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’Corrective Rape’ Still A Threat to South African Lesbians

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Mar 8, 2011
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Lesbians in South Africa are still faced with the danger of "corrective rape" at the hands of homophobic men, a March 8 TIME Magazine article reported.

The article relates the story of Millicent Gaika, a resident of a South African township called Gugulethu, near Cape Town. Gaika headed home at about 11:00 one night in 2009 when she was approached by a man who requested a cigarette. But when she gave him one, the man assaulted her, subjecting her to beatings and repeatedly raping her in a shack. The assault continued for five hours, the article said. During the assault, the man told Gaika, "You think you’re a man, but I’m going to show you you’re a woman." He was later arrested and charged for the attack.

Gaika, for her part, has become the face of a national problem facing lesbians. In South Africa, the phenomenon of "corrective rape" by men determined to "cure" lesbians through forced sexual intercourse has reportedly been on the rise.

"South Africa should be a beacon of tolerance," noted the TIME article. "Its constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the country was also the first in Africa to legalize same-sex marriage."

Those legal guarantees have not translated into social acceptance, however. Even as gays and lesbians in other African nations face deep-seated prejudices and growing legal oppression, in South Africa--where homosexuality is not criminalized--GLBTs, especially lesbians, can still be subjected to bias-driven violence.

Three years ago, in April, 2008, female soccer star and open lesbian Eudy Simelane was attacked by three men who raped and murdered her. The men stabbed Simelane 25 times--an instance of "overkill" that is all too familiar in cases of bias-driven hate crimes targeting GLBTs.

The attack may have been motivated by more than a desire for coercive sexual "correction," reported an Aug. 26 article that appeared in the Irish newspaper The Independent.

The very fact that Simelane was a star in a sport regarded as part of the male domain made her a target, the article indicated.

"Men are unemployed and feel traditional male preserves such as football or drinking in a bar are under attack. That was Eudy’s crime," said the director for the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, Phumi Mtetna. "An aggravating factor was that she did not look like a typical female."

Mtetna said that instances of "corrective rape" are probably under-reported. "Most survivors of these attacks do not report them," the article quoted her as saying. "We believe there are hundreds of people who have been targeted."

Such attacks are part of a larger trend, Mtetna asserted. "People are just getting killed here because they are different, like HIV-positive people have been killed in the past." Moreover, Mtetna noted that gay and lesbian victims cannot necessarily rely on the authorities for assistance.

"If a lesbian tries to report a rape, police will say something like, ’Who would rape someone looking like you?’ " the article quoted her as saying.

A Feb. 10, 2009, article at American GLBT athletic news site Outsports.com reported on the killing and the then-impending trial. The article said that protesters had turned out in force to decry anti-GLBT violence. The site deemed Simelane to be the South African equivalent of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay young man whose fatal beating and abandonment outside the Wyoming town of Laramie came to symbolize anti-gay violence in the United States.

That article also noted that the trial of Simelane’s killers marked only the second time that the accused murderers of a black lesbian have faced trial.

So-called "corrective rape" is part of a larger social picture in which sexual violence is used as a weapon to intimidate, demoralize, or punish victims. The Independent article observed that an estimated 150 women are raped every day in South Africa.

That alarming statistic was reaffirmed by the March 8 TIME Magazine article.

"Human-rights organizations estimate that over 40% of South African women will be raped in their lifetime, and add that only one-in-nine rapes are reported--which is to say that the average South African woman is more likely to be raped than complete secondary school," the article noted.

TIME also reported that one survey found that 25% of South African men said that they had had non-consensual sex in which the woman was forced--and nearly half of them had done so on multiple occasions.

The article also noted that in addition to rape, other forms of violence were being directed at gay Africans. The article recalled that in 2006, a teenage lesbian named Zoliswa Nkonyana was "clubbed and stoned" to death by a mob of men, none of whom have been brought to justice.

"Rights campaigners estimate there are 10 corrective rapes a week just in Cape Town--a city of 2.5 million people," the article said.

In the African nation the Democratic Republic of Congo, male rape was reportedly on the increase in 2009, as militias sexually assault male civilians as a way of terrorizing villagers.

An article on "corrective rape" posted at AfricanLoft also noted the increase in male rape in Congo, and carried a quote from the women’s rights coordinator of ActionAids, Laura Turquet, who decried the practice of forced sex used against lesbians.

Said Turquet, "So-called ’corrective’ rape is yet another grotesque manifestation of violence against women, the most widespread human rights violation in the world today. These crimes continue unabated and with impunity, while governments simply turn a blind eye."

The article cited an ActionAid tally that claims that in the past 11 years, over 30 lesbians have been murdered.

In South Africa, the laws may be enlightened, but all too often attitude are not--including among those charged with upholding the law. The March 1 episode of Dan Rather Reports addressed the issue of "corrective rape."

A March 1 article on the Dan Rather segment at Passport Magazine noted that victims were treated almost like perpetrators by authorities. One rape victim, lesbian activist Funeka Soldaat, said, "When I reported the incident to police, it was like a joke. They were just interested in the way I was dressing more than the case. As if I really deserved it."

Heterosexual women are also targeted; the rate of conviction is staggeringly low, according to ActionAid, which reported that only one in every 25 reported cases of rape leads to a conviction.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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