UC Law Journal


Lara Stemple


For the last few decades, the prevailing approach to sexual violence in international human rights instruments has focused virtually exclusively on the abuse of women and girls. In the meantime, sexual violence against males continues to flourish in prisons, men have been abused and sexually humiliated during situations of armed conflict, the sexual abuse of boys remains alarmingly common, and gay male victims of sexual assault are assumed to have "asked for it." This Article discusses the frequency of male rape and the various contexts in which in occurs. It notes, however, that numerous instruments in the human rights canon address sexual violence while explicitly excluding male victims. It argues that the female-specific approach is best understood in the political context in which these international instruments were developed: women's issues were historically ignored in international law, and violence against women emerged as the salient issue around which attention to women's human rights would revolve. The Article makes the case, however, that to continue this approach to sexual violence, in light of evidence that males constitute a small but sizable percentage of victims, is problematic. It reinforces hierarchies that treat some victims as more sympathetic than others, perpetuates norms that essentialize women as victims, and imposes unhealthy expectations about masculinity on men and boys. The Article argues that, paradoxically, neglecting male rape is bad for women and girls. Finally, it outlines the impact that the female-specific approach to rape has in practice and points to other rights frameworks and areas of international law that illustrate the potential for more inclusive approaches.

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