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Dying In Silence: Corrective Rape

Posted: 07/08/2012 13:35

Many lesbians in South Africa are living in fear as rape and murder become a daily threat to them.

A silent epidemic known as 'corrective rape' is sweeping the country, where the victims are being brushed aside as society frowns upon them and their lifestyle. Men rape lesbians in what they see as an attempt to 'correct' their sexual orientation.

Even the term 'corrective rape' is giving a hint of legitimacy to these abhorrent crimes by implying that anything about these women needs 'correcting'.

Pockets of traditional African society have not accepted homosexuality, branding it both unAfrican and unChristian. We should never underestimate the power of language to dehumanise - Robert Mugabe is notoriously quoted as saying that: 'gays and lesbians are worse than pigs and dogs'.

Macho-politics and a growing cultural lethargy towards the high level of gender based violence has seen heinous crimes go unpunished. Lesbians are perceived as representing a direct threat to a male dominated population. For far too long LGBT rights have been placed outside the realm of human rights. They are relegated instead to the field of integrity of culture.

In 2008 Eudy Simelane was found brutally murdered in the Kwa Them township. The former South African footballer was gang raped, beaten, stabbed 25 times in the face, chest and legs. Only two of her four attackers were convicted and sent to prison.

Many of the men who seek out lesbians see 'corrective rape' as neither a hate crime nor a sexual assault. It is widely accepted that patriotic men are required to carry out these attacks for their country and tribe in a civilisation that supports savage chauvinistic views .

I first visited this stunning and diverse country last year. My partner was afraid for me to venture from the relative safety of Victoria and Albert Waterfront, Cape Town, but I needed to witness for myself how it is being a frightened lesbian .

With trepidation I made that journey and my guide introduced me to one of the men from the nearby Nyanga township who was boastful in his standpoint.

A smiling Kopano told me: ' It is our right. Being gay is not natural, the women enjoy it'.

It sickened me to the pit of my stomach. Sadly, he is not alone in his views.

Whilst women are slaughtered like sacrificial beasts little is being done to punish the assailant. I also talked to lesbians in the townships of Johannesburg who said that they were being deliberately targeted for rape and that the threat of violence had become an every day ordeal.

Mandisa from Grahamstown sobbed: ' I know many people who have reported rapes but dropped their cases because of the treatment by police officials'.

It is heartbreaking to hear and see such devastation and destruction of lives.

The first African country to legalise same-sex marriage, South Africa should lead the way in highlighting tolerance, and echo that sentiment in Cape Town, the regions gay mecca. With its annual Gay Pride march and fashionable gay nightlife district of De Waterkant, from a western perspective, it is a shining example of what a successful democracy can look like in a continent fraught with poverty and corruption.

But in the townships another reality reigns. A shocking report by ActionAid shows that the rate of violence against women in South Africa is among the highest in the world. Gays and lesbians are particular game, where traditional social conservatism is being condensed in to angry homophobia.

Official statistics on 'corrective rape' are extremely difficult to document and there seems to be a war of values between African and Western nations.

The audible silence from the South African government is deafening and I fear that the activists have a long fight ahead of them. But why is it taking so long for the world's media to catch on?

How many more murders will it take to fix this broken society? Having met some of the victims and having witnessed the shattering consequences of rape myself, I strongly feel that we must make these brave women's voices heard. Here in the UK we are a catalyst for change where the rest of the world can follow, learn and understand.

 

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