Monday, July 18, 2011

The rape of men

That's the headline of an article in the Guardian, examining this practice in Africa and elsewhere. Here's an excerpt.

Of all the secrets of war, 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. This is just what happened on an ordinary afternoon in the office of a kind and careful counsellor in Kampala, Uganda. For four years Eunice Owiny had been employed by Makerere University's Refugee Law Project (RLP) to help displaced people from all over Africa work through their traumas. This particular case, though, was a puzzle. A female client was having marital difficulties. "My husband can't have sex," she complained. "He feels very bad about this. I'm sure there's something he's keeping from me."

Owiny invited the husband in. For a while they got nowhere. Then Owiny asked the wife to leave. The man then murmured cryptically: "It happened to me." Owiny frowned. He reached into his pocket and pulled out an old sanitary pad. "Mama Eunice," he said. "I am in pain. I have to use this."

Laying the pus-covered pad on the desk in front of him, he gave up his secret. During his escape from the civil war in neighbouring Congo, he had been separated from his wife and taken by rebels. 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.

"That was hard for me to take," Owiny tells me today. "There are certain things you just don't believe can happen to a man, you get me? But I know now that sexual violence against men is a huge problem. Everybody has heard the women's stories. But nobody has heard the men's."

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.

There's more at the link.

I have my own theory about this in the African context, having run into it there. I think much of it has to do with the view that women are not fully human; they're the property of men, first of their fathers, then of their husbands. They exist to support, cater to the needs of, and serve men, who are the dominant sex in most patriarchal tribal societies. Raping men one has captured or defeated in war therefore reduces them - in their own eyes as much as in their captors' - to the status of women; second-class citizens. It's a deliberate denial of their male status, their masculine superiority.

I could be wrong about this, of course, but that's what I believe after many years' exposure to African conflict situations. I'm fortunate that I've never been the victim of such a practice, but I know others who were. (I was always well-armed enough to ensure that I never became a victim!) Others may disagree, of course.

I recommend reading the article to learn more, and Ms. Stemple's study too. It's an uncomfortable subject for most men, but it's a more prevalent problem than one would think - and not all that far from home, either. Consider, for example, the statistics for prison rape in the USA.



Redneck said...

Three times a day for three years! That's more horrifying than I can even express.

Also, I don't get how a (nominally) heterosexual can even do that. If I were somehow to want to try it, let's just say the equipment wouldn't function for that.

Anonymous said...


It isn't about sex, it's about power. And power is an aphrodisiac.


Redneck said...

Not for me it ain't. And no amount of power would make me even able to do that, much less willing.