With few exceptions, wartime rape largely begins and ends with men. But that doesn’t mean that men can’t be victims. While some may be raped themselves, many more are forced to watch as their wives or sisters or daughters are raped, part of a wartime strategy to intimidate and demoralize a population.
It’s an exceedingly effective one. Even when they don’t witness the crime, men often feel guilty and emasculated when their wives are raped, and don’t know how to reassert their role in the family—except through violence and rejection. “We men don’t have fistulas that need to be repaired, but we have a trauma that needs healing,” says Fabien Mwira, a Congolese man from Goma whose wife, Judith Niraneza, was raped in a 2007 attack on their village.
Read more: The Secret War Crime
Most rape recovery programs in the Democratic Republic of Congo focus on women, but one organization, Promundo, has partnered with a local NGO called Living Peace to help the male partners of rape survivors. Over a 15-week series of guided group therapy sessions, the men learn about rape, but also about how to be better husbands, fathers and leaders. “Yes, it’s important to focus on the victims of sexual violence, and even on the children born of sexual violence,” says Benoit Ruratotoye, Living Peace’s Goma-based founding psychologist. “But to complete the circle, to really help this society change, we need to involve the author of this violence: men.”
For both Mwira and his wife Niraneza, the program changed their lives for the better. Mwira says that helping the men is an essential part of helping a country recovers from rape in wartime. “It is just as important for bringing peace to our communities that we be healed as it is for the women to be healed,” he says.