Can Men be Raped or Be Victims of Sexual Abuse?

Sexual violence is as old as human species themselves. Much as sexual violence is well-publicised, research, advocacy and development programmes have mainly focused on sexual victimisation of women and girls. Rape is indeed one of the most heinous in the extended family of sexual crimes. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) an estimated 35% of women worldwide have experienced sexual violence which includes rape.

As the campaign against sexual violence rages on, there are increasing cases of male sexual victimisation. A good number of men are now coming forward to testify that they also have been raped. The foregoing begs the question: Can a man be raped or indeed be sexually victimised?  Are there systems that can support male victims of rape to get redress and protection?

These questions might seem mundane at first glance but they are quiet fundamental. If truth be told, there is a conspicuous lack of attention to the man as a victim of sexual violence and let alone rape. There is little, if at all anything, that is written in academia on male rape and the statistics on male rape are generally wanting. WHO estimates that 5% and 10% of males globally are victims of rape. Male victims of rape suffer in silence and perpetrators go unpunished.

This article is by no means an attempt to undermine female sexual victimisation but simply a call for the protection of the often forgotten victims of sexual violence. We shall therefore delve into the reasons why male sexual victimisation is not such a hot topic and lastly bring to light the need to criminalise acts of sexual violence against men.

Men suffer an image problem. The inattention to male sexual victimisation is not because men cannot be raped or sexually assaulted but rather because of how men are perceived in society. Masculinity demands strength. Being a male rape victim brings shame to masculinity as such male rape victims fail to come in the open for fear of being seen as unmanly for failing to defend themselves against such attacks. Acknowledging sexual victimization amongst men is always perceived as a sign of weakness.

Much of the research, academic discourse, advocacy and development interventions have been geared at uplifting the plight of female rape victims. Consequently, an avalanche of policies, regulations and laws both domestic and international have been made only aiming at protecting women and girls as victim of sexual violence.

In Malawi, one cannot help but notice that the general architectural blueprint of our sexual penal laws is that of viewing the man as a perpetrator rather than as victim of sexual related offences. This lack of legal recognition of men as victims of sexual violence, more especially rape, is a fundamental error that has to be corrected to achieve a safer and just society.

To address the above problem, there is a need for recognition of sexual violence against men as a violation of their constitutionally guaranteed rights. There is a wide array of rights which are violated by such acts and they range from the right to life itself to the right to human dignity. Any call aimed at suppressing the need for recognition of sexual violence against men in all settings is simply a call for the perpetuation of injustice against male sexual victims.

There is also a need to see sexual violence against men for what it is. Male sexual victimisation is simply criminal conduct and it has to be recognised as such in our penal code. This may be achieved by the use of gender neutral terms in the laws that deal with sexual violence or introducing a buffet of offences which may include male rape, sexual assaults, sterilization, and castration or genital disfigurement just to mention but a few. In the end, male sexual victims matter and they also deserve the protection of the law.

Further, there is also need drum up media campaigns to sensitise the masses about the evils of sexual violence against men. This may go a long way in changing the prevailing societal attitudes, prejudices and perceptions about male sexual victimisation.

Lastly, there is a need for political will to address the problem of sexual violence against men. More resources ought to be dedicated towards research, trainings, reporting, prosecution and sensitisation in this area. Only by doing this, we will also move towards reducing the incidences of male sexual victimisation.

Co-author Sullivan Isaac Kagundu is a Legal Practitioner at Chibambo & Company. 

This article was first published on Zodiak Online