Rape is being used by South African men as a tool to “cure” women of their lesbianism. At the beginning of the 2000’s, as charities there began to notice a rapid increase in these types of attacks, the act became known as “corrective rape.”
The term refers to an attempt to “cure” lesbians of their homosexuality through rape. Although awareness of the attacks has grown, the numbers of corrective rape attacks continue to increase in number and in severity. Interviews with victims are rife with accounts of the use of weapons, such as stones, knives and sticks. One woman reported being raped with a broomstick. There are at least 31 reports of women who have died from such attacks within the past 15 years. One theory for the increase in attacks is that homophobia in South Africa itself is becoming more prevalent.
One victim, Mvuleni Fana, recounted her harrowing tale of rape to the British newspaper, The Independent. She described being raped by a gang of men who she had seen before. After the attack, just before falling into unconsciousness, Fana recalls being told, “After everything we’re going to do to you, you’re going to be a real woman, and you’re never going to act like this again.” Although only one case in 25 that actually goes to trial results in a conviction, two of Fana’s attackers were eventually sentenced to prison sentences of 25 years each. The remaining attackers have never been caught.
In 2007, gay rights activist Sizakele Sigasa and her friend Salone Massooa were raped and tortured by a group of men before being tied up with their own underwear and shot execution-style in the head. To date, there are no records that anyone has been convicted in the case.
It is not always distant acquaintances or strangers who are involved in corrective rape. In many cases, South African women recruit the men in their families to either rape or arrange the rapes of gay young girls in order to cure them of their lesbianism. In some cases, the rape is ongoing and occurs over the course of years in a continual effort to drive the gayness from them.
Between the years 1998 and 2000, The United Nations Office of Crime and Drugs ranked the country of South Africa as having the highest rapes per capita. They broke the figures down to show that one of every two women in the country will be one of the 500,000 annual rape victims during her lifetime.
A survey by CIET, a non-governmental organization, reports that twenty percent of men in South Africa believe that rape victims “ask for it.” The Medical Research Council, in an anonymous survey of men in the Eastern Cape Provinces, found that 25 percent of men admitting taking part in at least one rape and that the majority of rapes were committed against women under 20 years of age.
The Independent published actual statements from men who freely admitted to rape on video. According to one smiling man, in order to stop lesbians from being gay, “they must be forcefully raped.” Says another, “They must be raped so that their gay and lesbian behavior can come out.”
The increase in corrective rapes in South Africa has led to the creation of an LGBT rights organization called Free Gender, which focuses on aiding women who have undergone such attacks. Free Gender is an organization comprised of black lesbians and is based in Cape Town. Founded in 2008, they are active in protests and speak at protests, political meetings and universities in an attempt to educate South African citizens about LGBT issues as well as to support other like-minded organizations. It appears as though community support for Free Gender is low. Run by Funeka Soldaat, Free Gender consists only of Soldaat’s residence and has no technology, no funding and no counselors on staff.
Ironically, in 1997, South Africa’s constitution was the first ever to declare equal rights for the LGBT community. They enacted laws to prevent workplace discrimination, and in 2005, allowed gay marriage. It appears as though the law itself is entirely separate from what is really happening. Religious leaders who preach against homosexuality and insist that it is a choice that can be changed are prevalent. Police do not take victim’s claims seriously. The courts themselves, reflecting the culture at large, are slow to process cases of corrective rape.
The patriarchal culture of the country, which regards women as second-class citizens with few rights, holds its share of the blame as well. Being a woman and being gay must relegate one to the lowest dregs of society. Until the people of South Africa are properly informed and begin to be held accountable for the rapes they commit, the law itself will mean nothing, and the men of South Africa will continue to commit rapes in an attempt to ‘cure’ women of their lesbianism.
By Jennifer Pfalz
The Times of India
Dare to Know