How should we define sexual violence?

I’m still organizing my thoughts on the political chaos in Kenya, so I don’t have much coherent to say on it right now. I’m not sure when or if I’ll write anything more specific to the topic of this entry, but there is a larger issue here that has been ignored for too long. The current situation makes it worth discussing, though. For now, this story will suffice:

Sexual violence has also been reported against men, with the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi on 2 January saying several men had been admitted after they were assaulted during the violence.

“There are several men admitted in various wards after they were subjected to forced circumcision,” a source at the hospital said.

[Challenger Raila] Odinga’s core supporters come from the Luo ethnic group that does not practise circumcision, while [incumbent President Mwai] Kibaki draws most of his following from the Kikuyu group, one of several tribes in which male circumcision is an essential rite of passage from adolescence to manhood.

Like I said, I’m still working on a macro-level analysis of what the current unrest means. I don’t have enough information right now, so I won’t speculate. But the micro-level question is undeniable. How is the forced circumcision of infant males any different from the forced circumcision of these adult males?

The answer offered will surely rest on intent. This is a valid discussion point in many instances, but intent can’t be relevant in unnecessary, forced circumcision. These adult men clearly have not sought circumcision before, and they didn’t seek it now. They are now the victims of (sexual) violence.

In contrast, the parents of infant males do not seek to impose violence on their son when they have him circumcised. That does not negate the imposition of violence that occurs when they have him circumcised. If left alone, he would not likely choose (or need) circumcision in his lifetime. Any decision to the contrary fails to meet any standard of reasonable. The mere presence of good intentions is a subjective attempt to validate what is at its core a violent, unnecessary intervention on the body of a healthy individual.

The answer will probably also include an incorrectly-nuanced nod to a difference in rights between children and adults. That can’t withstand scrutiny, either. The reason the violence inflicted upon these Kenyan men is problematic is because it is a human rights violation. Too often advocates of circumcision ignore human. Children are humans, too. Their rights do not magically appear at the age of majority. They exist from the child’s birth. Each child possesses the very same basic right that was violated in these Kenyan adult males.

Given that I don’t think I’ll find anyone to defend what was done to these men¹, I’m left to conclude that there are four categories of sexual violence, with one subtle difference.

  • Sexual violence against women is bad.
  • Sexual violence against men is bad.
  • Sexual violence against girls is bad.
  • Sexual violence against boys is usually bad.

No potential benefit or belief in good intentions or deference to parental rights superseding a child’s human rights can validate the inclusion of usually in the last category. Sexual violence is sexual violence, regardless of gender or age.

¹ I’m sure I can find someone who will say these men will now be better off, a subjective speculation. Pro-circumcision advocacy knows some very strange boundaries. I’ve seen strange boundaries among those opposed to infant circumcision, although I do not believe I appproach them. Yes, I know I’m insulated from a completely unbiased, critical analysis of my own thinking.