November 18, 2011
Of the millions of rape victims in Congo, only a small percentage are male. But activists say the rape of men, boys and babies is still a weapon used in the conflict that plagues eastern Congo's countryside. Victims are left physically and mentally devastated, and many are suicidal.
This boy says a lieutenant in the army raped him while another man held him down. He passed out during the attack, but when he came to, unlike most male rape victims in Congo, he went to the police. He says the police did not believe him until he showed an officer his injuries. He then accused the soldier publicly. He says he was terrified of reprisals, but wanted justice more.
Victims' rights advocate and lawyer Florentin Basima says he asked the court to lock up the officer, and order $10,000 in reparations.
Basima says reparations are almost never actually paid, despite court orders. But he says in this case, the army officer was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
The case is unusual in that male victims almost never seek help. Basima says most are psychologically and physically devastated, and too humiliated to tell anyone. Male victims often die from physical trauma or commit suicide.
Justine Masika, who heads Synergy of Women for Victims of Sexual Violence, says her organization has helped 18 male victims in the past few years. Five of them died because they didn't seek medical treatment soon enough after the attack.
She says when men or boys are raped it is usually by another man in attempt to humiliate the victim. But sometimes, she says, women can rape men as an act of revenge. Female members of the many armed groups still battling in the countryside are often rape victims themselves. Masika helped one victim who was raped by female soldiers who drugged him before they attacked.
U.N. officials have called the Congo the global epicenter of rape as a tool of war. Earlier this year, the American Journal of Public Health released a landmark study showing close to 2 million women in Congo have been raped in their lifetime. It is one of the most complete looks to date at the prevalence of sexual violence in this country. Yet the impact on men and the numbers of male victims are still in the shadows due to the unique stigma.
Emmanuel Atibasay is a psychologist that helps victims prepare for court. His organization has seen boys as young as two years old sexually abused. But he says it is the men whom are harder to help.
Atibasay says male victims in this deeply conservative society lose their identity as men. He says Congolese culture rejects homosexuality, further humiliating the male victims by bringing their sexual preference into question.
Atibasay notes that although attacks are on men are rare, they remain a part of the war that has plagued the Congolese countryside for decades.
Activists say the only way to end the attacks, is to end the conflict. Army officers say while the war officially ended years ago, the fighting never really stopped. Homegrown militias loosely integrated into the army fight rebel forces originating from neighboring Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. Other battles are internal, among warring Congolese communities.
Congolese Army Colonel Seraphin Mirindi says while the social consequences of the conflict are extreme, the causes are political rivalries and bad governance. He says eastern Congo is still besieged by war and chaos.
But with Congo about to hold its second set of elections in 40 years, political change might offer some relief to the beleaguered eastern provinces. Tensions are high here in North Kivu province, with reports of pre-election violence and rumors that the elections are already rigged. But Congolese aid workers say the prospect of change offers hope for victims, hope that one day the conflict and the rapes will end.