In 2011, during the disputes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Stephen Kigoma was at his home in Beni when it was attacked by a group of men. What had started out as a routine invasion characteristic of a conflict torn zone hastily took a different turn when his father was killed and he was subsequently raped by three of his father’s killers.
Kigoma recalls the men saying, “You are a man, how are you going to say you were raped?”
His attackers had known even then that gender based violence when committed against men, the fraction of the divide usually the culprit can be a difficult reality to confront and quite frankly, sell.
Conventional accounts have sensitized people (women and girls) on the dangers of female sexual violence, repeatedly cast men strictly as predators and while this is by all rights a marvelous and progressive thing, it becomes the under-working for the general lethargy and often times anger against the concept of male sexual violence.
There is a faction of society staunch in their belief that addressing sexual violence against men is trivializing the existence of the phenomenon in women, they wrestle with the train of thought; how do you properly explain that the perpetrator is now the victim?
For Kigoma, this concept translated to a real life experience when he fled to Uganda where he was taken to see a doctor treating sexual violence and happened to be the only man in the ward. He told BBC, “I felt undermined. I was in a land I didn’t belong to, having to explain to the doctor how it happened. That was my fear.”
In some domestic jurisdictions on the continent, rape is defined solely as the penetration of the vagina by the penis
While the culture of silence is heavy on both divides of sexual violence cases, the foundation is in some ways different. There is a biased but widely accepted understanding of sex and sexual relations in which women are penetrated and men do the penetrating. This lays precedent for subsequent prejudices that male weakness is abnormal, that since men own penises they cannot in the actual sense be raped and that if it did occur, then it would simply be because they had wanted it to which would mean they were homosexual.
When Kigoma inquired about male rape from the police in Uganda, he recalls them saying, “if it has anything to do with penetration between a man and a man, it is gay.” This alarming line of thought not only neglects the existence of male consent, but it also perpetrates the disturbing idea that coercion is only material when it is meted out against women or in clearer words, a generally perceived “weaker sex”.
Stephen Kigoma. Photo Credit: BBC
In the increasing numbers of male sexual violence cases across East Africa including Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo where it is reported that 48 people are raped every hour, there is a recurring streak of preconceived notions feeding both silence and neglect on either part, one that can only be tackled if we deconstruct our ideas of sex and gender.
The first is realizing that sex and gender are two distinct things, that while one is a product of biology, the other is a societal construct. The second is in recognizing that gender being an invention of society cannot be spread solely across two spectra and the third is establishing that the problem with regarding gender as strictly binary is not entirely in the labeling but in what it represents and thereafter reproduces.
The gender binary gives a leeway for the culprit-victim binary, the consent required for women – consent not required for men binary. Decluttering our idea of gender as a binary would present us with the absolute truth that men can be victims of patriarchy as much as they are benefactors, that there is a multiplicity of men and the male gender, a diversity.
In some domestic jurisdictions on the continent, rape is defined solely as the penetration of the vagina by the penis, a description that extinguishes the existence of male rape in any form and a large number of male victims of sexual violence in East Africa like Stephen Kigoma wrestle with the possibility of dismissal by authorities and individuals likewise. If by some rare chance acknowledged, there is the resulting homophobia.
Kigoma says, “I hid that I was a male rape survivor. I couldn’t open up – it’s a taboo.”
At the core of tackling this stigma is the need for inclusion, the realization that talking about male rape especially when perpetrated by men does not in anyway trivialize or negate the existence of sexual violence against women, it does not deconstruct the towering and disturbing structure of male privilege.
What it brings to the fore is the long ignored reality that vulnerability is not reserved for any gender and that we can and should extend our conversations of gender based sexual violence to include the side that has for long been the offender.
Speak Culture is a First Culture series tackling violence and oppression across genders and societies perpetrated either by individuals or governments. To contribute, send your within 1000 word piece as an attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “SPEAK CULTURE.” To read others, click here.
Featured Image: Huck Mag