Rape and sexual assault are often seen as an exclusively woman’s problem. The reality is different, and sometimes male victims, on account of this wrong perception, are shut out of needed support. Wearing the cloak of a taboo subject, male victims of rape find themselves totally denied of societal emparthy.
Male victims of rape who spoke with HumAngle acknowledge that the idea of men and boys as the victims of sexual violence is a hard conversation to have. Assumptions emerge around sexuality, perceptions of strength, and whether men and boys can be victims at all.
Women and girls are usually touted as the victims of such horrors while men and boys are considered as the perpetrators. In Nigerian culture, many believe that women are weak and men are strong, which, flowing from that logic, makes the rape of women and girls a more believable contemplation.
Statistics show that women and girls are certainly more at risk, and further show that men are at risk too although they are less inclined to report their stories. HumAngle findings show that most male respondents were concerned about being perceived as effeminate.
A victim, Ogar Okon, emphasized this during his interview. He was assaulted by his uncle. He noted that fear kept him from telling anyone what happened.
He said, “While I was growing up, my uncle came to watch me. I think I was about four or five years old. My mom was a teacher and being that he is an uncle, my mom had so much confidence that her younger brother could look after her kids when she’s away.
“At some point he brought out his private organ and called my name, telling me to eat his lollipop and that I should come suck it for him. And being an innocent child, what did I know at this point?
“I did and for him it was pleasure, but for me, I did not know what I was doing. I have not been able to talk to anybody about it. I did not have the courage to say it out. I felt like I was forced to do something that ordinarily I would not think of to do,” he said.
Okon also revealed that the incident strained his relationship with his uncle as he lost his confidence. Although the uncle is now dead, Okon is burdened by memories of the experiences.
Available data show that in Nigeria, the experience of Okon was not peculiar. The United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported in 2015 that one in four girls and one in 10 boys in Nigeria have experienced sexual violence.
In Port Hartcourt, South-South Nigeria Statistics released a study surveying 1162 secondary school students about their experiences with sexual violence.
590 females and 572 males participated. Out of that number, 422 participants had experienced some form of sexual violence. The statistics revealed that 51.8 percent were females and 48.2 percent were males.
The assault often happened between eight to 12 years old, and 61 percent of the perpetrators were known to the victims. The data concluded that although the number of participants is not statistically significant, the rate at which males were abused was on the rise.
Victims maintain that it is difficult to talk about. Okon said there is “the stigmatization that comes with talking about rape…people get scared. I do not want to be known as a rape victim, as a weak man. It really takes courage for you to tell someone that.”
The World Health Organization and Federal Bureau of Investigation (United States) both classify rape as involving penetration. Nigerian law had named rape as something that is perpetrated by a man against a woman, involving penetrative force.
The issue appears to boil down to perceptions around what constitutes rape and if men and boys can be raped. This is even reflected in media coverage. Content analysis of male sexual assault and rape coverage refers to the crime as sodomy, molestation, or even “making love,” rather than rape.
Victims told HumAngle that the lack of public support reinforces the culture of silence. When asked how they deal with the resulting issues, they explained that they talk to the male friends they can trust.
However, sharing with their male friends is more comfortable if they were assaulted by women. That way, it is easier to appear more masculine because male victims are made to see themselves as “lucky” if they are sexually preyed on, especially by older women.
This culture of silence is reflective in Nigeria’s policy, or lack thereof, when it comes to protecting men and boys. Victims blame the limitations of the law in defining male rape.
HumAngle reports that in 2019, a bill seeking to remove gender restrictions for rape cases passed for a second reading at the senate. It was sponsored by Oluremi Tinubu, senator representing Lagos central.
Speaking before the Senate, Tinubu said, “there are incidents of non-consensual sex perpetrated against the male gender,” and described the code’s definition of rape as something that happens to women as “grievous.”
While victims are skeptical that it will be passed into law, they maintain that it is a good starting point to rally public support around fighting male rape.
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