Confronting Corrective Rape

by | January 26, 2011
filed under Feminism, LGBT, Politics

by Roxanna Bennett

The most popular change.org petition of all time with over 60, 0000 signatures was also one of the least effective. The petition called upon South Africa’s Minister of Justice Jeffrey Thamsanqa Radebe to resolve the “corrective rape” epidemic and have it formally declared a hate crime.

The term “corrective rape” refers to the heinous practice of raping or gang-raping a lesbian to ‘cure’ her of her sexual orientation. According to Luleki Sizwe, an organization that advocates and cares for victims of “corrective rape”, 10 lesbian women are raped/gang raped each week in Cape Town alone. 510 women per year report being the victim of “corrective rape”, 150 women are raped per day in South Africa, one quarter of all women will be raped before they turn sixteen, and in the past ten years, 31 women have been murdered because they were lesbians. The Rape Survivor Journal, an Interpol study released in 2008, found that a woman is raped every 17 seconds in South Africa and 30% of adolescents reported their first sexual encounter was forced.

In a 2009 study conducted by the South Africa Medical Research Council, one in four men surveyed had raped someone, two in four admitted to more than one assault. 73% of those surveyed had committed their first rape before the age of 20.

The only response to the change.org petition was from the Justice Minister’s Chief of Staff, who replied to change.org founder Ben Rattray. In a short email, the staffer said that the office found it “wholly unnecessary for you to send so many individualized emails whose content is the same… You have made it virtually impossible for us to access other emails as doing so is like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

In response, Luleki Sizwe founder Ndumie Funda started a second petition asking that Minister Radebe meet with her at a time of his choosing to discuss the epidemic. In an interview with change.org, Funda said: “I am more than willing to meet with the minister. He is not an animal. He is a human being and I want to ask him how he would feel if it was his own daughter.”

Although Radebe was briefly questioned on live television about the “corrective rape” campaign, and responded that he is “deeply concerned” about the issue, he has yet to meet with Funda, or to concretely address the epidemic.

Funda has spent the past three years tirelessly advocating against “corrective rape”. Funda founded Luleki Sizwe after her fiancee Nosizwe Nomsa Bizana was gang-raped by five men and later died of injuries directly caused by the assault. Funda’s friend Luleka Makiwane was raped by her cousin to “cure” her of her orientation, and later died of AIDS as a result.

These stories are not unusual.

In Soweto in July 2007, lesbian couple Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Massooa were shot to death after being gang-raped and tortured.

In Nyanga in 2007, Anelisa Mfo was brutally raped by a man who held a gun to her head while verbally abusing her. Uncharacteristically, the attacker was caught, charges were laid and the rapist was given a ten year prison sentence. In September 2008 on the anniversary of the assault, disowned by her family because of her sexual orientation, without housing, employment or money and unable to bear the suffering of her child, who had been raped by her sister’s boyfriend, Mfo attempted suicide by pouring paraffin over her body and setting herself on fire. Mfo survived, and is cared for by Luleki Sizwe, the Triangle Project and individual donors.

In April 2008, the body of Eudy Simelane, popular member of a national female football team and an LGBT rights activist was found dead in a creek in her hometown of KwaThema. She had been brutally beaten, gang-raped, then stabbed 25 times in the legs, chest and face. Four men were arrested for her murder, two were acquitted, the third man was given a 32-year sentence and the fourth, Themba Mvubu was sentenced to life in prison. Simelane’s case is one of the few where a conviction was made; less than 1% of rapes are successfully prosecuted.

This horrific article is the account of Millicent Gaika, who was raped repeatedly for five hours.

In November 2010, her attacker was released on the equivalent of less than ten dollars bail. He was subsequently arrested for violating bail conditions and will stand trial in February 2011. This was not the first “corrective” rape that Gaika endured. In 2002 she was raped by four men who were originally sentenced to between ten and fifteen years each for the crime, but were later released early from prison.

South Africa was the fifth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in 2006.  According to the South African Human Rights Commission it is illegal to discriminate based on:

“race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.” The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act states: “No person may subject any person to harassment”, defined as: “conduct which is persistent or serious and demeans, humiliates or creates a hostile or intimidating environment or is calculated to induce submission by actual or threatened adverse consequences and which is related to-

a)  sex, gender or sexual orientation; or

b) a person’s membership or presumed membership of a group identified by one or more of the prohibited grounds or a characteristic associated with such group.”

Despite non-discrimination being law in South Africa, it is the rape capital of the world, and “corrective rape” is rampant. Ironically, Cape Town is regarded as the gay tourism capital of the continent. In the spring of 2010, just before the FIFA World Cup turned the global eye upon South Africa, President Jacob Zuma denounced the imprisonment of two gay Malawian men who had been sentenced to fourteen years in prison for sodomy and acts of indecency, saying: “We have condemned the action taken to arrest people in terms of our constitution. We need to persuade, we need to make people understand, we need to move with them. We have never adopted a confrontational stance on matters.”

Maybe a confrontational stance would stop the brutal rape, torture, and murder of women.


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