Given the dismissive attitudes towards male victims of sexual violence in Western countries, it is easy to forget that male victims in other countries face a greater level of hostility. This is particularly true in many African countries where cultural norms still view men as inherently powerful and incapable of being raped unless they are gay.
This attitude can lead many abused men and boys to remain silent since the likely response to their coming forward would be this:
Samkelo Mabaso* was raped by a stranger in Nelspruit last November, but when he told his friends they laughed at him so he decided not to report the rape.
“I still remember that horrible night like it was just yesterday,” said Mabaso (26) who was walking home at around 7pm. “In front of me, there were two ladies and behind me, a man. Those ladies took a turn and I continued on the same road and the man followed me.
“As I was about to take a left turn, the man hit the back of my head. I woke up in an abandoned house. He was on top of me and he took his penis and put it between my thighs. Then he turned me over and with force, he raped me,” said Mabaso.
The following morning, Mabaso opened up to a group of his friends because he needed their support and advice.
“But instead of comforting me, they laughed at me,” said Mabaso. “One of my friends said: ‘What, are you gay now?’ I just said ‘I’m not gay, I was raped’. But at that moment I knew that disclosing the event and opening a case would be a waste of time because, if my friends thought it was a joke, other people would probably also make fun of me.”
That is a horrible way to treat a friend, regardless of what happened. No matter how much someone may joke about things, the entire point of friendship is to support each other. To treat someone like this shows that these men were not very good friends. One of them did eventually apologize, but it should not have taken Mabaso refusing to socialize with them for them to get the point.
While part of the friends’ response lies in their lack of character, the other part lies with the culture itself. In many African countries, sexual violence against men is not taken seriously. The victims are typically regarded as being gay, opening them up to a host of homophobic abuse. The majority of the support services are geared toward women, so even if men did want to report the assaults and seek help they have few options.
There is also the added risk of HIV infection. The rate of new HIV infections continues to be higher in African countries than the rest of the world. If a person is raped, there is unfortunately a high potential for the rapist to be HIV-positive. This makes it important for all rape victims to seek medical attention because they can receive post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), a drug that can protect a person from contracting HIV if taken within 72 hours of the suspected infection.
Despite the general lack of services for male victims, there are some available:
Two years ago, the South African Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse (www.samsosa.org) was set up to offer support to male victims of rape.
Rees Mann, founder of SAMSOSA, says that 19,4% of all victims of sexual abuse in 2012 were male victims.
“One in five adult males are the victims in sexual offences and this figure could be much higher as a male is 10 times less likely to report a sexual violation than a woman. This could mean that South Africa could have the highest number of adult male victims in the world,” said Mann, himself a survivor of rape and sexual abuse.
Given those numbers, South Africa could use more than one service. If it proves difficult in Western countries to create such services, one can imagine how much harder it will be in African countries considering their cultural norms. Yet the potentially 20% of the adult male population being sexual violence victims, it is well worth the fight. There is no reason for men like Mabaso to suffer in silence.