IT is impossible to say too often or loudly how important a moment it is when a boy or a man is brave and empowered enough to openly speak out about being sexually assaulted.
It feels like a breaking point, like something is fundamentally shifting and in a patriarchal society where boys’ and men’s masculinity is centered on not being perceived as “weak”, speaking out remains one of the bravest acts male victims can do.
And that is exactly what young paramedic Benyamen Ismael did when he decided to publically share his ordeal of how he was gang-raped in a holding cell of the Windhoek police station over the weekend by trial-awaiting prisoners on alleged instructions of police officers to “make him a woman”.
His perseverance in seeking justice in a culture of protection between men in uniform is more commendable and every Namibian should assist. For most, however, the decision to speak up will still feel fraught and without sufficient benefit to outweigh the possibility of negative repercussions, especially since the rape of males is still taboo and has a negative connotation among both heterosexual and homosexual men.
Fact of the matter is that sexual assault can happen to anyone, no matter age, race, sexual orientation or gender identity.
That is where the majority of this battle must be waged, in the minds of the often ordinary, sometimes powerless and even invisible boys and men who are expected to be able to defend themselves at all times against the evils of this world.
Unlike with the rape of females that makes headlines on a daily basis, with girls and women raised with fears of becoming yet another statistic of sexual assault, boys and men are usually less prepared when sexual assault happens to them, especially when committed by other men, and therefore deal with the shame and scarring in additionally complex ways.
The abuse is often repressed for many years, and more often than not, is never even discussed or disclosed as victim-shaming is acute for men because of social attitudes and stereotypes about men and masculinity.
So toxic is the idealised traditional ‘manliness’ that it tells boys and men that they cannot show vulnerability and should never find themselves so compromised that they can be taken advantage of sexually.
So when male rape happens, we believe, but with questions.
We claim to believe, but never without judgement.
We insist that we want to believe, while finding fault at the same time.
Is it because we are raised in a society that teaches us that boys and men are always in control of what happens to their bodies? Is it because we cannot imagine our men so defeated that rape happens to them? Is it because we assume they are capable of physically protecting themselves against all violent crimes? The one thing that comes up continually when there is any claim of rape is cynism about the complainant.
Rape is never a crime of opportunity. It is violent and it is flagrant in its contempt that even males, who are physically stronger than women, cannot always protect themselves against.
More so, because is often impossible to protect against the most unexpected.