Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

Nothing to correct

When children are born, parents and those around them begin the work of “correcting” them. They correct their poor eyesight with glasses, their spelling and grammar with extra lessons, and perhaps their posture with etiquette classes. There is a common feeling in today’s world that everything is possible, and there is no reason not to change something about yourself or your body if you don’t like it. The problem comes when people feel that they are responsible for correcting others when in fact there is nothing to correct.

In 2008 Eudy Simelane, a Banyana Banyana player and LGBTI activist, was gang raped, stabbed and murdered in an attempt to “correct” her. Corrective rape is the practice of raping a lesbian woman with the aim of “correcting” her gayness. Sadly this term was coined right here at home in SA when the proliferation of rapes of South African lesbians led some in the media to describe this as a very particular type of crime. In the rape capital of the world, this crime is different because of its basis.

At present few police stations have adequate provisions for the LGBTI community and this means that when lesbian women report their rape it is not noted as a crime against a lesbian, but a crime against a woman. This makes the needs of the LGBTI community invisible, and does not acknowledge the specific motivation for the violence.

Action Aid explains the thoughts behind this crime clearly. They explain that corrective rape is part of maintaining a problematic status quo:

“That status quo is underpinned by heteronormativity — the idea that heterosexuality is the only ‘normal’ sexual orientation, that only sexual or marital relations between women and men are acceptable, and that each sex has certain natural roles in life, so-called gender roles. ‘Corrective’ rape is a manifestation of a deep-rooted cultural stereotype; that men have ownership over women and are of greater importance and these views, for whatever reason, remain largely unchallenged to this day.”*

Corrective rape is a manifestation of ignorance and hatred. As a result corrective rapes are often extremely violent and the victims are often repeatedly beaten, injured and gang raped. Many do not survive, and many others are afraid to report because of the social stigma associated with their sexuality, and with rape itself.

The development of our hate crime legislation is in the pipelines and it is our responsibility to engage with this law, and ensure that it is protective, inclusive and well-researched.

It is imperative that our government recognises corrective rape as a hate crime in order for the perpetrators to be prosecuted as such, and in order for it to be clear that there is no reason to correct someone’s sexuality, every person has the right to their own sexuality, and that the violence of these rapes makes them significant.

International advocacy organisation, Avaaz, has organised a petition to lobby the minister of justice to engage with this issue, and to declare corrective rape a hate crime. You can sign this petition here. I hope you do.

*Hate crimes: The rise of “corrective” rape in South Africa (Direct link to PDF)