16 Days of Activism - Day 17

16 Days of Activism - Day 17

The 16 days of activism is an important reminder each year – of the crimes committed against the most vulnerable – women and children. It is a time to assess the strides we’ve made as a society in terms of addressing these ills. But for the most part – the voices of men remain silent, or subdued. Yet crimes such as abuse, either physical or emotional, sexual assault and rape are indiscriminate. The importance of the battle against the abuse of women and children notwithstanding, men deserve a voice, support, respect and equal justice.


“Rape, yes it’s a one day event for the rapist, but for us survivors it’s a recurring nightmare.” Oliver Meth was raped and assaulted during a robbery on the second of November 2002. He was 16 years old. Apart from the incident, he had to endure a legal process, which at that stage, did not recognise him as a victim of the crime committed against him.

The 16 Days of activism against women and child abuse campaign came to an end on Saturday. Everyone from politicians to civil society made use of less than six per cent of the year to speak out against crimes still considered to be committed at unacceptably high rates in South Africa. The latest crime statistics show a total of 51 895 sexual offences were reported between April 2015 and March 2016 – a 3.2% drop from the previous year.

The importance of the 16 Days campaign notwithstanding, it still excludes a section of society – males – often only referred to as the perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence. But it’s important to recognise that they too can be violated, that they too may need support.

Yolanda Hanning is a mental health activity manager for Doctors Without Borders on the Platinum Belt in Rustenburg. She says 8.8% of the victims MSF consults with in the North West are male.

The South African Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse organisation estimated in 2014, close to 20% of all sexual violence victims are male. But the actual figures could be much higher as men are less likely to report cases.

According to Hanning, men and boys often have difficulties reporting incidents of sexual violence committed against them. The same applies to other forms of abuse.

“Often if they do report it they get ridiculed or they’re exposed to secondary trauma because nobody believes them, or they are made to feel guilty or responsible for what had happened,” explains Hanning.

This is still the case today, despite laws being amended to include men. It now defines these crimes in gender-neutral terms: “A person ('A') who unlawfully and intentionally sexually violates a complainant ('B'), without the consent of B, is guilty of the offence of sexual assault,” reads the Sexual Offences Act. It uses similar language throughout the Act. Yet it seems society is still catching up with the law.

Samsosa lists 10 myths of male sexual abuse and rape. These range from “boys and men can’t fall victim to sexual abuse” to “if you never said no to the abuse, then it must be your fault.”

“I remember being taken to the local police station, which actually came to a standstill when they saw me covered in blood and semen,” says Meth. He adds he had to recount the events in front of all the officers. At a later stage, he says the insensitivity in dealing with his case continued.

Hanning too has noticed the insensitivity when dealing with male victims. She says they often find men cannot be seen as vulnerable, as violence towards men is considered impossible. This is especially in cases where women are the perpetrators. These myths further impede law enforcement’s ability to assist victims.

Hanning says men face further victimisation when they try to report incidents.

“They [men] could get mocked at by the very police they need to report the case to,” she explains. She says many often get turned away, especially in incidents where men are raped by women.

Meth found both the legal and health systems ill equipped to assist him. “I think the system further rapes you,” he says. “You constantly have to prove that you were raped.”

Despite the stark reality, many male victims continue to face the same challenges, largely due to skewed perceptions about masculinity. Hanning states males have for long been excluded. And while there are structures in place, mainly to assist female victims, Hanning believes South Africa needs to recognise the challenges men face.

Similarly, Meth believes much more needs to be done, including equal treatment and better processes to assist male victims. “This is what the 16 Days campaign should be working towards, instead of just having a whole lot of song and dance every year,” he says.

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