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Stigma silences Colombia's male war rape victims

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 9 September 2014 07:18 GMT

In a 2008 file photo, a man paints hands the colours of the Colombian flag during a protest in Bogota against paramilitary right wing violence. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

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Colombia has recorded 650 male survivors of sexual violence as a result of its conflict, but many more fear coming forward

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The teacher was with schoolchildren, collecting fruit in a mountain village in central Colombia, when two armed rebel fighters suddenly appeared.

The rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) lingered around the school until dusk, followed the male teacher home and ordered him to go into his bedroom.

“They told me: ‘Don’t cry, little girl.’ The man pulled down my trousers and put a gun to my head. When he had finished, the other one penetrated me from behind,” said the teacher, recalling the gang rape in early 2006 when he was 46 years old.

“Sometimes I think it would have been better if they had killed me because living with this trauma is so hard,” the teacher, whose name is not given, was quoted as saying in Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper.

Colombia’s official register of war victims from 1985 onwards lists 6.7 million victims, including 5,800 who suffered sexual violence or rape at the hands of warring factions in the country’s 50 year-war between leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary groups and government troops.

These victims of sexual violence include 650 men, mostly attacked by paramilitary groups during the 1990s and early 2000s, according to the government. However, these cases are likely only tip of the iceberg because the stigma surrounding male rape victims and the fear of being ostracised prevents many men from coming forward to authorities.

“As we know there’s underreporting of sexual violence against women as part of the conflict, and we expect that the same applies to men,” Maria Eugenia Morales, head of reparations at the government’s victims’ unit, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Sexual violence against men as part of Colombia's conflict is a silent, almost invisible problem and a taboo that hardly anyone is talking about.”

Sexual violence against men by armed groups is one of the least known aspects of Colombia’s war, as in other countries with armed conflict. The victims may suffer anal and oral rape, genital torture or sexual slavery, or be forced to rape others.

Colombia’s warring factions have committed sex crimes against both men and women to silence and humiliate civilians, and subjugate local communities to impose social and military control in an area, Morales said.

There are no support groups for men who have suffered sexual violence.

“If men dare to report the crime it’s not easy for them to get help to heal the trauma. We need to start to design strategies that provide emotional support for men… Women have come together in support groups, which is part of the healing process, but men haven’t,” Morales said.


The schoolteacher reported the gang rape two years after the attack, following threats by other FARC rebels as he tried to rebuild his life in another village in Colombia.

He says rebels accused him of being an army informant and gave him two weeks to leave his home.

“I thought one of these days, they (the guerrillas) are going to make me disappear and no one is ever going to know what those disgusting people did to me,” he told El Tiempo.

It is commonly believed that only gay men are victims of rape, and his wife believed the same.

“I told my wife that if I had been gay, I wouldn’t have married her and had children with her. She didn’t understand… eventually we broke up and she rejected me. Twenty years of marriage ended because of what had happened to me,” the teacher told El Tiempo.

Associating sexual violence against men with homosexuality is one reason it is so difficult to break the taboo surrounding the crime, Morales said.

“When a man has suffered sexual violence he has been subjugated both physically and emotionally - and as such his masculinity has been affected - in a patriarchal society like Colombia, that has cultural weight and significance,” Morales said.


Sexual violence against men is an invisible crime in more than 25 countries affected by conflict, including Libya, Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, according to the Uganda-based Refugee Law Project.

In a sign of increasing recognition of the issue, last year for the first time, men and boys were named as victims of sexual violence in conflicts in a U.N. Security Council resolution.

However, 62 countries - representing almost two-thirds of the world's population - still recognise only female victims of rape, the Refugee Law Project says.

Despite very few perpetrators punished for sex crimes against men in Colombia, the government is trying to break the taboo with a law that recognises male survivors of sexual violence.

Under a 2011 law that offers compensation to victims and families of those who have died and suffered in the violence inflicted by all sides in the war, so far 38 male survivors of sexual violence have received psychological support and about $9,000 each in financial compensation from the government.

“Our goal is to reach all 650 registered cases. We’ve made giving integral reparation to victims of sexual violence, both men and women, a priority,” Morales said.

(Editing by Alisa Tang: alisa.tang@thomsonreuters.com)

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