In South Africa, some believe that a horrifying trend called corrective rape can cure lesbianism.

Words: Marjua Estevez

While “corrective” rape has become the subject of debate lately, it is not a new phenomenon. No one really knows when the idea of “fixing” an illness via the conduit of rape began, but there have been stories about men living with HIV raping virgins and even babies to rid themselves of their disease as early as the ’80s. These days corrective rape falls under the guise of men who rape women to rid their victims of being homosexual, and these number of these stories are rising exponentially.

Just two years ago, Eudy Simelane, a football star and lesbian activist, was gang-raped, beaten and stabbed 25 times. While her death opened up the dialogue in South Africa about viewing corrective rape as an epidemic and a hate crime, the South African government has yet done anything to impede these widespread, sexual attacks.

Following Simelane’s attack, that same year, a similar occurrence took place in Khayelitsha Township, right outside of Cape Town. A young woman by the name of Zukiswa Gaca was having a night out on the town like any other average 20-year-old in her peer set. As she posted by the bar drinking with her friends, a man tried to hit on her. She explains that she’s not interested and that she only dates women.

He replies to her, saying, “No, I understand. I have friends that are lesbians too, it’s cool, I don’t have a problem with that.”

Feeling comfortable, Gaca trusted him. So eventually when she and her friends decided to leave the bar, they continued their night at the home of a friend of the man Gaca had just met moments earlier. This is when the friendly man’s exterior took a nasty turn.

He said to Gaca, “I hate lesbians and I’m about to show you that you’re not a man, as you are treating yourself like one.”

Pleading, Gaca explained to her new friend that she never thought herself to be a man and that she simply likes women, to which he responds, “I will show you I have more power than you.”

He then raped her as his friend watched.

It wasn’t the first time Gaca had been raped. Her first time was at age 15, which led to her running away from her village in the Eastern Cape.

South African campaigners and the members of the Gay Rights community have described these acts to be so terrifying that victims are left permanently scarred or terminally injured. So much so that one of the more recent acts has spawned the South African lesbian community’s fight to formally and legally make corrective rape a hate crime. This past May, according to Ndumie Funda, director and founder of Luleki Sizwe Project—a charity that assists lesbian, bisexual and transgender women in the townships of Cape Town—a 24-year-old woman, who belonged to the gay and lesbian rights group was stoned to death after an apparent gang rape.

What’s most interesting is that South Africa fully legalized gay marriages through the Civil Union Act in November of 2006 (just two years after Massachusetts became the first state in America to grant same-sex couples the permission to be married and just five years after ten European countries legalized it). Of course, human rights groups in South Africa are outraged, claiming that sexism is still deeply embedded in South Africa, which leaves many men viewing themselves as being more powerful than women in more ways than one.

No stable statistics for “corrective” rape have been established yet, but the alarming rates of it seem to be rising only in South Africa, with few unresolved cases in Zimbabwe. However, miscalculations as to the actual number of victims and pinpointing the exact regions where this epidemic is occurring must be taken into consideration, as many women do not report being sexually assaulted, especially when they’ve become victims of it simply for being lesbians.

The 2011 Caribbean HIV Conference reported that the increase in corrective rape has led The Women for Women (WFW) group (a social community based organization that caters to the needs of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women) to implement several development and prevention programs, including treatment/testing for HIV and STIs. So some progress on that matter is happening, but not enough.

I don’t know how such a barbaric notion took root, or why it continues to flourish, but the severity corrective rape implies and the ill-thinking that causes one to fully engage in this type of emotional and physical assault should be seen as a complete setback for humanity. Almost two years later, Zukiswa Gaca, is still waiting for a court trial. She is one of the few who reported her incident and one of the many victims of rape because of her sexual orientation. Simply said, using violence that rests on the shoulders of twisted old school ideologies in this way offers great potential in spreading HIV/AIDS and STDs, unwanted or unplanned pregnancies and to exacerbate the good ‘ol cycle of violence between men and women. Everyone should view this crime as it is, cowardly behavior, and it shouldn’t be an act that one should be proud of, nor tout. Not that all men rape, duh. But damn, let’s give women one more reason to feel insecure, belittled, void and depreciated.

Besides, if Gaca and Simelane, and all the other women who have been victims of this crime weren’t really lesbians then, they sure have every right to be one now.

Support the Luleki Sizwe Project, here.

Support Women for Women, here.

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