Originally posted on May 17, 2013
I have written before about rape against men in war-torn African countries. Despite the seriousness of the issue, few human rights organizations pay any attention to male rape survivors. Few countries have support services for them, the cultural attitude towards male survivors is highly negative, and the international opinion is that war-time rape is something only men do to only women.
However, there is an effort to change that perception in Uganda:
There remains no reliable statistics indicating how widespread the crime of rape is in Africa’s conflict areas. A non-government organization providing legal aid to asylum seekers and refugees in Uganda is spearheading a project to reach out to men who have been raped.
Chris Dolan, director of the Refugee Law Project, explained the numbers of men experiencing rape are much higher than anticipated.
“We started talking to a handful of male survivors from one of the settlements and they started to meet up and now they have close to 60 members – all within the space of just three months,” Dolan told DW.
Those 60 men are not the only male survivors. They are simply the ones willing to attend the support group. Many more men do not want to go to the group, likely because of situations like this:
Alex (not his real name), a Congolese nation, is currently living in Uganda as a refugee. He finds it difficult to talk to his wife about what he went through.
“How do I tell my wife I was raped? What is she going to think about me? She won’t see me as a man again. She will start looking at me like any other woman,” Alex told DW.
Often used as a weapon of war, rape against men is rarely spoken about publically in Africa. African men are brought up to be strong people, the ones who provide security for their families.
The mindset is often that when a man is raped, the deepest core of his existence, his emotional and physical might is crushed.
While every African country likely does not have the same cultural norms, it does appear true that African men in general are expected to be strong providers, and being raped would imply that these men are incapable of protecting themselves, let alone their wives and families. Challenging that kind of cultural norm is a must because it leads to larger problems, such as the law’s failure to recognize these acts as rape:
Dolan says the next step for the organization is to advocate for legal reform so a definition pertaining to sexual violence against men becomes enshrined in law.
“We don’t want to go to court and be told no we cannot handle you as a rape case because there is no such thing as male rape. We are also trying to get changes in the educational curriculum. We want medical students to be trained to adequately deal with such situations,” Dolan added.
I often mention this issue when I talk about sexual violence against males. It is not just enough to say it can happen. We must also change the laws to recognize that these acts of sexual violence against men, whether committed by other men or by women, are rape.
Yet the most important aspect of this effort is that so many men came forward. That breaks the narrative that rape against males is rare. It is not rare; it is simply that men do not tell anyone about it. The first account highlighted in the article featured a 78-year-old man recounting his rape back in 1987 for the first time. He kept this to himself for 26 years.
These assaults happen to men and boys more often than people think. While that may not jibe with the current narrative of “who has it worse”, that should not even be the concern. We should care about stopping all rape regardless of the sex of the victim because it is the right thing to do. Let us hope Dolan’s effort helps with this problem.