Using video to change attitudes on sexual violence against men
In May 2015, the Refugee Law Project of Makerere University, together with IDS, embarked on a project that sought to document and understand men’s collective action in response to sexual and gender based violence (SGBV). Unusually, it considered a case in which men’s action is focused on responding to the sexual violence they have themselves experienced, rather than as change agents in attitudes towards violence against women. Some key aspects of the project were individual video testimonies and a participatory film. Below we talk about our involvement in this project and the benefits, impacts and challenges around using video to change attitudes around sexual violence against men.
How did we become involved in this issue?
Dieudonne: In 2011, I interpreted for 2 male survivors of rape for the first time who had come to seek assistance at the Refugee Law Project. The experience left me shocked and in disbelief. The disbelief was not about whether they were victims of rape, but because until then I had only heard of such stories in the media, never face to face. The shock was a result of the reality I had just come across; that of meeting and reading through the emotions of two devastated men. Their harrowing experiences left me destroyed emotionally.
That encounter with two middle-aged men came a year after I had been promoted to a video advocacy assistant with the Refugee Law Project. Since then, both as a community interpreter and as a video advocacy assistant, I have had many more opportunities to learn much more about sexual violence again men.
Kabafunzaki: For me, I came back to Refugee Law Project from a video production course in 2014, and one of my first assignments in my new job as Volunteer Video Assistant was to produce a short video on the 1st South-South Institute on Sexual Violence against Men and Boys that had taken place in Kampala and been hosted by the Refugee Law Project, but which I had not attended. That moment was quite confusing because I was tasked to produce a video on an issue I had never heard of before. The question that kept running in my mind was “Kabafunzaki, is this film going to make sense to the people who will watch it”? Nevertheless with the help of my teammates, the film was successfully produced and received well on Refugee Law Project’s website.
About the project: Men’s collective action in response to SGBV
The project was built on existing partnerships between IDS the Refugee Law Project. It also involved a support group of male survivors of sexual violence called Men of Hope Refugee Association Uganda.
The project had three strands:
- 5 individual video testimonies given by members (Aimé Moninga, Thierry Inongi, Stephen Kighoma, Alain Kabenga and Joseph) of the Men of Hope Refugee Association Uganda on their journeys to activism
- A written case-study to be published early 2016
- A participatory film by Men of Hope members (“Men Can Be Raped Too”).
What better way of telling the complex stories of men who have been stereotyped and stigmatized as a result of violence done to them than condensing the true testimonies of over 60 survivors into a 34-page script leading to a 27-minute film? The end result was a participatory film that brings out the many problems faced by Men of Hope members; for example at health centers, as well as the absence of a legal framework to encourage victims to come out and report cases. It also highlights the survival issues related to the fact that most of the survivors are unemployed despite the fact that many of them are professional, and the cultural beliefs that hinder the sharing of the issues. It goes on to show how all this can lead to suicidal attempts, family disintegration and more.
Speaking up about one’s experience of sexual violence is probably the biggest challenge that everybody campaigning against SGBV is facing, not least when the victims are men. For some, facing the camera was a major experience and victory in its own right. Most survivors would never imagine talking about their experience of rape given the surrounding cultural, religious, legal constraints and patriarchal roles and expectations of men. The fact that Men of Hope members agreed to speak to our cameras came from a very long relationship we, as an institution, had built with our colleagues in Men of Hope but also because “we” the people behind the cameras [during individual testimonies] had built personal working relationships with the survivors - it was not an easy trajectory.
First this came through trust that had been built over time as we had sessions of trainings together, and capacity building sessions. Prior to the interviews, we had a three-day workshop on the project followed by another three-day training in basic video skills. These days not only gave the survivors some important skills but were as important in bringing us closer to one another. So facing our cameras for some of the survivors was not a hurdle to be negotiated but was seen by the individuals as an opportunity “to speak and influence the legislation in such a way that such acts [rape of men] are severely punished, just as the law does with women…”
The scriptwriter, himself a member of Men Of Hope Refugee Association Uganda, endured what felt like endless critiques and changes by colleagues to come up with a script agreeable to all.
We had anticipated challenges of language in acting but this was a non-issue, thanks to a multi-lingual technical team. We decided to have the actors speaking in their own languages and to sub-title, to give a much more authentic reflection of the multi-lingual and diverse reality of Men of Hope and many other similar refugee populations.
Owing to the complexities of the matter [particularly the frequent conflation of being a victim of sexual violence with being a homosexual in Uganda], we needed police protection to shoot in Kampala and its environs. Our long working relationship with the Uganda Police Force on refugee law and SGBV proved essential. We were granted permission and also protection during field scenes, like mounting road barricades to film border crossing scenes.
Given the modest budget, most shooting could only take place once, with very little space for error. Even though the project finances enabled us to buy an amazing new video camera, we only had one camera of the kind, and one flood lighting set that was not really right. We needed to find a lot of creativity and patience in order to help the team come up with angles and shots as initially envisaged in the script. In some cases we had to mark spots on the floor to ensure that we came back to film from exactly the same spot.
Limited finances also made it difficult to access ideal filming sites, to afford good costumes, and to facilitate the participants’ allowances considering the amount of work involved. Men of Hope members’ daily lives are frequently lived hand-to-mouth, making it hard for them to come for filming as planned as they have families to fend for. Other logistical challenges such as power cuts and poor lighting conditions forced us to postpone shooting sometimes.
Another challenge is the fact that for donor-funded organizations like the Refugee Law Project, it is difficult for donors to approve the budgets that come with making a film. They would rather focus on “service” than on equipment such as cameras, which are always expensive. The good news though is that the outcomes - i.e. the films - are always welcome!
Sharing their story globally is an important goal for Men of Hope. With advances in technology that allow us to share a video with a click of a button wide reach has become much more feasible. However, there is also more material out there competing for people’s attention, so the challenge of how to ensure that the videos get viewed is not a small one. Our solution to this involves using all the social media channels available to us simultaneously; uploading to our website, announcing this to our list serve, placing the announcement on our Facebook page and also tweeting.
Thanks to such strategies one of the activist stories reached more than 800 people within just a few days of its launch. Men Can Be Raped Too has been viewed 1200 times since being uploaded to the Refugee Law Project website on less than a month ago. In early November, we hosted a 1-hour webinar titled “Using video Narratives to end Silence on Conflict-related Sexual Violence” that entirely focused on benefits of use of video to end silence on SGBV. We hope that “Men Can Be Raped Too” can stimulate more demand for justice for male victims of GBV, and that we will see greater efforts made to eliminate the violence.
For us, one of the most memorable aspects of this filmmaking process was the way in which enthusiasm for breaking the silence through talent overcame prejudice and participants’ fears of homophobia in the Ugandan context. The casting proved to be spot on and the team, despite all odds against them, gave themselves wholesale. The need to change attitudes and put in place accommodative laws drove the team to work over weekends and sometimes late into the night (despite the additional security risks that this posed) to give the best of their skills and talents.
From the behind the scenes’ light moments - such as actors forgetting their words, others forgetting to switch off their cell phones - to the spot marking for multiple angles and shots, the production of “Men Can Be Raped too” was a memorable time; it renewed our bonding and created new bonds between us (the technical people) and the activists.
For all of us, it was the first time we had been involved in truly participatory filmmaking (most of our previous work had been on documentaries), so we all acquired new skills and grew as persons, as professionals and as activists.