South Africa: the continuing rise of ‘corrective’ rape

Although the term ‘corrective’ rape is a comparative neologism, the concept – whereby men rape lesbian women, purportedly as a means of “curing” the woman of her sexual orientation (Wikipedia) – isn’t. And while the practice isn’t exclusive to South Africa, it seems to be an increasingly common hate crime in the country. Perhaps the most recent high profile case involved the openly lesbian soccer player, Eudy Simelane, who was gang raped, beaten and stabbed to death in April 2008. Last year, the trial of four of the suspected attackers ended with two receiving custodial sentences while the remaining two were acquitted. (NY Times)

Since then, the wave of violence against lesbians in South Africa has continued to rise and the country is now believed to have one of the highest incidences of rape in the world with 150 women reported to have been raped every day, although activists say that the figure is higher (Times Online). It’s been estimated by ActionAid UK that, not only will almost half of all women be raped during their lifetime but also that for every 25 men bought to trial for rape in South Africa, 24 walk free.

In its report Hate crimes: The rise of ‘corrective’ rape in South Africa (Direct link to PDF), ActionAid UK says:

This shameful record of male domination and violence has helped build an increasingly brutal and oppressive culture, in which women are forced to conform to gender stereotypes or suffer the consequences.

As part of this oppression, the country is now witnessing a backlash of crimes targeted specifically at lesbian women, who are perceived as representing a direct and specific threat to the status quo.

That status quo is underpinned by heteronormativity – the idea that heterosexuality is the only ‘normal’ sexual orientation, that only sexual or marital relations between women and men are acceptable, and that each sex has certain natural roles in life, so-called gender roles. ‘Corrective’ rape is a manifestation of a deep-rooted cultural stereotype; that men have ownership over women and are of greater importance and these views, for whatever reason, remain largely unchallenged to this day.

In the run-up to International Women’s Day on Monday, when the economic, political and social achievements of women are celebrated, we shouldn’t forget that violence crosses boundaries of class, race, age and sexual orientation. If we are to stand any chance of eradicating the injustices we suffer, then securing equality and rights for all women must be our priority – and to achieve that, one of the first steps must be a concerted effort internationally to tackle violence against us.