Rape has long been used –is still being used — as a weapon of war upon women. Men are also victims of sexual violence in conflicts in East Africa and elsewhere. Because gender attitudes are strictly defined in many countries’ traditional, patriarchal societies, male victims are often too ashamed to come forward and speak about what they have suffered, and must live with their trauma in silence. Further, many men have terrible injuries as a result of being repeatedly raped and otherwise tortured, but are not able to seek treatment.
Little research into the rape of men has been done says a recent Guardian report. The article is lengthy and its account of what men in East Africa have suffered is simply horrific, but — especially due to the lack of attention give to male rape — it’s an issue that demands more recognition.
22% of men and 30% of women in Eastern Congo reported conflict-related sexual violence according to a “rare” 2010 survey, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Male Rape and Human Rights, a study by Lara Stemple of the University of California’s Health and Human Rights Law Project, found that incidents of rape and sexual violence against men have occurred in East Africa, Chile, Greece, Croatia, Iran, Kuwait, the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia:
Twenty-one per cent of Sri Lankan males who were seen at a London torture treatment centre reported sexual abuse while in detention. In El Salvador, 76% of male political prisoners surveyed in the 1980s described at least one incidence of sexual torture. A study of 6,000 concentration-camp inmates in Sarajevo found that 80% of men reported having been raped.
In Kampala, Uganda, Makerere University’s Refugee Law Project (RLP) is run by Dr Chris Dolan of the UK:
Dolan first heard of wartime sexual violence against men in the late 1990s while researching his PhD in northern Uganda, and he sensed that the problem might be dramatically underestimated. Keen to gain a fuller grasp of its depth and nature, he put up posters throughout Kampala in June 2009 announcing a “workshop” on the issue in a local school. On the day, 150 men arrived. In a burst of candour, one attendee admitted: “It’s happened to all of us here.” It soon became known among Uganda’s 200,000-strong refugee population that the RLP were helping men who had been raped during conflict. Slowly, more victims began to come forward.
Men who have experienced sexual violence also face abandonment by their wives and families. Says RLP’s gender officer Salome Atim:
“In Africa no man is allowed to be vulnerable. You have to be masculine, strong. You should never break down or cry. A man must be a leader and provide for the whole family. When he fails to reach that set standard, society perceives that there is something wrong.”
In a statement, Margot Wallström, the UN special representative of the secretary-general for sexual violence in conflict, notes that the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, serves those of both genders. But because men face “great stigma” if they report sexual violence, “the real number of survivors is higher than that reported.” As UC Berkeley’s Stemple says, while no one knows the extent to which male rape has been used in all wars,
“…I do think it’s safe to say that it’s likely that it’s been a part of many wars throughout history and that taboo has played a part in the silence.”
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Photo of people displaced from Eastern Congo by Julien Harneis