1. Home
  2. Africa
  3. East Africa
  4. DRC

Male sexual abuse survivors living on the margins

*Patience can hope a better future. Thanks to Refugee Law Project, his wife is back after leaving home when he told her he was raped (is the name changed?)
(Maryline Dumas/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.


The fertile hills of Masisi district, in eastern DRC's North Kivu province...
Lisa Clifford/IRIN
The fertile hills of Masisi district, in eastern DRC's North Kivu province...
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Land rows complicate refugees’ return
The fertile hills of Masisi district, in eastern DRC's North Kivu province...

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.


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


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

We uncovered the sex abuse scandal that rocked the WHO, but there’s more to do

We just covered a report that says the World Health Organization failed to prevent and tackle widespread sexual abuse during the Ebola response in Congo.

Our investigation with the Thomson Reuters Foundation triggered this probe, demonstrating the impact our journalism can have. 

But this won’t be the last case of aid worker sex abuse. This also won’t be the last time the aid sector has to ask itself difficult questions about why justice for victims of sexual abuse and exploitation has been sorely lacking. 

We’re already working on our next investigation, but reporting like this takes months, sometimes years, and can’t be done alone. 

The support of our readers and donors helps keep our journalism free and accessible for all. Donations mean we can keep holding power in the aid sector accountable, and do more of this. 

Become a member today and support independent journalism

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.