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DRC-UGANDA: Male sexual abuse survivors living on the margins

KAMPALA, 2 August 2011 (IRIN) - Two brothers, Charles* and Jacques*, set off for Uganda in search of safety after the murder of their parents in January in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), only to be waylaid along the border by six men carrying machetes, sticks and guns, who took them into the forest and raped them, leaving them unconscious.

Months after eventually finding their way to Kampala, the Ugandan capital, the brothers are physically and psychologically traumatized. "There is no hope, and sometimes it leads us to hate life," Charles, the elder, told IRIN.

Jacques is visibly in pain as he leans on his chair. "It hurts here where I got raped. Sometimes when I go to the bathroom, I suffer for hours. Before, blood flowed [from the anus], now it's getting better but the pain is very strong," he said, adding that he undergoes a lot of mental torment. "I can go for days without speaking to anyone."

Jacques requires surgery but a shortage of money even to purchase essential food items means he is unlikely to be able to afford the operation. "I have to take care of my brother who is not well [so] I can’t look for a job; how can I manage to find food?” asked Charles.

An estimated 23.6 percent of men from the eastern DRC regions of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu have been exposed to sexual violence during their lifetime, according to an August 2010 study titled, the Association of Sexual Violence and Human Rights Violations With Physical and Mental Health in Territories of the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

However, few organizations are assisting male survivors of sexual violence, focusing instead on sexually abused women.

While the rape of men may be marginal by comparison, there is a need to address all rape cases: "We treat individual cases; we are not working for global statistics," said Chris Dolan, director of Uganda’s Refugee Law Project (RLP).

RLP and the African Centre for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV) are among organizations in Uganda helping men who have been raped, mostly Congolese refugees, cope with trauma.

However, traditional perceptions remain a hindrance for men who may otherwise seek help for what is regarded a taboo subject.

"In traditional culture, men are brought up to believe they are strong, they can handle everything and they are not supposed to fall into depression or seek psychological help," said Salome Atim, a doctor with RLP, which takes in about a dozen sexually abused men a week, mostly from eastern DRC. "That's why raped men find it very difficult to talk about what happened to them."

"Men do not use the word rape, which is too hard. They prefer to talk about torture, abomination. Sometimes they ask us to tell their wives because they are too ashamed," said an ACTV member. The organization has received 13 male rape cases since January.


Photo: Lisa Clifford/IRIN
A study estimates that 23.6 percent of men from the eastern DRC regions of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu have been exposed to sexual violence during their lifetime
This has also meant that there is poor reporting of such cases. "I have never heard of this [the rape of men]. No Congolese has come to us to talk about that," said a member of staff at the UN Stabilization Mission in DRC.

Ostracized

ACTV estimates that about 5 percent of women leave their husbands after learning they have been sexually violated.

Patience*, a rape survivor, said he had initially been ostracized by his wife and brother after revealing that he had been raped. “They suspected me of being homosexual. They did not want to talk to me,” he said. He has since been reunited with his family after RLP mediation and treatment.

"The [surgical] operation is an opportunity to feel normal again, even if a rape took place several years ago," said David Ndawula, a doctor at Kampala’s Ntinda hospital who, for two years, worked with RLP to treat men who had been raped. RLP supports surgical operations to repair damaged anuses, with about 15 such operations being undertaken each month.

According to Miriam Kayanga, a consultant with the Pan African Development, Education and Advocacy Programme, there is a lack of coordination between organizations addressing sexual violence.

Donor conditions placing greater emphasis on helping mainly female survivors of sexual violence are also a challenge. "I think it is a problem of operational efficiency, and the quality of interviews conducted by field staff... Segments of the population [such as men], who may be victims of sexual violence, have been neglected,” Louise Aubin, a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) manager in charge of protection, said on 27 July in relation to the non-inclusion of raped men in programmes.

Finance is another issue. "We do not even have an ambulance or car for this programme. We also need money for drugs," said RLP’s Atim.

According to the JAMA study, there is a need for inclusion of men in sexual violence definitions and policies in addition to targeted programmes to address their needs. “The protection of men and boys should be considered by the United Nations as it has with women and children,” it stated.

*not their real names

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Theme (s): Conflict, Early Warning, Gender Issues, Health & Nutrition,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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