By Sabrina Willard
A violent trend sweeping across South Africa has human rights activists and the LGBTQ community in this country scrambling to put an end to this senseless evil. While South Africa is known by many as the rape capital of the world, reports show that there is a growing subset of victims who are targeted specifically because of their sexual orientation. An act of this nature, as I recently learned in an article posted by The Independent, is known as “corrective rape.” This type of sexual violence typically manifests in the form of a man, or group of men, seeking to convert lesbians to heterosexuality by way of rape.
The term “corrective rape” was coined in the early 2000s by charity workers in the region who started noticing an increase in such attacks. Since then, at least 31 women over the past 15 years have died as a result of this hate crime. Consider these facts, along with the overall rape statistics (500,000 reported each year; one every 17 seconds; one out of every two women will be raped in their lifetime), and it should be clear to anyone why it is so frightening to be a woman in this country right now (The Independent, 1/3/14).
A comprehensive article recently featured by this UK-based news outlet delved into the gritty specifics of a handful of personal stories from South African women. Horrifyingly enough, many of the victims’ accounts followed a trend of being set-up by someone close to them – a friend or family member – prior to the rape.
It would make sense to conclude that the unwillingness of South Africa’s majority to openly accept homosexual members into society has a lot to do with its deep patriarchal roots and belief in traditional gender roles. This is a concept that many might prefer to blindly stick to, rather than accept the fact that the global community is beginning to move (albeit slowly) on from this outdated idea and into realm of inclusiveness. In short, an unwillingness to face the modernizing world where more men and women are openly gay, coupled with the high unemployment rate, restlessness as a result, and widespread abuse of drugs and alcohol, becomes a recipe for disaster.
Despite the conservative views of many of its people, South Africa’s 1997 constitution was the first in the world to provide equal rights for LGBTQ members of society. In 2005, a law passed allowing gay marriage – something that even some of the most powerful countries in the world cannot equal. As the Independent put it, “of all the countries in the continent, South Africa should be the least likely to be tarnished by homophobic hate crimes.” Yet, the numbers continue to rise. In 2009, one support group in Cape Town reported that “they deal with 10 new cases every week.”
Clare Carter, the woman who left her home in New York City to document this growing crime and whose research was featured in The Independent, observed: “Even in the two years I was there the stories I was hearing were getting worse. Corrective rape is getting more violent.”
By Sabrina Willard