Monday, August 01, 2011

RAPE! It Happens To Men Too


As far as I can tell, rape has been used as a weapon of terror going all the way back through history and was at one time considered a property crime against the man to whom the victim belonged, typically her husband or father. You may recall from your Bible studies how rapists were often forced to marry their victims. There has been a slow evolution, and today the UN recognizes that when there's a pattern of a widespread and systematic of rape it is both a war crime and a crime against humanity (a good step in the right direction from when the "right" to rape was a legitimate part of the spoils of war).

Not that that has stopped it. Although, now that women are becoming more independent and politically powerful and now that there is a growing recognition that men are also the victims of rape, the crime is being taken more and more seriously by societies around the world. Men? The victims of rape? Hold on and we'll get to that in a moment.

The American Medical Association reports that rape is the most underreported violent crime; and it is even less reported by male victims-- less than 1 in 10 male-on-male rapes is ever reported, according to several studies-- than by female victims. Just over 90% of reported rape victims are women, making just under 10% men and boys, although that doesn't take into account the grossly underreported statistics in prisons, where male-male rape is so common.

Most of the best-known instances of large-scale war rape involve women being raped. We've discussed how the Japanese authorities encouraged their soldiers to rape the women of Nanking, and the memories of systematic rape in Rwanda, Congo, Bangladesh, Bosnia should be pretty fresh in everyone's minds. The video above is a recent report by Al-Jazeera on the shocking prevalence of male-male rape in contemporary wartime situations. It's pretty horrifying, but I recommend watching as much of it as you can stomach.

Last week Will Storr, an expert in the field, did a feature for London's Sunday Observer based on a trip he made to Uganda. "Of all the secrets of war," he begins, "there is one that is so well kept that it exists mostly as a rumour. It is usually denied by the perpetrator and his victim. Governments, aid agencies and human rights defenders at the UN barely acknowledge its possibility. Yet every now and then someone gathers the courage to tell of it." He goes on to tell the story of a married man, captured by some rebels while trying to escape from the civil war in the neighboring Congo.
His captors raped him, three times a day, every day for three years. And he wasn't the only one. He watched as man after man was taken and raped. The wounds of one were so grievous that he died in the cell in front of him.

...It's not just in East Africa that these stories remain unheard. One of the few academics to have looked into the issue in any detail is Lara Stemple, of the University of California's Health and Human Rights Law Project. Her study Male Rape and Human Rights notes incidents of male sexual violence as a weapon of wartime or political aggression in countries such as 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.

...Today, despite his hospital treatment, Jean Paul still bleeds when he walks. Like many victims, the wounds are such that he's supposed to restrict his diet to soft foods such as bananas, which are expensive, and Jean Paul can only afford maize and millet. His brother keeps asking what's wrong with him. "I don't want to tell him," says Jean Paul. "I fear he will say: 'Now, my brother is not a man.'"

It is for this reason that both perpetrator and victim enter a conspiracy of silence and why male survivors often find, once their story is discovered, that they lose the support and comfort of those around them. In the patriarchal societies found in many developing countries, gender roles are strictly defined.

"In Africa no man is allowed to be vulnerable," says RLP's gender officer Salome Atim. "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."

Often, she says, wives who discover their husbands have been raped decide to leave them. "They ask me: 'So now how am I going to live with him? As what? Is this still a husband? Is it a wife?' They ask, 'If he can be raped, who is protecting me?' There's one family I have been working closely with in which the husband has been raped twice. When his wife discovered this, she went home, packed her belongings, picked up their child and left. Of course that brought down this man's heart."



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