Lesbians in townships in Johannesburg and Cape Town are reporting a rising tide of brutal homophobic attacks and murders and the widespread use of “corrective” rape as a form of punishment, claims a shocking new report from ActionAid.
In South Africa, no woman is safe from violence: there are an estimated 500,000 rapes, hundreds of murders and countless beatings inflicted every year. For every 25 men accused of rape in South Africa, 24 walk free.
“This shameful record has resulted in an increasingly brutal and oppressive culture of male violence, in which women are forced to conform 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 threat to a male-dominated society,” said ActionAid.
Corrective rape survivors interviewed by ActionAid for the report Hate Crimes: the rise of corrective rape in South Africa, said that verbal abuse from their attackers before and during the rape included them “teaching us a lesson” and “showing us how to be real women and what a real man tasted like.”
The research was carried out in conjunction with ActionAid partners People Opposed to Women Abuse (POWA), Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project (LGEP).
Support groups say that rape is fast becoming the most widespread hate crime targeted against gay women in townships across South Africa. One lesbian and gay support group says it is dealing with 10 new cases of lesbian women being targeted for ‘corrective” rape every week in Cape Town alone.
“…men who gang rape women, who murder lesbians… they walk the streets as free men…”
Zanele Twala, Director of ActionAid South Africa, said: “So-called ‘corrective’ rape is yet another grotesque manifestation of violence against women, the most widespread human rights violation in the world today. These crimes continue unabated and with impunity, while governments simply turn a blind eye.”
Thirty one lesbian women have been reported murdered in homophobic attacks since 1998. But support groups stress that because hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation are not recognised in the South African criminal justice system, the actual number of women killed is likely to be much higher.
The murderers are walking free, says the groups. Of the 31 cases reported, only two have ever made it to the South African courts and there has been only one conviction said ActionAid.
Tsidi, a hate crime survivor from Cape Town said: “Here in South Africa you have judges sending women to jail for stealing a loaf of bread to feed her baby, but men who gang rape women, who murder lesbians… they walk the streets as free men.”
One lesbian woman said: “We get insults every day, beatings if we walk alone, you are constantly reminded that…you deserve to be raped, they yell, if I rape you then you will go straight, that you will buy skirts and start to cook because you will have learnt how to be a real woman.
“It is clear that the South African government must put a stop to these crimes against women and fulfil the promises of the constitution,” Twala said.
South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, guaranteeing the rights of gay and lesbian people. However, hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation are not recognised by South African law and the courts refuse to recognise that it plays any part in these cases, claims the report.
ActionAid further accused the police of being reluctant to investigate hate crimes against lesbian women and said that there is inadequate support for the survivors.