African male rape victims speak, fight shame of war horror
Job is a big and tall man from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, strong and healthy looking.
Once he begins to speak, however, the facade falls and the 50-year-old shows himself to be in tatters, suffering deep physical and mental wounds from a secret weapon of war being employed in central Africa.
So secret, many deny it exists. But more people like Job are coming forward to shed light on an often neglected group of victims.
Repeatedly gang-raped by Congolese government soldiers in 2007, Job is being cared for now by doctors and counsellors to help him heal from an attack by an army supposedly fighting insurgents, but also meting out wrath on civilians.
"I was arrested in an operation by the soldiers and, while in prison, two soldiers picked me, tied my hands and legs and one after another raped me. I screamed but no one helped me. I fainted. The same thing happened to me the following day and for weeks. I was bleeding all the time," Job told dpa.
Rape as a weapon of war has been used in the African Great Lakes region for many years, but most of the focus of aid groups has been on female victims. Slowly, however, men are seeking help.
Social workers and lawyers at an aid centre in Kampala say they regularly hear stories like Job's, from men fleeing conflict areas in DR Congo, Burundi, Sudan, Somalia and parts of Eritrea and Ethiopia.
The Refugee Law Project (RLP), housed on a low hill in a quiet residential area in the Ugandan capital, receives up to 10 male rape victims some days, compared to an average of eight women a day.
The victims often turn up with open wounds and are taken to hospital for treatment. Social workers and volunteers later offer counselling.
Many victims have a simple goal: being able to lead a normal life, without ending up in an asylum.
Job says he was arrested by soldiers pursuing militias in DR Congo's volatile North Kivu province. The eastern region of the country is infested with rebel groups and Job was accused of helping them.
"I was raped by different soldiers. I have so many thoughts. I cannot sleep. I became impotent. Concentration is my main problem. My future is ruined. I have no future," Job says.
Moses says that in 2007 he was abducted by Congolese rebels while at work at a Catholic mission centre in North Kivu and forced to fight with the guerrillas.
"I tried to escape but I was recaptured. The rebels told me I was to be punished. They told me that there were no women in the bush and so I was to offer sex. They regularly raped me. I became sick. Blood was flowing from my anus," said Moses, who eventually escaped to Uganda.
Socials workers at the RLP centre say that the level of sexual violence used against civilians in conflict-ridden countries is high.
"We have male clients who complain of screwdrivers pushed through their anus and they get infections. The majority are gang-raped," says Salome Atim, the gender officer at the RLP. Other forms of sexual torture employed are even more graphic.
"When these men report to us, many of them smell of faeces and use pads to stop the bleeding and the pus coming out of their bottoms," Atim noted, adding: "They (men) are captured everyday and raped."
Due to the stigma attached to homosexuality, victims from countries like Somalia do not readily talk about their experiences. It is not only society they fear: many lose their wives and friends when their hidden truth emerges.
"We ask them questions and give the details to the doctors, because most of them do not tell the doctors that they were raped. They feel ashamed. They fear that they would be ostracised once it is believed that they are homosexuals," Atim says.
Lara Stemple from the University of Los Angeles, conducted a study two years ago entitled "Male Rape and Human Rights." She warns men are being ignored.
"Male victims have been neglected for a long time in all regions of the world. And anywhere where homosexuality is severely stigmatised, male victims will have a harder time coping," said Stemple.
The study found the practice widespread in a variety of past conflicts. But, in Central Africa, the fighting goes on as justice systems fail to bring perpetrators to justice.
Worse, advocates say, rich world donors often only donate to groups treating female victims of rape, thus potentially sidelining a whole segment of society in need.