Gender Links (Johannesburg)

5 December 2012

Southern Africa: Male Rape Survivors Demand Equal Services

Johannesburg — Male rape has for a long time been the dark secret of Southern African crime. It is usually completely unacknowledged, rarely reported and often scorned. How, after all, can a man possibly be raped?

I am a 26 year old male who has survived male rape and I'm working furiously to help other men and boys. For the past 11 years, I have been advocating for male survivors of sexual violence. During this time, few women's organisations have come forward to support the ending of sexual violence against men and boys.

Just a month ago, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported the arrest of three women in Zimbabwe in connection with a series of male rapes. The three Zimbabwean women were charged after being found in possession of 33 condoms containing semen, obtained after a string of sex attacks targeted at male hitchhikers. It is believed that there is a nationwide syndicate of women raping men in Zimbabwe, possibly to use the semen in "wealth" rituals.

However, the three women had the rape charges dropped and were instead charged with 17 counts of aggravated indecent assault - merely because Zimbabwean law does not recognise the act of a woman raping a man.

In 2012, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) conducted research that showed that females commit the majority of sexual violence against males.

Not only do male rape survivors report a lack of services and support, but also many legal systems are ill equipped to deal with this type of crime. Inconsistent definitions of rape, different rates of reporting, recording, prosecution and conviction for male rape create controversial statistical disparities. The lack of sex-disaggregated data about female and male rape provides unreliable statistics.

Even if the number is small men are human beings too, just like women. Male survivors are also traumatised by rape because they are judged, abandoned, ridiculed and fear contracting HIV.

Men are left with no access (or very little) to healthcare or surgery, leaving them incontinent from their injuries and unable to seek help in fear of homosexual conviction. Some end up doubting their sexuality, fearing sex and many have difficulty getting into relationships because of rape.

Male rape can cause severe disability or disorder, and while the crime is undoubtedly a real threat for women, it is so for men.

Most organisations are open to the idea of acknowledging male survivors as long as male survivors themselves state that what happens to males is rare and less traumatic. Most women's organisations do not provide any services to males.

For the few that do, there is little counseling, legal advice, assistance for men with children, little public outreach, and very little information to hand out. Many of these places simply refer abused men to homeless people shelters or batterer programs. When asked to create services for male survivors, most show zero interest in doing so.

If society doesn't acknowledge male rape victims or continue to say that they are rare, which is what government and civil society keep implying, then society will only believe that women are victims and will only look for female victims.

The way to acknowledge that male survivors exist is by simply providing support services.

Most women in society are indoctrinated to be cautious of unfamiliar men and to fear rape. From childhood, females are taught to be afraid of and to never talk to any "strange men". Women are warned never to be alone, keep all doors locked and not behave in a manner that may encourage sexual assault.

However, in patriarchal societies, how often do we hear of such guidance being provided for males?

Males, by contrast, are brought up from a young age to be "strong, masculine, and "in-charge." Indeed, feminists use societal expectations and perception of what a male should be, to base many of their arguments especially about male to female rape theories. Thus, society has normalised the notion that men are perpetrators while women are the victims or survivors of sexual violence.

Women and men should all know that they are at the risk of rape whether by a woman or a man. It is high time that society accepted this, and provided men with the same level of benevolence and protection as females.

Oliver Meth is a social advocacy journalist and a survivor of male rape. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service series for the Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

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