Don’t make a sound: Reporting on male rape
Media reporting on male rape could help survivors speak out and access all-important post-rape care.
Last week the story of a man who was gang-raped by six men was relegated to the margins of the media.
A measly three online news reports picked up the story, betraying an unwillingness to highlight male rape as an important issue with serious repercussions.
This unwillingness is perhaps forged in the fires of unprecedented public outrage at the brutal rape and murder of Anene Booysen.
In this context, male rape might be seen as a red herring that could detract attention from violence against women, which is finally provoking public reaction.
Another reason male rape might be low on the media’s agenda is because it is not perceived as something that happens very often. However a recent study revealed that one in ten men have been forced into having sex with another man, confirming that male rape is happening but is going unreported.
While it might not be as endemic as female rape, male rape has equally devastating effects on survivors. This includes the risk of HIV infection.
Men who are raped by other men are at higher risk of HIV infection, because anal sex (especially receptive anal sex) carries a much higher HIV risk.
This is because the lining of the rectum is thin, increasing the chances of tears and abrasions, which can allow HIV to pass into the body.
In South Africa, all rape survivors have the right to free HIV-preventative post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
However as the Mail&Guardian noted last year, female rape survivors face significant hurdles to obtaining PEP, which range from low levels of awareness around the availability of the treatment, to ill-equipped facilities, and sometimes negligent police officials.
Considering this, one can only imagine how this same system, which is almost completely inexperienced in the area of male rape, might deal with male survivors seeking post-rape care. Prior to 2007 male rape was not even recognised by law but was identified as indecent assault.
In addition to this, homosexuality is still heavily stigmatised in South Africa and this stigma extends into health care facilities, making reporting rape and receiving post-rape care a daunting task for men raped by other men, regardless of their sexual orientation.
When the media has addressed male rape it has largely been as it happens within prison populations. Last year health journalist Zinhle Mapumulo wrote an expose on rape in South Africa’s prisons and how it increases the HIV risk among the general population.
However male rape as it occurs in the general population remains unexamined and therefore unaddressed.