“In Africa no man is allowed to be vulnerable,” says RLP’s gender officer Salome Atim. “You have to be masculine, strong. You should never break down or cry. A man must be a leader and provide for the whole family. When he fails to reach that set standard, society perceives that there is something wrong.”
Often, she says, wives who discover their husbands have been raped decide to leave them. “They ask me: ‘So now how am I going to live with him? As what? Is this still a husband? Is it a wife?’ They ask, ‘If he can be raped, who is protecting me?’ There’s one family I have been working closely with in which the husband has been raped twice. When his wife discovered this, she went home, packed her belongings, picked up their child and left. Of course that brought down this man’s heart.”
Back at RLP I’m told about the other ways in which their clients have been made to suffer. Men aren’t simply raped, they are forced to penetrate holes in banana trees that run with acidic sap, to sit with their genitals over a fire, to drag rocks tied to their penis, to give oral sex to queues of soldiers, to be penetrated with screwdrivers and sticks. Atim has now seen so many male survivors that, frequently, she can spot them the moment they sit down. “They tend to lean forward and will often sit on one buttock,” she tells me. “When they cough, they grab their lower regions. At times, they will stand up and there’s blood on the chair. And they often have some kind of smell.”
“International human rights law leaves out men in nearly all instruments designed to address sexual violence,” she continues. “The UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2000 treats wartime sexual violence as something that only impacts on women and girls… Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently announced $44m to implement this resolution. Because of its entirely exclusive focus on female victims, it seems unlikely that any of these new funds will reach the thousands of men and boys who suffer from this kind of abuse. Ignoring male rape not only neglects men, it also harms women by reinforcing a viewpoint that equates ‘female’ with ‘victim’, thus hampering our ability to see women as strong and empowered. In the same way, silence about male victims reinforces unhealthy expectations about men and their supposed invulnerability.”
Considering Dolan’s finding that “female rape is significantly underreported and male rape almost never”, I ask Stemple if, following her research, she believes it might be a hitherto unimagined part of all wars. “No one knows, but I do think it’s safe to say that it’s likely that it’s been a part of many wars throughout history and that taboo has played a part in the silence.”
As I leave Uganda, there’s a detail of a story that I can’t forget. Before receiving help from the RLP, one man went to see his local doctor. He told him he had been raped four times, that he was injured and depressed and his wife had threatened to leave him. The doctor gave him a Panadol.