and by eliminating cultural and religious traditions.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague co-chaired the summit with Angelina Jolie. He said rape was one of the “great mass crimes” of modern times and called on the nations at the summit to write action against sexual violence into their armies.

Ashlar associate, Selvije Izeti made this presentation:


Some expressions of survivors of sexual violence in Kosova:

              “People are afraid from hell , I do not fear that I live with that hell every day“

              “They wounded our soul, but people stepped upon our wounds“

              “It might have been better if I’ve jointed the battlefield than to experience the war upon my body” 

             “There is no life for me anymore“

             “They don’t recognize us as victims of war, but as victims of shame“

             “How I wish to sleep quietly for a single  day and see a beautiful dream” 

            “They wounded our soul, but people stepped upon our wounds“

             “I’m not alone, I’m never alone …. shame, pain and suffering are my inseparable company” 

As many of you know, 15 year ago women of  Kosovo have been part of the tragedy inflicted by war in my country.  Always when it comes to sexual violence and rape camps in the Balkans, Bosnia is just mentioned. For Kosovo always is said that there might have been violation.  But in fact it is believed that sexual violation involved about 20 thousand Albanian women in Kosovo, and perpetrators of these crimes have gone unpunished and remain still free.

We all know that throughout history, sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war. Rape is used because it is easily hidden and hits the most vulnerable people, woman and children leaving lasting consequences not only in the individual but also in the family society and whole generations.  Because the effects last a lifetime for survivors of sexual violence it is a war crime in times of war and in times of peace, so peace that we others found in freedom they unfortunately do not yet enjoy.

I work  with the survivors of sexual violence for years, and every time I meet them, I see  the  signs  of  their  suffering  and  their  inhumane  treatment during and after the war. During the war they experienced serious physical and psychological injuries.  It was easy for them to ask help for physical injuries, but the invisible wounds they keep in silent because they know that if they speak will face social consequences like: stigma, humiliation, blaming,  expulsion from home or abandonment by husbands, Divorce. Men have refused to marry girls who have been victims of rape.  Family tends to isolate women who have experienced rape. This has made women, even after 15 years, to choose suffering in silence.

Fifteen years of silence have multiplied wounds, have multiplied the pain facing constant fear, sadness, anger, self-blaming, and shame; Anxiety disorders –PTSD, Depression, somatic complaints, suicidal thoughts, numbness, isolation from family, friends and relatives, loss of attention etc. Even it considered to be 20,000 survivors of sexual violence, just 100 of woman come forward to ask for counseling in services of KRCT, which is one of the main NGO-s that that work directly with the survivors of sexual violence.  Of those, nearly 80 hid their husbands about the rape and continue, to hide the secret out of fear of abandonment or abuse. 

To help victims of sexual violence to recover and rebuild their live they first of all must be treated with respect  humanity, confidentiality. They need to be fully supported  not just from the NGO- s that offer psychological help, but from each member of society so that the  victims  can be offered a sense  of  normalcy, a life  different from what the perpetrators of these  horrendous crimes  designed for them.

The last two years have been many Campaigns to raise people’s awareness and fighting stigma regarding sexual violence through emissions through various documentaries. The survivors have stated that this awareness building is also necessary for them to remove their sense of shame and to understand that they have been victims of crime, not authors.

Finally in Kosova, three months victims of sexual violence are recognized by law as a victim of war and is expected to benefit an Individual compensation in the form of monthly pension as other categories of war.  I hope that this law will be implemented soon, because getting a law onto the statute book is one thing, getting it implemented is another! For woman  must be compensation to those individuals who survived sexual violence as well as other kinds of injury, but also adequate state expenditure on health and housing, schools and jobs, so that women can participate fully in society.

Woman will not find peace till they don’t find justice – that every crime be effectively investigated, every perpetrator prosecuted, every crime punished. Therefore, I think that a key component to ending rape as a weapon of war is the successful prosecution of perpetrators.  Perpetrators need to admit responsibility and to be publicly seen as responsible for their actions

As well raising awareness on gender violence is key to long-term prevention and stopping rape in conflict. As we work towards preventing conflict-related rape, we will address the institutionalized discrimination in our society, while changing people’s mindsets towards violence and women.