Author(s): R. Jina, M. Machisa, G. Labuschagne, L. Vetten, L. Loots, R. Jewkes

Source: South African Medical Journal 2020;110(9):926-931.


Background: The burden of sexual violence has been well described in children of both sexes and in women, but there is minimal literature on adult male rape victims. Studies of adult male rape victims have mainly been conducted among incarcerated males or military personnel, and in high-income countries.

Objectives: To describe the epidemiology, occurrence and reporting of rape cases involving male victims, both child (<18 years old) and adult, in South Africa (SA).

Methods: The study consisted of a nationally representative sample of case dockets maintained by the SA Police Service of rape incidents reported in 2012. A retrospective review of the dockets provided sociodemographic information on the victim and suspect, the circumstances of the rape and the medicolegal services provided to the victim. Data on male victims were analysed using Stata 13 to test for significant differences between child and adult male victims.

Results: The study comprised 209 male victims, including 120 (57.4%) children and 89 (42.6%) adults. The findings showed that there were significant differences in the occurrence and reporting of rape of male victims by age. Adult males experienced more violent rapes, perpetrators were more likely to be armed and often humiliated the victim, and rapes were more likely to occur in institutional settings. Adult males reported incidents of rape earlier and therefore had visible non-genital injuries during the medical examination. In contrast, more child rapes involved known perpetrators, occurred in a home and perpetrators were more likely to act kindly to the victim after the incident. This parallels the patterns in rape circumstances seen in female adult and child victims.

Conclusions: While there is political commitment to understanding sexual violence against women as a societal problem, work on such violence against men lags behind and is little understood. Rape of males needs to be acknowledged, and their vulnerabilities to sexual abuse and rape need to be addressed. Prevention efforts to end violence against women and girls, especially in relation to children, can be used to address violence against men and boys.