Image by Steve Rhodes via FlickrBy Joshua Kyalimpa
Kampala — Widespread gender-based violence against women and children in the conflict zones of the Great Lakes region has received some attention in recent years; less well-known is the extent of sexual violence against men.
A new documentary film shot in the Democratic Republic of Congo, northern Uganda and elsewhere in the region shows the extent of sexual violence against men.
"You are worth nothing. You are like women," says one of the male rape survivors in the film, recounting what government soldiers told him. "They would ask you to bend and remove your trousers and different soldiers would penetrate you through the anus."
"They put their penis wherever they could see an opening: in the ears, mouth, and the anus. By the time they were done I had sperm all over my body," another survivor of sexual abuse recounts.
Women and men alike are raped in conflict situations in order to dominate them physically and psychologically. Male survivors are humiliated in terms of socially-accepted sexual and gender roles.
Survivors in the film describe women being told to lie on top of their husbands while being assaulted by soldiers; of men raped in front of their wives to demonstrate their weakness vis-à-vis government soldiers.
Just as is the case for women, comprehensive statistics on the extent of sexual violence against men in the region is difficult to come by.
The Refugee Law Project of the Makerere University faculty of law provides counselling, documentation and advocacy on refugee issues towards better refugee policies in Uganda. Dr Chris Doran, director of the project, told IPS at the launch of the film in Kampala that at least three out of 10 male refugees reporting to the centre have been sexually abused.
Moses Chrispus Okello, the centre's head of research and advocacy, says many more men could be suffering in silence, fearing society may shun them if they speak out.
According to the Refugee Law Project, there are cases where police, rather than going after the perpetrators, have accused male survivors of rape of engaging in homosexual acts - outlawed in Uganda.
Women's rights activists Akina Mama wa Africa argue that gender inequality, inadequate laws and poor-or non-existent-enforcement contribute to the problem; inadequate statistics and funding mean support for survivors is limited. Men who suffer rape find themselves living in a woman's reality.
Dr Sylvia Tamale, former dean of the faculty of law at Makerere University and advisor to the RLP, says because the penal code does not recognise rape committed against men, perpetrators can only be charged with "indecent assault" which attracts much lighter punishment.
The documentary will be used to expose the realities of sexual assault against the men to governments in the region and the donor community.
The film-makers believe it should open up research into the issue and lead to a clearer understanding of sexual violence in the conflict-ridden Great Lakes region.