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This is ‘corrective rape’. These are its rules

Early last week, the newspapers reported the discovery of another dead and mutilated lesbian body. Yet another poor, black, landless, queer body with a vagina has been killed and the story, we’re told, is because she was gay.

As the routine letters of condemnation from state, public and political officials came in their multitudes, and the routine commitments to protect queer bodies were renewed, I found myself caught in a routine depression over the failure to acknowledge and address the structural conditions that make poor, black, queer bodies with vaginas so routinely available to violence.

Caught in this depressive state, some years ago I wrote a discussion paper to begin interrogating the notion of “corrective rape”. And in my interrogation, the paper quickly became a disruption of the notion and the discourse attached to it. I argued that both the term and the lens through which it is constructed and understood both obscure and participate in the confluence of structural systems of power which make particular kinds of bodies available to this and other forms of violence over others, as well as fixes particular kinds of bodies as the obvious perpetrators over others.

This week, again, I found myself caught in this same depressive state.

It happens often. It happens every day. It happens rarely, if at all, to some bodies. It happens repeatedly to others. Under very particular circumstances, we will all know about these incidents in absolute and graphic detail. In most, we will not know that it happened at all.

This is “corrective rape”. These are its rules.

We will ask why. We will be told that it is because she was drunk, that she was out at night, that she presented herself in a place known to be unsafe. We will be told that they wanted to correct her sexuality. We will give it a sexy name like “corrective rape”. This is how it happens. This is where it happens. This is who does it. This is who it is done to.

This is “corrective rape”. These are its rules.

We will know that the targets are black township lesbians. This will mean the perpetrators are black township men. We will identify “hotspots”. We will visit them. We will take our cameras and our writing pads to look at the perpetrators and write about the victims. In graphic detail, we will look at the victims and write about the perpetrators.

This is “corrective rape”. These are its rules.

We will go to the police. We will march on the council. We will, each of us, wear a different coloured T-shirt. A colour for each body. A colour for each martyr. We will lobby lawmakers. We will create special task-teams to define special crimes. We will tell them it is these rapes that matter. We will tell that it is these murders that require special laws. We will remind them that these are not normal rapes. That they are more brutal. That they are more traumatic.

This is “corrective rape”. These are its rules.

We are targets because we are gay, not because we are women. We are targets because we are gay, not because we are black. We are targets because we are gay, not because we are landless. We are targets because we are gay, not because we live in ghettoes. We are targets because we are gay. We are targets because we are gay!

This is “corrective rape”. These are its rules.


  • Sekoetlane Jacob Phamodi is a black feminist who trained as a lawyer and, later, accidentally fell into journalism. When he’s not working as a media activist, he can be found looking for justice in unusual places. You can tweet him up at @MrPhamodi


  1. GrahamJ GrahamJ 9 July 2013

    “landless’? Lost me at that point…

  2. Niel M Niel M 9 July 2013

    Corrective Rape – fertile ground for an engrossing article
    Unfortunately this was not it.

  3. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 9 July 2013

    This had me sobbing.

    Could I ask you to do a few pieces on the ridiculousness of the reasons for this? The ‘unAfrican’ excuse (it was only when the missionaries came that it suddenly became a problem) and the ‘bible’ excuse (homosexuality was not even mentioned in the bible until the 1940’s re-write and David was as gay as a peacock) are a crock of sh…. They are, however, the predominant reasons that I have heard given.

    To the brothers and sisters who have to deal with this horror – I am so very sorry

  4. FullFrontal Cortex FullFrontal Cortex 10 July 2013

    I want to point out that “corrective rape” is a crime against women, you have tried to desexualise the true nature of this crime in your article and I feel that you do women a disservice with this. Men who are perpetrating this crime feel they have a right to enforce their idea of conformative behaviour on gay women because of centuries of entitlement. Men have been told that they are in a position to enforce their will on women. The pertinent question is where do they get this mind state from. The whole concept of men being superior is a central tenet of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The role of religion, particularly the Abrahamic religions and their repulsive doctrines of hate and prejudice toward women and homosexuals in particular cannot be disregarded. If colonisation was a scourge in Africa, I think that Christianity is a greater one, the legacy of misplaced entitlement by men can be seen everywhere. The violent prejudice against homosexuals in South Africa and Africa as a whole can be fairly attributed to centuries of indoctrination at the hands of church leaders. The disgusting laws being introduced in Uganda and Nigeria bear witness to this. The anomalous religiosity of the African continent is deeply troubling, the elimination of this man made plague is the only cure for behaviour like “corrective Rape” which finds it justification in the hate doctrines of the Church. Only by constantly criticising the intuitions that actively and tacitly promote these ideas…

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