Corrective rape is a hate crime in which a person is raped because of their perceived sexual or gender orientation. The common intended consequence of the rape, as seen by the perpetrator, is to "correct" their orientation, to turn them heterosexual, or to make them "act" more in conformity with gender stereotypes. The term was coined in South Africa after well-known cases of corrective rapes of lesbians like Eudy Simelane and Zoliswa Nkonyana became public. There are many health ramifications associated with corrective rape, and although some countries have laws protecting LGBT people, corrective rape is often overlooked.
Corrective rape is the use of rape against people who do not conform to perceived social norms regarding human sexuality and gender roles, often lesbians are raped by heterosexual men and gay men are raped by women, with a goal of punishment of "abnormal" behavior and reinforcement of societal norms. The crime was first identified in South Africa where it is sometimes supervised by members of the woman's family or local community, and is a major contributor to HIV infection in South African lesbians. Corrective rape has also been known to occur in Thailand, Ecuador, and Zimbabwe. Corrective rape and the accompanying violence can result in physical and psychological trauma, mutilation, HIV infection, unwanted pregnancy, and may contribute to suicide.
A 2000 study suggested the visibility of lesbians within a community, an atmosphere supportive of hate crimes against homosexuals, isolated locations, reactions to hate crimes by the broader community, and responses by police and justice systems contribute to corrective rape. Failure to conform to social norms for gendered behaviour is also thought to contribute.
Currently in South Africa, women have less sexual and economic power than men. One of the factors associated with this inequality is strict gender roles, which has led to one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world. Corrective rape is used as a "punishment" for people who are gay or do not fit traditional gender roles (usually women), where often they are verbally abused before the rape by the perpetrator saying things, such as that they will be “teaching [the women] a lesson” on how to be a “real woman.” Because women have less control over their economics, which creates economic vulnerability, they have less control over their own sexual activities. Poor black women who live in townships are more likely to become victims of corrective violence, and gay women are more likely to be isolated with little support, which increases their chances of being targeted.
Corrective rape is not recognized by the South African legal system as a hate crime despite the fact that the South African Constitution states that no person shall be discriminated against based on their social status and identity, including sexual orientation. Legally, South Africa protects gay rights extensively, but the government does not do anything to prevent corrective rape, and women do not have much faith in the police and their investigations. Crimes based on sexual orientation are not expressly recognized in South Africa; corrective rape reports are not separated from general rape reports. In December 2009, there had been 31 recorded murders of lesbians in South Africa since 1998, but only one had resulted in a conviction. In the last twenty years, attitudes toward homosexuality have become worse in South Africa.
Corrective rape is on the rise in South Africa. More than 10 lesbians are raped or gang-raped weekly, as estimated by Luleki Sizwe, a South African nonprofit. It is estimated that at least 500 lesbians become victims of corrective rape every year and that 86% of black lesbians in the Western Cape live in fear of being sexually assaulted, as reported by the Triangle Project in 2008. Yet, victims of corrective rape are less likely to report it because of the negative social view of homosexuality. Under-reporting is high for sexually violent crimes, thus the number of corrective rapes are likely higher than what is reported.
One South African man stated, “Lesbians get raped and killed because it is accepted by our community and by our culture.”
In the article "Ancient Hatred And Its Contemporary Manifestation: The Torture Of Lesbians," the author describes how lesbians in various parts of the world who are tortured face several forms of treatment, such as initially being shunned. An article describes punishments can either be given by the government but also often by members of the family of the lesbian or the community. The article mentions that when the family gives punishment, it is often difficult to have the punishment recognized as a violation of the lesbian’s human rights and as an instance of torture. In such circumstances the torturer can continue with impunity because “no one will ever know, no one will ever hear you, no one will ever find out.” In one example, the article describes Tina Machida, a Zimbabwean lesbian who lives in Harare. Machida writes, "They locked me in a room and brought him every day to rape me so I would fall pregnant and be forced to marry him. They did this to me until I was pregnant." The article discusses another case of a lesbian who had family issues: Irina, a Russian lesbian, had been tortured and ill-treated by the police, private investigators, and her own family members. Irina described how, in 1995, her sisters demanded she give up custody of her son and get psychiatric treatment in order to “cure” her homosexuality.
When describing the guidelines to interviewing lesbian refugees, the same article describes how one rule is that lesbians who are refugees might also be in danger from their families, particularly from the men in their families. Their confidential interview should not include asking other family members questions about their sexual orientation. Several rules are presented under these guidelines to express the efforts being put into helping lesbians who have been tortured.
Violence against women and girls continues unabated in every continent, country and culture. It takes a devastating toll on women’s lives, on their families, and on society as a whole. Most societies prohibit such violence — yet the reality is that too often, it is covered up or tacitly condoned.—Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General
Discrimination, torture, and rape of people who do not conform to normative gender roles or sexual orientations happens in every part of the world, including "developed" countries. Some believe this to be a manifestation of the domination of a patriarchal society which punishes lesbians as outsiders. Under patriarchy, lesbian existence is delegitimized and/or made illegal. Dr. Susan Hawthorne argues that the freedom of lesbians from torture and violence may be an indicator of the social health of a society. Amnesty International's Crimes of Hate report concludes with the following statement: "The struggle to protect the human rights of LGBT people should be one that is waged by all." In addition, many believe that it should be recognized as a hate crime because of the misunderstanding of homosexuality and the animus toward gay people that motivate corrective rape. Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people is underpinned by heteronormativity. Heteronormativity is the idea, dominant in most societies, that heterosexuality is the only ‘normal’ sexual orientation, only sexual or marital relations between women and men are acceptable, and each sex has certain natural roles in life, so-called gender roles.
Legal and public policy
South Africa is uniquely able to "correct" corrective rape. The 1996 Constitution enshrines myriad rights on the basis of which a group may challenge the circumstances that give rise to corrective rape; the constitutional doctrine makes available several possibilities for bringing suit; and South Africa manifests an openness to international and comparative law that makes it possible to incorporate human rights approaches to preventing private rights abuses. Traditionally, in South Africa and elsewhere, the legal system has allowed the public-private divide to dictate a lower level of involvement in issues of domestic violence and sexual assault, including corrective rape. However, "modern human rights law has largely ignored this private-public distinction." For instance, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which obligates states to remove discriminatory barriers from the full and free exercise of rights by women, reaches any actor. The Convention's duty to modify the conduct of private citizens to ensure equality for women covers attitudes that include the inferiority of women and stereotyped gender roles, which arguably encompass the animus toward gay women that motivates many men to commit corrective rape. However, 66% of women said they did not report their attack because they would not be taken seriously. Of these, 25% said they feared exposing their sexual orientation to the police and 22% said they were afraid of being abused by the police.
In 86 UN member states, homosexuality is illegal, and in seven countries, it is punishable by death. In December 2008, the UN issued a declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity. Ninety-four countries have signed the declaration, including ten countries in Africa.
On 28 April 2008, 31-year-old female soccer player Eudy Simelane was abducted, gang-raped and killed in KwaThema, her hometown near Johannesburg. Simelane was a star of the South Africa’s acclaimed Banyana Banyana national female football squad, an avid equality rights campaigner and one of the first women to live openly as a lesbian in KwaThema.
Child sponsorship charity ActionAid has published an article discussing corrective rape, and see ending violence against women as a pivotal part of their mission that would also address the issue. The group joined with 26 gay and women’s rights and community groups, to organize a campaign focused on South Africa but also aimed at the international community, to raise awareness of the issues. The campaign was dedicated to the rape and murder of two lesbian women in a Johannesburg township and called for sexual orientation to be specifically recognised as grounds for protection by police and justice systems.
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- Middleton, Lee. "'Corrective Rape': Fighting a South African Scourge." Time. Time, 8 Mar. 2011.
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