By Ovidio Castro Medina
Bogota, Mar 28 (EFE).- Little is known about sexual violence against men in Colombia, but official records indicate there have been more than 2,000 victims of this crime over more than five decades of armed conflict.
Three of these men – Joel Toscano, Omar Aguilar and Alberto Coneo – have begun speaking out publicly about what happened to them in hopes of putting an end to that manifestation of violence and bringing the perpetrators to justice.
The three told their stories for a report that compiled 82 of these cases and has been delivered to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a court established as part of the 2016 peace deal between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leftist guerrilla army.
The report urges that court to open a mass inquiry into sexual violence against men during the armed conflict.
In interviews with Efe, those three victims said the abuses had left them with indelible scars. But they said they had mustered up the courage to end their silence and bring visibility to a crime that has long gone unmentioned.
A HORROR FILM
Aguilar, who said he was raped in 1992 by FARC guerrillas that controlled the agro-industrial region of Uraba, on the border with Panama, describes his ordeal as a “horror film” and said he suffered in silence for 25 years due to fear about what people would say.
“The guerrillas arrived asking for my mom, who had gone to a medical appointment. The guerrillas put me in the middle of them, and around a score of them took him to a wooden area,” he told Efe.
That’s where it all happened,” he recalled, adding that several guerrillas raped him and that he lost consciousness.
“That happened at around 10 in the morning, and I woke up at like five in the afternoon. I got dressed somehow and returned home. My mother hadn’t arrived yet. I never told her what happened.”
He said they took him a week later to a cattle ranch and savagely tortured and killed its owner in front of him.
Aguilar said that act of intimidation achieved its purpose: “I returned to my house and we left with just the clothes on our backs.”
He says he now is seeking justice for a crime that has hit women the hardest but also has affected men as well.
A HIDDEN SCOURGE
The Catatumbo region, which borders Venezuela, remains a hotspot in Colombia’s armed conflict due to a drug-trafficking war pitting National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas and other outlawed groups.
The first time Toscano experienced the horror of sexual assault was at age nine. Paramilitary fighters were responsible, but he told Efe in Bogota that at that young age he “didn’t know, didn’t understand what had happened.”
“I was a boy and I stayed quiet because the person who arranged that situation was a relative who warned me not to say anything about what had happened. He was involved or was an accomplice of the paramilitaries,” Toscano said.
He said he and a male friend also were raped on another occasion by ELN guerrillas, adding that the incident occurred when they were stopped at a rebel checkpoint and taken to a rural property.
“I think that was the way the guerrillas showed the power they had over their territory,” the man said, noting that he later left his home region and sought a new life in Bogota but that the rapes are “something that’s never erased.”