Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

‘Lesbians don’t take the train’

You cannot rape a woman to make her straight but some men are trying their damndest. In fact, some men in South Africa are trying their damndest to rape women, children and other men (particularly young boys and those in prison).

The trains in Cape Town, although irregular, are the cheapest form of transport. Normally a short taxi distance costs R5 where a long train distance costs R7. For some of those reading this, that might only mean the difference between a coffee and cappuccino, but for many South African women, the difference is substantial.

What’s the relevance of train versus taxi to rape in SA? It’s this: when talking about arranging for a delegation of black lesbians to come from Gugulethu to the city centre, I suggested the train. Yet, this idea was rejected with little hesitation. Why?

The problem is not as simple as a sneer or a look away. The problem is systemic violence against women, heterosexist norms that further designate lesbian women as viable victims of violence for perpetrators, and patriarchy. The issue I am talking about is corrective rape. For those of you ostrich-ducking to avoid learning about this issue, it is one of extreme complexity and seriousness and worth every second of your tea break and a substantial amount more.

The beautiful deception of national crime statistics means that we cannot disaggregate statistics to find out more about the nature and prevalence of rape, nor any more about its perpetrators in South Africa, nor can we assume that all rape survivors report their rape. So essentially, it is impossible to provide sufficient services for survivors because it is impossible to know the scale of the problem and where resources are needed.

On Monday at 11am a group of representatives from some organisations working with “corrective rape” survivors will meet with the minister of justice and constitutional development to discuss the issue of corrective rape and the intersecting issues of sexual violence, anti-LGBTI violence and hate crimes. The hope is that from this meeting the department of justice will instigate a multi-sectoral commission to investigate the nature and scale of corrective rape, establish the mechanisms necessary to improve support for survivors and provide sufficient resources for this commission to exercise its mandate. What must be central to this process is respect for the survivors of corrective rape, opportunity for them to share their voices and the empowerment of survivors so that they can choose the level of their involvement in the process. Their images should not be used without their permission and they should never be forced to be the face of corrective rape. Past mistakes must be avoided and the protection of survivors must be key.

The burden for carrying this process forward should not rest solely on these organisations’ shoulders.

It is also an opportunity for self-reflection. How much does each of us do to further negative stereotypes and social norms that make rapists more able to justify their actions? If, when we hear a question like that, we jump to the defensive, are we doing anything to end corrective rape and promote positive social norms that prevent rape?

Hopefully on Monday, government will answer “everything we can”. To encourage them to do so, why don’t you pop on down to Parliament at 10am and have your say?

  • Reasonable

    Will have my say right here:
    It is high time for a return to the old laws where a man gets the death penalty for violating a woman!
    Finish en klaar!

    Aren’t people sick of the violators getting more human rights than the victims? What a crazy upside down world we live in.

  • evylshnukums

    Thanks, Jennifer, for talking about this terrible and – until now – largely ignored problem. I agree that it seems to be a problem based on prejudice and erroneous beliefs. We should all do what we can to break down the stereotypes. I’m hoping for a strong commitment from government.

  • Robert Keene

    Dear Ed

    I Suggest the proponents and “tutors” of this barbaric practice against our womenfolk are publicly castrated and their nuts hung out to dry on a pike!

  • Judith

    Thank you for a good and perceptive article – abuse of any female is beyond the pale and this type is particularly reprehensible.

  • Reasonable

    Robert Keene on March 12th, 2011 at 11:07 am

    Castration will not stop rape, only death of the villains will. There are many instuments these sickos can use to violate women!

  • Save SA vote DA

    intollerance breeds intollerance – our politicians should take some responsibility here for promoting a culture of racial intollerance (kill the boere), allowing sexual intollerance (Jon Qwelane), and using violence to beat their opponents (James Nkambule, January Masilela). There’s also the examples (daily ones, you can read any paper you like) of police and politicians being above the law, and parliament is stacked with convicted felons.

    Unless the law is enforced according to the constitution, and peoples rights are genuinly protected, this behaviour will sadly continue. The leaders need to stand up, and loudly condemn anything which is against the constitutional freedoms that we are meant to be able to enjoy.

    they can’t though, while they are the main offenders.

  • greg

    I’m curious to know whether this train violence is limited to lesbians only or it’s against women in general. If so how do the perpetrators tell a lesbian from a straight woman on a train.

  • Thami Khumalo

    I know this is a really tired question, but it has to be asked: how exactly can our government take any such initiatives seriously when our president got off a rape charge because we paid for the best legal counsel in the country?
    How can we possibly make a difference when South African men are still so sexist and actually make jokes about rape survivors? I can’t tell you how often I find myself in a gathering of men who are educated, seemingly decent professionals who have a really flippant attitude to sexual abuse and who after a few beers, admit that they at some point verbally or physically abused their wives or girlfriends.
    I’m sorry, but I agree with the death penalty call this one time. Men found guilty of raping anyone under 16 should die and if found guilty of raping anyone above 16, should be thrown away for life without parole, preferably in a block filled with other rapists. What’s the possibility of the ANC doing anything to protect women and children when so many ANC members are so dubious themselves?

  • MLH

    Thami Khumalo, you are a breath of fresh air…

    I’d suggest doing our best to stop it (on the trains) outright. All those army chaps doing nothing? One, armed, per carriage would go a long way towards cutting the rapes and give him something useful to do with his days. Although, as usual, the possibility is that soldiers are likely to be colluding with the rapists. What a sad, weird world we live in.

  • Haiwa Tigere

    Thami you really should apologise to Mr Jacob Zuma.You probably have not read the full transcript but that was consensual sex with little payment (bus fare )made.and the courts agreed.That was a milder form of prostitution but prostitution all the same.

    A person will not leave home to rape someone.True persons on trains would find it hard to distinguish lesbian from hetero so someone must have been having one over Jennifer and she obviously fell for it.They probably wanted to travel in more style-is a limo service available in the area- thats the way to go to an important meeting.
    A man who rapes on a train is an opportunistic rapist. A person who would as easily rape you kill you as rob you.They will rape any female including nuns.
    Corrective rape is evil has a meaningless naive ignorant bigoted motive..I am glad it is used as a tool here to prevent any form of sexual violence but be careful there is a section of society (more than 50%-thumb suck) who are homophobic meaning there are politicians/police who are homophobic.Highlighting corrective rape to these people would be like taking a complaint of black lynching to the KKK.Surely what we wish for is NO sexual violence.The current laws are adequate but not being applied.Rape of a man nun child lesbian is wrong lets apply the law

  • Jennifer Thorpe


    “A person will not leave home to rape someone.” Whilst you are right in that the majority of rapes are perpetrated by someone you know, there are a number of rapes who are perpetrated by strangers.

    I agree that there is a need to apply already existing law more effectively to ensure that rape survivors (of all sorts, shapes and sizes) are protected.

    Apparently the meeting went very well, although no commitments were made.