There aren’t many stats on ‘corrective’ rape in South Africa. But support group ActionAid reported that they treat 10 cases of corrective rape a week (2009). That’s now an outdated stat, but it’s safe to say these rapes occur alarmingly frequently – and it’s not okay.
What is ‘corrective’ rape?
‘Corrective rape suggests that the perpetrator(s) attempt to change the sexual orientation of the person by raping them, to make them “straight”,’ explains Lizelle de Wee, a clinical psychologist. But of course, sexual orientation is not a choice – nor does it need to be ‘corrected’ as though something is wrong with it in the first place.
It’s a completely false and abhorrent idea that anyone’s sexuality can or even should be changed or ‘corrected’ through forced sexual activity. ‘A complex number of factors are intertwined,’ suggests de Wee. ‘Patriarchy, religion, misogyny and cultural beliefs about gender role expectations play a part. As well as, of course, a male sexual entitlement.’
Many victims never survive their rape. Take footballer Eudy Simelane, an LGBT activist ‘correctively’ raped and murdered in KwaThema, Gauteng. She died at the hands of her attackers in 2008. Her case is hardly an isolated incident, but made headlines and, unlike the cases of many others in the LGBTQI+ community, two of her attackers were convicted and jailed.
Who is most at risk?
‘Lesbian women in general,’ says de Wee. ‘But especially black lesbian women.’ Though it’s important to also note that any queer person is at risk, and plenty of trans people and men suffer at the hands of ‘corrective’ rapists, too.
Rose*, 33, was 17 when she was raped by a family friend – with her mother’s permission. ‘My mom knew I was lesbian. She believed it was sinful. I’m sure she was embarrassed by me in her community,’ Rose recounts. ‘One afternoon I came home from school and my mom was there with an older male family friend I vaguely knew. She told me he wanted to talk to me in my room. I obeyed her and followed him into my room. She stayed outside and locked the door.’ This family friend proceeded to rape Rose – to make her ‘a true woman’ – to make her straight. ‘The next day, my mom pretended like everything was normal. Inside, I was broken. I knew I couldn’t stay at home any more – I couldn’t even trust my own mother.’
Rose ran away. She never reported her rape to police who she believed ‘would laugh at me, maybe make things worse or attack me too.’ She was, after all, a young, black lesbian woman: ‘I am a walking target, every day.’ Rose found friends she trusted who she could stay with, outside of her immediate community and away from her mother and her attacker. She’s never gone home, and she’s cut off all contact with her family. Trauma counselling has helped her process her rape, although her healing journey is ongoing. ‘I don’t think you ever recover from something like that, but you learn to live with it, and to not let that pain consume you.’
Needless to say, Rose is now very careful about who she comes out about her sexuality to. It’s a fear she carries with her always.
Sexuality is innate – and so are your rights
Our constitution was the first in the world to truly enshrine equality for all – regardless of your gender or sexuality. But the reality of it being upheld is very different. ‘The everyday reality shows that people are not able to allow everyone to enjoy equality fairly,’ says de Wee. ‘There is also a lot of misinformation about gay and lesbian lives, which clash with religion and culture. Many South Africans are not well informed, or informed at all about lesbian lives, sexuality and the fact that one cannot simply “change” another person’s sexual orientation. Another driving factor of this scourge is the misperception that a woman chooses to “become” lesbian for whatever reason, when in reality a person’s sexual orientation is innate.’
As Rose says, ‘I am who I am. Yet I am punished for it; abused and raped for it. We all need to do better. If you’re heterosexual, educate yourself and others about the queer community and the reality that love is love is love. There’s nothing wrong or threatening or dangerous about being other than heterosexual. Help to protect us.
‘And if you’re planning to come out, be mindful of your safety in doing so. If you’re worried at all about your safety, perhaps you need to consider moving away from home or out of a close-minded community. Choose the people you trust carefully – sadly not all of us have the luxury of being our authentic selves around everyone – and surround yourself with people who love you as you are.’
De Wee adds that ‘it’s important to consider the timing and circumstances of coming out, whether you have a solid support network and an environment that’s safe. Ultimately, the purpose of disclosure is to garner social support, but the risks of achieving such support requires careful consideration.’
The bottom line is this: rape is wrong. It doesn’t matter why the rape happened or who it happened to. It’s wrong, and it’s illegal. Everyone has the right to equality and to safety.
Don’t feel safe reporting abuse to the police?
Sadly, not every police officer and station is the safe place it should be for victims of abuse. Report your rape or abuse to these other organisations who offer support, counselling and legal assistance:
- Visit Out’s website
- Call them on 012 430 3272
Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW)
- Visit FEW’s Facebook page
- Email them on firstname.lastname@example.org
- Visit Lva.org.za
Legal Aid Advice Line (free)
- Call 0800 110 110 (toll-free) or the Please Call Me service through 079 835 7179
- They will also be able to tell you which Legal Aid office is closest to your location
- Call their HQ: 011 642 4335
- Download the free POWA GBV app for Android or iOS to report abuse and find help centres near to you
- Call 0861 322 322
- Dial *134*7355#
*Name has been changed.