Corrective rape is a hate crime in which people are raped because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The common intended consequence of the rape, as seen by the perpetrator, is to turn the person heterosexual or to enforce conformity with gender stereotypes. The term was coined in South Africa after well-known cases of corrective rapes of lesbians like Eudy Simelane (who was also murdered in the same attack) and Zoliswa Nkonyana became public. 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, with goals of punishing "abnormal" behavior and reinforcing 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 other accompanying acts of violence can result in physical and psychological trauma, mutilation, HIV infection, unwanted pregnancy, and may contribute to suicide.
Gender of perpetrators and victims
The U.S. State Department has reported the occurrence of corrective rape of lesbians in South Africa and Zimbabwe. The report for South Africa mentions only the rape of lesbians by males. The Zimbabwe report states, "In response to social pressure, some families reportedly subjected their LGBT members to 'corrective' rape and forced marriages to encourage heterosexual conduct. Such crimes were rarely reported to police. Women, in particular, were subjected to rape by male family members." Following the publication of an earlier report with similar wording, Zimbabwean journalist Angus Shaw said that lesbian women are raped by men to "make them enjoy heterosexual acts" and gay men are raped by women to "remove their sexual orientation tendencies".
There are additional reports of corrective rape against lesbians in Ecuador and Thailand. Five cases in which the victims were lesbians or transgender males were reported in Uganda between June and November, 2011.
A 2000 study suggested the visibility of lesbians within a community, an atmosphere supportive of hate crimes against gay men and lesbians, 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 behavior is also thought to contribute. 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. In one article, Tina Machida, a Zimbabwean lesbian who lives in Harare, writes, "They locked me in a room and brought [a man] 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."
Corrective rape is not limited to people under the traditional LGBT umbrella. Asexual activist and blogger Julie Decker has observed that corrective rape is common in the asexual community. In an interview, she recounted being sexually harassed and assaulted by a man who claimed to have her interests at heart.
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. The perpetrator may claim to 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 her social status and identity, including sexual orientation. 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. According to Human Rights Watch, 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 2013, two writers from South African men's magazine FHM were fired as a result of corrective rape "jokes" they made on Facebook. After a disciplinary hearing on Friday, July 19, 2013, FHM dismissed both men from their positions, calling their comments "entirely unacceptable".
Legal and public policy
South Africa is a signatory of 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. 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.
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. 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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