The international NGO ActionAid just released a chilling report documenting the rise of “corrective” rape of lesbian women in South Africa. According to ActionAid, South African men are attempting to “cure” these women of their sexual orientation by raping them. ActionAid writes that rape survivors “said that verbal abuse from their attackers before and during the rape included them ‘teaching us a lesson’ and ‘showing us how to be real women and what a real man tasted like.’”
Shocking enough, but what makes it even worse is that these crimes often go unpunished. British newspaper The Guardian describes the “culture of impunity” in South Africa with regard to “corrective” rape and other crimes committed because of sexual orientation.
The rape conviction statistics are bad enough. Only one out of every 25 men accused of rape in South Africa is convicted–and with the number of rapes estimated at about 500,000 each year, that’s a lot of rapists walking free. And with violence against women that commonplace, it’s not surprising to see a dramatic rise in the number of crimes targeting lesbian women, who, as ActionAid says, “are perceived as representing a direct threat to a male-dominated society.”
In Cape Town alone, there’s an estimated 10 cases of new “corrective” rape each week, according to gay and lesbian support groups in the area. And the crimes intensify; at least 31 women have been murdered in homophobic attacks since 1998–and that’s just what can be directly tied to sexual orientation. The lack of prosecution is evident there, too, with only one conviction in any of the 31 murders.
What can be done? Although South Africa’s constitution recognizes rights of gay and lesbian people, its legal system does not view crimes committed against gay and lesbians on the basis of sexual orientation to be hate crimes. The South African legal system must recognize “corrective” rape as a hate crime in addition to a rape in order to establish a greater punishment for this brutal and widespread act of sexual violence.
And that culture of impunity must be overcome, with the legal system focused on making “corrective” rape a crime for which perpetrators are tried and convicted. Join me in calling on South African Presidnet Kgalema Motlanthe to deem “corrective” rape a hate crime–and punish it to the strictest extent of the law.