From Victim of Sexual Violence to Community Prison: The Double Victimhood Tales of Refugee Male Survivors in Uganda

 “We are like fish in water, we cry but our tears are washed in water, we cry and our tears are washed away” ­– Male survivor of CRSV, Isingiro

The above quote summarises the experience and feelings of male survivors of conflict-related sexual violence residing in the Nakivale refugee settlement in western Uganda.

Awareness of sexual violence against men and boys is gradually growing in different parts of the world. They are being acknowledged as victims of such acts, especially rape – partly due to the relentless interventions and actions of activists, researchers, academia, and humanitarian workers in uncovering the darkest aspect of violence perpetrated against men and boys in conflict and post-conflict situations.

Despite the commendable efforts by the various actors in tackling sexual violence in conflict and associated impacts, male survivors of CRSV still look forward to the day when their plea for non-judgemental support is appreciated and attended to, with many looking forward to their tears wiped away as it were, and people to truly begin to listen to and comprehend their unspeakable experiences.

The challenges of male survivors in Uganda in particular seem far from over. Given the history of misconceptions surrounding sexual violence against men and boys, the relationship that obtains in relation to male survivors remains one of fear and reprimands. In a context where existing laws and policies hardly distinguish consensual and non-consensual sex, male survivors often have to grapple with limited safer spaces where they can comfortably disclose their traumatic encounters.

In light of the above, male survivors, more than ever, require a wide range of actors to represent them and advocate for their plights and to create a safer environment that builds trust and enables survivors to confidently and securely narrate their experiences and access the appropriate physical and psychological services they need for healing.

Despite commendable efforts to create safer spaces for male survivors among a select group of humanitarian and development actors, numerous questions remain unanswered. Firstly, what challenges do male survivors face in accessing physical and psychological services? Why do male survivors continue to live in fear amidst relatively commendable research on sexual violence against men and boys? What happens when male survivors continue to live with suppressed pain and yet also exercises social responsibilities in their households and communities? How can we realise a peaceful world when sexual violence experiences of men and boys can be accorded adequate attention and response?

Addressing the above requires that we must reflect upon our readiness to first of all listen to the stories shared by survivors – many of which are undeniably horrific and traumatising. Additionally, key actors on conflict-related sexual violence need to recognise their own level of preparedness to respond and prevent sexual violence in conflict, and above all, the political and practical will to support survivors and their families in overcoming the impacts of sexual violence and associated stigma arising from disclosure.

Whereas the pursuit of disclosure is much needed, we ought to further ponder on how to handle the disclosure once survivors build trust in key actors. This may require that households be strengthened to provide emotional and practical support to survivors during their recovery journey. Recent studies have shown increasing cases of co-victimisation, forced perpetration, and forced witnessing of experiences of acts of sexual violence. As such, it is vital that survivors’ households and family members are adequately prepared to learn about what happened to those they love and care about. Unless such conversations become common place and debates are advanced, creating safe spaces for male survivors to disclose experiences will not mean much in bringing about transformative changes in the lives of survivors, their household members, and the community at large.

Having worked with male survivors of conflict-related sexual violence for a decade at Refugee Law Project (RLP), I have interacted with and supported multiple male survivors who have lived with medical complications arising from experiences of sexual violence for several years if not decades, and had not disclosed them to anyone, let alone their household members. The thousands of disclosure enabled by RLP over the years is a result of continuous and progressive institutional work towards building trust, enabling disclosure, and countering stigma and discrimination towards male survivors of sexual violence.

Through my years of interacting with male survivors, and subsequent provision of support to survivors as individuals, couples, and as part of survivor support groups, I have not only learned enormously but received energizing feedback following the successful rehabilitation of male survivors and their spouses. Whereas many have recovered, I also received clients who are hesitant to involve their family members even when we recommend a multi-survivor programming approach which requires that their spouses and household members are also screened for conflict-related harms and, where appropriate, supported.

A statement such as; “I am not comfortable with my family knowing what has happened to me”, is a demonstration that practitioners need not rush survivors toward disclosing their experiences. I further recall an interview with a male survivor from DR Congo, whose son had to drop out of school due to continuous stigmatisation from fellow students following the discovery of what had happened to his father. The frustrating social reprimands started when his father participated in a survivor-led community awareness-raising event on the plight of male survivors in Kampala where some of his classmates attended. Soon after the event, the news of the ‘rape’ of his father spread like wildfire – and with some attributing it to acts of homosexuality. Consequently, the boy dropped out of school as he could not deal with the daily social contempt and psychological humiliation. The boy later left and returned to DR Congo, triggered by the experiences of stigma and humiliation. Since then, his family has not heard from him as attempts to trace him have not come to fruition yet.

Clearly, the impact of the disclosure can sometimes strain the capacity of family members to handle the visualisation of the narrative, the associated pain, and further community shame and stigma. Whereas the above scenario could be looked at as a one-off, it highlights the need for continuous professional support for individual survivors and their families in addition to appreciating the contextual risks that may arise following disclosure. Whereas advocating for enabling environment for all survivors is critical, advancing conversations on our readiness to deal with associated consequences and unintended negative consequences is equally important and shouldn’t be overlooked.

RLP’s innovative Screen-Refer-Support-Document (SRSD Model) has over the years fronted conversations on creating enabling environments but also advocated for a Multi-Survivor Programme (MSP) of enabling disclosure, which advocates for intervention to individual survivors as an entry point but later expands support to their household members. Herein, RLP has and continues to support individual survivors but also work closely with their families through robust informed consent processes. While this approach has so far proven helpful and constructive in supporting survivors through their journey of recovery, healing, individual agency and advocacy.

As actors keen on progressive cultures where all forms of violence are denounced, it is crucial to (re)consider our approaches in addressing the legacies of conflict-related sexual violence while being fully cognisant of the aftermath of disclosure so as to avoid re-traumatizing survivors. Realising this goal requires accompaniment, a keen reflection on the past and current approaches to working with survivors and their families, and boldly yet prudently discussing distress protocols in managing challenges that arise from disclosure – both for male and female survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.

I implore you to join the conversation as we commemorate this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, under the theme, Bridging the Gender Digital Divide to Prevent, Address, and Respond to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence!

Mogi Wokorach - SGBVP Officer Gender and Sexuality Programme, Refugee Law Project School of Law MUK

War forgotten victims: Vulnerabilities of children born out of rape during war

Rape is a horrifying reality among women and girls. The weapon of Rape often devastates victims with extreme violations and trauma, and women frequently tend to look at themselves as the living dead as they raise children of unknown fathers.

Sexual violence has been used for centuries as a destructive weapon of war against enemies in conflicts across all continents. Sexual violence-related consequences like unwanted pregnancies have left an enormous impact on women and girls and their local communities. This is particularly so when a child is born because of war rape as the mother journeys with the traumatic experiences of not knowing the origin of her child. The social consequences often include hostile relations and memories of the sexual abuse.

Some countries like DR Congo have been dubbed as the ‘rape capital of the world’ due to the systematic use of Rape in protracted conflicts across all genders including women, men, girls, and boys, young and old. Women have been abused as individuals, in groups as well as with objects while held in sexual slavery or sexually mutilated by militias groups, leading to severe injuries, and conceiving of children from unknown fathers. Rape is a violent and invasive act that causes unbearable and lasting pain to rape victims. It is a violent attack on the interior of one’s body and represents the most severe attack imaginable upon the bodily integrity, the intimate self and the dignity of a rape victim/survivor.

As part of my engagement working with the Refugee Law Project, I have had opportunity to interact with mothers of children born because of rape. These mothers have always shared the difficulties they have gone through in raising their children with unknown fathers and their enemies. Mothers of children born in Rape suffer long-lasting psychological and socio-economic challenges in their everyday lives.

The experience of working with mothers of children born of rape has raised my emotions and revealed the realities of the vulnerabilities of children born out of rape. The witnesses and parents raising children born out of rape always tell of the challenges of post-traumatic stress and depression, which continuously affect their parent-child interactions and insecure attachment of their relations in a family and the communities, especially in refugee settlements and the urban-based refugee areas. Raising a child born out of rape contains a lot of problematic dynamics and trials, especially for the parents, families, and communities, and leaves a considerable tragic memory among mothers who experienced sexual violence-related injuries and pregnancies.

Despite the humanitarian interventions for children’s protection, little has been done towards comprehensive support to children born out of rape, especially in targeted service delivery, including their rehabilitation, care, and empowerment. In many cultures, Rape does not only degrade the victims but also humiliates the husbands and communities. Moreover, it is characterized by difficulties in accepting the victims in their families and communities.

The silent suffering of children born out of rape also accelerates their vulnerability and misery. The indifference and the taboo around children born in rape are unforgotten. Many women raising children have difficulty identifying, including tribes, ancestors, and naming of their children; consequently, many often get named according to their birth events.

Additionally, gendered harms, including raping women, and producing children born out of rape, have been highly characterized by trauma and general psychological distress. Rape is a violent and invasive act that causes severe and lasting pain to rape victim’s sense of self and how they perceive others. Rape violates the dignity to the victim, the integrity of the physical self, basic beliefs and assumptions about their social and political environments, others, and relationships.

Besides, rape brings stigmatization, especially in cultures with strong customs and taboos regarding virginity, sex, and sexuality. In interacting with survivors of rape I realize that they often report no joy in delivering a child born out of rape and regularly call them ‘problematic children’. Mothers inevitably struggle with toxic stress in nurturing these children, which results in robust, frequent, and prolonged hardship, physical or emotional abuse and chronic neglect, exposure to violence, family economic hardships, and inadequate emotional, social and economic support.

Understanding the interconnectedness of the impact of sexual violence needs to be deeply investigated for better programming and comprehensive interventions in order to support the family of the survivors of sexual violence in the humanitarian response. |Moreover, humanitarian protection interventions need to be further expanded. Evidence, research, good practices, and lessons learned need to be broadly shared in order to contribute to a better understanding of sexual and gender-based violence issues and the effective response to children born out of rape.

Specifically, there is a need for deliberate efforts to document mothers with children born of war rape in humanitarian response and assistance programmes. Notably, looking at the unique needs of children born of war rape will assist a lot in understanding the invisible disability and struggles of their lives. This protection issue is sensitive and needs an organized conflict-sensitive response design. The converse is that many children, families, and communities will continue to suffer unbearable emotional and physical pain in the absence of meaningful engagements and response.

A disempowered mother wounded by rape, if not empowered, often suffer from vulnerability which arises from physical and emotional harm that severely impact the health, growth and wellbeing of a child born of out conflict.  An empowered mother to a child born out of rape brings natural protection from the mother. Physical health care, psychological support, economic empowerment, capacity building and awareness on parenting, self-awareness, trauma healing creates an enabling environment in which love blossoms.  In the end, “Showing love to a child who had no say in being born shows strength. To deny them love, is worse than killing them”.

Charity Immaculate is a Humanitarian Worker and GBV Practitioner at the Refugee Law Project - Centre for Forced Migrants, at Makerere University School of Law.

Women are at the short end of the Climate Change stick. What can we do about it?

Poor and marginalised groups [including women and girls] have limited ability to cope with climate change impacts according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Yet, the climate resilience of a society and its ability to change economic processes to achieve greenhouse gas reductions often depend on specific social strata’s adaptive and mitigative capacities.

“Recognising the contribution of women in climate change mitigation, adaptation and response” is Uganda’s national theme for International Women’s Day 2022 and emphasises full acknowledgement of climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts made by women, and their exceptional efforts in implementing response strategies.

Digital technologies against human trafficking: What the case of refugees in Uganda tells us

This year’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons (TIP), marked annually on 30 July, was commemorated under the theme of 'Use and Abuse of Technology.’ First commemorated almost a decade ago, the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons is, per the adopted UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/68/192, meant to “raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights.”

But how do we raise awareness of the situation of TIP victims and survivors in spaces where identification and documentation of TIP cases remain a colossal challenge? To mention but one important challenge, Uganda has one of the largest refugee populations in the world—topmost in Africa—involving both mass influxes and protracted stays. Moreover, about 60% of these refugees are under 18, with the majority (92%) hosted in rural settlements alongside local communities within conditions of relative deprivation, recently aggravated by grave losses of livelihood and income following the COVID-19 outbreak. Against this contextual backdrop, it is no exaggeration to imagine such cohorts of refugees (male, female and gender-nonconforming, old and young, with visible and invisible disabilities, etc.) and their immediate host communities as constituting themselves fertile ground for TIP. These populations are not computed in the "more than 60 per cent of detected human trafficking victims over the last 15 years [being] women and girls, most of them trafficked for sexual exploitation” noted in the press release by the UNODC Executive Director issued on 30 July 2022.


The recently released US Trafficking in Persons Report (July 2021) has placed Uganda on Tier 2 from Tier 2 Watch List in the past two years. While not yet fully meeting the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking-in-persons, Uganda is making significant efforts. Uganda's efforts reportedly include investigating and prosecuting more trafficking crimes, convicting the most traffickers ever reported in a year, developing robust, standardised operating procedures for law enforcement and increasing training for investigators and prosecutors. Refugee Law Project (RLP) of the School of Law at Makerere University in partnership with the Irish Centre for Human Rights (ICHR) at the National University of Ireland – Galway has, in view of the past three-year research project under the title ‘Human Trafficking, Forced Migration and Gender Equality in Uganda’, contributed to these efforts in no less modest ways. Nonetheless, the challenges of harnessing technology – coupled with the one of countering abuse of technology – in a sophisticated fight against TIP, especially among vulnerable lives online, still looms large.


Digital technologies are increasingly being recognised as tools capable of enabling and impeding TIP. The use of internet-enabled technologies, including social media networks has seen an unprecedent uptake in recent times across so many divides – age, gender, class, legal status, time zones and geographies. Messaging apps like WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook and other audio-visual digital channels like YouTube, Instagram, Google Meet and Zoom are becoming humans’ second-nature in broadcasting enormous bits of information and facilitating intense and interactive exchange. This recognition could not be more realised than following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forcibly migrated plenty of human interactions and transactions into virtual spaces. With the great shift to online platforms for humanitarian outreach and service delivery, the often syndicate crime of human trafficking also moved to cyberspace. The eagerness of many asylum seekers to get and keep online via social media – as an escape from the often constrained parameters of life in confined asylum spaces – provides a recipe for cyber criminality and cyber violence, as well as a situation replete with opportunity for tech-enabled TIP. As such, cybercriminals who include digital human traffickers can easily take advantage of vulnerable refugee lives online, not least due to the questionable ethics of how digital platforms are designed and run.


In a recently published study jointly undertaken by the RLP and the Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG) on social media and inclusion in humanitarian action, it was found that refugees in Uganda—both those in refugee settlements and those self-settled in urban areas—are eager to get and stay connected to the internet through social media platforms, regardless of the challenging context. So are the lives of refugees and their hosts in settings of asylum affected in dynamic ways as communications systems and networks continue to grow, and new social media applications are developed. Some have cherished hopes of social media potentially democratising the humanitarian industry in the field of forced migration. Others have also pointed out that online connectivity can exacerbate protection-related vulnerabilities of forced migrants, already suffering varying instances and degrees of trauma.


The need for establishing appropriate protection channels for beneficiaries (whether forced migrants or their no less vulnerable hosts) who become internet-enabled tech-savvy cannot be overstated, especially when considering the uptake of the systematic use of social media in humanitarian action. Arriving at such protection channels in combating T4TIP would require taking seriously what Oliver Lough urges humanitarians to consider, namely a shift from risk avoidance to risk mitigation as they take on more deliberate approaches to using social media in constantly engaging with their persons-of-concern within different information ecosystems. Doing so with a survivor-centred, trauma-informed, and gender-sensitive approach, bringing together the state (government agencies), the society (non-governmental and civil society entities) and the market (businesses and tech companies) in responsorial partnership, is moreover what may take us on a much more promising fight against T4TIP. As we commemorate this year’s World Day against Trafficking in Persons, re-centring the use and abuse of internet-enabled technologies in the combat against TIP, it is also important to remember that TIP remains a tight-knit networked crime undertaken by purposeful agents acting in a daring and sophisticated manner both online and offline. As such, an equally intentional and purposeful resource investment to curate and analytically oversee digital spaces – sorting the wheat from the chaff and deciphering the subtle from the sensational in the sea of information – is key in bringing down the TIP network


By David N. Tshimba

Senior Research Fellow, Refugee Law Project
with funding support from


How can we sustain the gains on gender equality for all? Reflections from Adjumani District

International Women's Day (IWD) has been observed for many decades. The institution of the day was driven by the universal female suffrage movement that began in New Zealand and was later propelled by the labour movements in North America and Europe during the early 20th Century.

This year's theme, "Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow", anchors on enhancing gender equality for all as a precursor for achieving a sustainable future within the framework of Sustainable Development Goals. Like in preceding years, Uganda joins many other countries to commemorate women's cultural, political, and socio-economic achievements.

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