“Corrective Rape” of Lesbians and the Anti-Rape Condom

by | August 8, 2012
filed under Feminism, Politics

by Matilda Branson

South Africa. I was there last November and found it to be a most beautiful country, both in terms of its people and landscape. Home of the legendary Mandela. Cool animals and beaches. Shakira sang there during the World Cup (awesome).

After Apartheid, its new constitution was one of the more liberal ones (on paper) in the world, with gay rights enshrined within it. In 2006 same-sex marriage was legalised. I assumed, somewhat naively, that things were ticking along ok there for LGBT rights, until I heard of the phenomenon of what has been coined “corrective rape”. What that refers to is the rape of lesbians by men who believe it will change their sexual orientation and “cure” them back to heterosexuality.

Whilst the issue garnered attention within the global media last year, largely in part to a report released by Human Rights Watch in 2011 (“We’ll Show You You’re a Woman”), I was shocked by the widespread nature of the rapes.

According to Luleki Sizwe, an NGO working with rape victims in the Western Cape, 10 lesbians per week are being raped or gang-raped in Cape Town alone. As with many cases of rape, it is difficult to pinpoint numbers due to difficulties in reporting to and the documenting of cases by authorities, but do even the basic math and the numbers for corrective rape cases look scary, let alone the stats for rape generally (The Guardian UK in 2010 quoted that women in South Africa are more likely to be raped than literate – I’m always cynical of such claims, but I’m inclined to believe that one).

So I was thinking about what to do if rape, “corrective” or otherwise, is so prevalent? South African medical technician Sonette Ehlers already beat me to it, in 2005. Behold, Rape-aXe, a female condom with teeth lining its inside angled so that they allow penetration – but when the penis comes out, ouch – the pain being so intense for the rapist that the woman has time to escape, and the man must go to a hospital to have the device surgically removed.

Obviously, Ehlers has received a lot of flak for her invention: accusations that it’s a mediaeval instrument, vengeful, reactive rather than proactive to the social issue of rape, that it misunderstands the fundamentals of sexual violence, etc., etc.

I say – what kind of society must you live in where rape is so prevalent, that you need to resort to such inventions?

Ehler’s own response to criticism:

“I have been accused of all sorts, my all-time favourite though is that I am the inventor of a most medieval device… my response, quite frankly is that a medieval deed deserves a medieval consequence. It’s the twenty first century, man has supposedly evolved into a more civilised being… yet rape statistics are on the rise! Child and infant rape has increased 400% over the last decade!

My second favourite criticism comes from Victoria Kaija, from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Uganda. She refers to my invention as a form of ‘enslavement’. Apparently wearing the device, according to Victoria, is a constant reminder, to women, of their vulnerability. My aim with the device is to empower women and promote gender equality. If men can use their bodies – their manhood, as a weapon of attack – well then it’s time for women to do the same! The fear and vulnerability that I saw in the tear-filled eyes of a rape victim is what drove me to begin my action against rape. ‘If only I had teeth down there,’ were the words of this victim, and that was the prompt towards the development of Rape-aXe.”

The jury’s out for me on this one folks – thoughts? I don’t think it’s ever gone out on sale to the general public (correct me if I’m wrong), but is it a good invention nonetheless? Definitely controversial, but effective…It’s a toughie.

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