Hate crimes: the rise of 'corrective' rape in South Africa

Hate crime survivor Tsidi (right) with her partner Pumeza
Hate crime survivor Tsidi (right) with her partner Pumeza
Photo: Jodie Bieber/ActionAid

Lesbian women in South Africa are being raped by men who believe it will “cure” them of their sexual orientation, according to a shocking new report by ActionAid.

Women in townships in Johannesburg and Cape Town are reporting a rising tide of brutal homophobic attacks and murders and the widespread use of “corrective” rape as a form of punishment.

”Corrective” rape survivors interviewed by ActionAid for the report Hate Crimes: the rise of corrective rape in South Africa, 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.”

Support groups say that a shameful record of violence against women has resulted in an increasingly brutal and oppressive culture, in which women are forced to conform or suffer the consequences.

Gay women becoming the targets of crime

South Africa is now witnessing a backlash of crimes targeted specifically at lesbian women, who are perceived as representing a direct threat to a male-dominated society

Rape is fast becoming the most widespread hate crime targeted against gay women in townships across South Africa. One lesbian and gay support group says it is dealing with 10 new cases of lesbian women being targeted for ‘corrective” rape every week in Cape Town alone.

Laura Turquet, ActionAid’s women’s rights coordinator, said:

“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.”

Thirty one lesbian women have been reported murdered in homophobic attacks since 1998. But support groups stress that because hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation are not recognised in the South African criminal justice system, the actual number of women killed is likely to be much higher.

No justice for sexual violence offenders

The murderers are walking free. Of the 31 cases, only two have ever made it to the South African courts and there has been only one conviction.

Tsidi, a hate crime survivor from Cape Town said:

“Here in South Africa you have judges sending women to jail for stealing a loaf of bread to feed her baby, but men who gang rape women, who murder lesbians… they walk the streets as free men”.

South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, guaranteeing the rights of gay and lesbian people. However, the South African legal system has not caught up. Hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation are not recognised by South African law and the courts refuse to recognise that it plays any part in these cases. The police are reluctant to investigate hate crimes against lesbian women and there is inadequate support for the survivors.

One lesbian woman said: “We get insults every day, beatings if we walk alone, you are constantly reminded that…you deserve to be raped, they yell, if I rape you then you will go straight, that you will buy skirts and start to cook because you will have learnt how to be a real woman.

“It is clear that the South African government must put a stop to these crimes against women and fulfil the promises of the constitution. Worldwide, it is utterly unacceptable that millions of women and girls live daily in fear of their lives. The international community have a duty to address violence against women as the most serious threat to security in the world today,” Ms Turquet said.

In South Africa, no woman is safe from violence. The country’s war against its women continues unabated, with an estimated 500,000 rapes, hundreds of murders and countless beatings inflicted every year. For every 25 men accused of rape in South Africa, 24 walk free.

Photo: @Jodie Bieber/ActionAid