Male-on-Male Rape Bedevils Congo

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday August 5, 2009

A new chapter is being written in the annals of civilian victims of warfare and unrest: while rape targeting women has long been a commonplace of war, men are now being subjected to rape in the Congo.

An Aug. 4 article in The New York Times related that the militaries of Congo and Rwanda have joined in efforts to combat rebels in Congo, but that civilians are paying a heavy price. The article noted that more than half a million Congolese people had been displaced.

Armed men, the article suggested, have taken to raping civilian men as a way of asserting dominance over the people there.

The article said that eastern Congolese women had been subjected to rape by the hundreds of thousands; now, the rape of men by militia members is increasing, along with other atrocities, purportedly as revenge against the efforts by the Rwandan and Congolese governments to quell rebel activity.

Moreover, Congololese Army soldiers are also allegedly committing rape against women, as well as murdering civilians.

The article quoted Human Rights Watch researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg as saying, "From a humanitarian and human rights perspective, the joint operations [against the rebels] are disastrous."

The article noted that the American Bar Association offers legal counsel to victims of sexual violence in the region. According to the ABA, over one-tenth of those who came to the legal clinic in the month of June were men claiming to have been raped. The article estimated that hundreds of men had been victimized.

But the actual figure may be higher: the Congolese culture views homosexuality as taboo, and does not differentiate between sexual violence and voluntary sexual activity, with victims sometimes denounced by members of their own villages as the "bush wives" of the men who victimized them.

As a result, though many fewer men are raped than women, the article said, the social and psychological cost of rape may be steeper for male victims.

The article quoted one male victim as saying, "I'm laughed at.

"The people in my village say: 'You're no longer a man. Those men in the bush made you their wife.'"

And rape is not the only form of sexual violence being used against Conglese men: some are being castrated, the article said.

A Wikipedia article on rape associated with warfare notes that rape by soldiers has been associated with military action since times of antiquity, and is referred to in the Bible.

More recently, the Rwandan genocide included rape, as have other conflicts around the world in recent decades. Such violation in a setting of armed conflict is now regarded as a crime against humanity and as a war crime.

The same article indicated that only rarely is rape involving a male victim reported due to social stigma.

Both the New York Times article and a separate Wikipedia entry noted that the Congo is regarded as the "rape capital of the world," with heightened increase in the transmission of HIV among the consequences.

The article claims that, "All armed forces in the conflict are guilty of rape, though the militia and various insurgent groups have been most culpable."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.