Street News Service
They are men who have lost all pride and self-confidence and who have been left severely traumatised by recent events. At the medical centre in Uganda where they are being treated, they talked candidly about the horrendous crimes carried out against them.
“In the past, I thought that it was only females who were raped but not men,” said John, a 27-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “I cannot understand myself today. I feel pain all the time in my anus and bladder. I feel like my bladder is full of water. I do not feel like a man. I do not know whether I will ever have children.”
John is just one of possibly thousands of victims of male rape in Africa, as brutal civil war and tribal conflicts continue unabated.
On 14 January 2009, rebels loyal to the former renegade Congolese general Laurent Nkunda attacked Jomba village in the country’s North Kivu province. There, the militia abducted ten people including six boys and forced them to carry out looting before taking them to a jungle base in Virunga National Park. John was among those captured.
“We were held for nine days,” he said. “The leader of the group asked to have sex with me. I did not understand what he meant. He ordered that I be tied up and then he raped me. The other nine came after him. I passed out. My bottom was covered with blood. All nine days in the bush were like that. It was like that for the others. One of the boys died.”
Nearly two years on from his ordeal, John is one of dozens of male and female rape victims being treated at a trauma counselling centre called the Refugee Law Project (RLP) in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. The survivors come from a number of African nations ridden with conflict, including DRC, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Burundi.
The RLP was founded ten years ago and is an outreach of the law faculty at Uganda’s main university of Makerere, where staff help rape victims recover from their mental and physical wounds. The centre – situated on a hill in the northern part of the city called Old Kampala, where it is housed in a colonial-style residential building – is unique and not generally known by the Ugandan community.
Salome Atim, the RLP gender official responsible for aiding male rape victims, said that since the beginning of the year they have received about 30 cases of male rape, mostly refugees who have escaped from conflict areas. “These are the ones who are open,” she said. “The others do not speak, and that means there could be very many [victims].”
Many males fear speaking out because they are often branded homosexuals even by doctors and medical workers trying to help them. In other cases, rape victims from Islamic states such as Somalia refuse to talk because revealing what happened can result in them being labelled criminals by wider society.
Atim added that homosexuality, which is taboo in many African societies, compounds the dilemma – but in the Congo, where society is more open, some people feel more able to talk, although only after much counselling.
“People are not used to homosexuality and they do not listen to these people,” she said. “They think anal sex is consensual where they think the victim agreed. They [victims] get further stigmatised because the moment they go to a health centre, they are asked, ‘So you are homosexuals?’ So they do not speak. We help them to open up slowly.”
One of her patients, Pierre, was a student at a school in the Congo city of Bukavu. In 2004, gangs from one of the numerous militia groups trying to exert control of the area attacked his family home and gang raped him, his father and his brother.
“Men in uniform broke into our home. They tied up my father’s legs and arms. They then undressed my brother and told me to have sex with him. I refused,” Pierre said before breaking down in tears as he spoke.
After composing himself, he continued. “They undressed me, held my penis between sticks and repeatedly banged it. One of them held my leg and another held the second leg and they pulled them apart. The rest of the gang then raped me one by one.”
According to Atim, Pierre was suicidal when he arrived at RLP and has since been treated in a psychotherapy clinic.
Ugandan social workers say that male rape has been prevalent as a weapon of war in many conflict zones and also in prison cells, but these crimes are mostly unreported because the focus is on female victims.
John, who covered his face with a cap during the interview, said he now struggles to walk any distance due to unhealed wounds. “When I walk a long distance, blood flows out of my anus. When I eat hard food like cassava I have problems going to the toilet because my rectum gets out when I pass out faeces.”
– The names of the interviewees have been changed at their request.