“I Will Become A Straight Girl”. 6/12/2016

Published by AFRICASACOUNTRY

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In May 2015, Zakwe, a 28 year old woman from Soweto, in Johannesburg,  told ActionAid:
“They tell me that they will kill me, they will rape me and after
raping me I will become a girl. I will become a straight girl.  Earlier
this week,  the body of Noluvo Swelindawo, a 22 year old lesbian young
woman was found discarded near the N2 highway near Khayelitsha, the
largest township in the Western Cape.  Noluvo was shot dead after being
abducted from home and gang raped. She was known in her community for
her LGBTQI activism.

Her
friends are convinced she was targeted by a group of “well known thugs
and gangsters in the community,” specifically because she was lesbian.

Novulo’s
death was likely a homophobic hate crime and her killers are
statistically likely to never be found or brought to justice (for lack
of investigation).

Absolute numbers are hard to come by, but somewhere between 15 to 37.5% of South
African men have admitted to raping a woman – whether an intimate
partner, or a woman with whom they had no previous relationship.
Basically, at best – at best – one in six South African men is a rapist. In Diepsloot, an informal settlement in northern Johannesburg, a recent study
showed that 56% of men admitted to either raping or beating a woman in
the last 12 months, and of these, “60% said they had done so several
times over the past year.” Let that sink in: Almost four out of five had raped their first victim before the age of twenty. 

One in three women (worldwide) has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.

One
in three. For those of you who have a mother, a sister and a female
friend all at the same time, let that sink in: one in three women has
been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.
Maybe it’s time to start talking to each other.

In South Africa, over 25% of all women will be raped in their lifetime and 75% of all rapes are gang rapes.
I am not sure that there are italics enough in the world to express
what I feel about these statistics. For every 25 ‘men’ brought to trial
for rape, 24 will be acquitted. And those are just those who are brought to trial.  

Here’s the testimony of Nomawabo, 30, from Limpopo, South Africa:

At
school I was betrayed by my best friend. He told me to come to his
house for a school assignment but when I got to the house we fought
until he hit me so hard I collapsed, and then he raped me because he
said I needed to stop being a lesbian. Afterwards I got pregnant and had
a baby. The second time my soccer friends and I were kidnapped at
gunpoint and they took us somewhere far away and did what they wanted
with us for three days. We told the police but the case just
disappeared. Nothing happened because they all thought I deserved it.
These men are still walking free.

“The second time”…

The term ‘corrective rape (as opposed to regular rape?)
was introduced into the common vernacular when it became a widespread
practice for (South) African males to attempt to rape the lesbian out of
their victims. South Africa was the 5th country in the world to
legalise same-sex marriage. For South African (and other African)
lesbians, this has proved to be more of a target on their backs than a
civil rights victory.

I thought he was going to
kill me; he was like an animal. And he kept saying: ‘I know you are a
lesbian. You are not a man, you think you are, but I am going to show
you, you are a woman. I am going to make you pregnant. I am going to
kill you–
Gaika, South Africa 2009

In their 2010/2011 Annual Report, The Triangle Project, a South African organisation whose stated mission is challenging homophobia and appreciating sexual diversity, wrote this:

Our
understanding is that rape is a form of gender violence that is rooted
in patriarchal and hetero-normative systems of control and power. Rape
is a means of maintaining control and power over women and their bodies
and of policing gender and sexuality norms. These norms prescribe what a
woman is, how a woman should behave and stipulate that women’s bodies
belong to men. It is precisely for these reasons that lesbian women in
particular are targeted.

Rape
is a violent, inhumane, incomprehensible abomination. If not a hate
crime, it is certainly hateful. I do not subscribe to the idea that rape
can be classified by circumstance or by motivation. To the victim, does
it really matter if the rapist was motivated by lust and power rather
than by a sick desire to change his/her sexuality? By classifying
different “types” of rape and by extension, assigning different
sentences for what is essentially the same crime, are we not introducing
yet another shade of grey into a conversation that needs to be
completely black and white? Responding to my question by email, Melanie
Nathan, Executive Director of the African Human Rights Commission said:

These
are woman who might not otherwise have been raped and these men may not
have committed the rape but for the vengeance factor of the woman being
a lesbian and the anger it invokes in the man.  The idea of a lesbian –
a woman not needing a man – often emasculates a man and so he is
proving his power over her… it goes to the core of who she is. Of a
perpetrator purporting to control her sexual orientation under the false
notion, perpetuated by religious and cultural dogma, that she can be
changed. I believe that because of rampant homophobia in some cultures
and especially now in Africa and South Africa, it must be prosecuted as a
specific hate crime.

I
disagree. I believe that making distinctions based on the motive of a
specific rape muddies the waters. All rapes are about the subjugation of
women and men trying to assert their physical and sexual superiority
over women. Yes, being a lesbian (a population already living through
social discrimination) certainly adds a layer of “motivation” for these rapists,
but so does wearing a short skirt, or being flirtatious, walking down a
street, rejecting a man’s advances or breathing while female.

In South Africa, between 15 – 37.5% of men admit to intercourse with a woman without consent and 1 in 4 women
have been raped (and those are the women we know about). Perhaps
lesbians are more at risk than heterosexual women (there isn’t enough
research to say definitively), but with those statistics, is that
difference in risk significant enough to justify a separate class of
rape and the subsequent clouding of the conversation and dilution of law
enforcement that comes with it? There is no such thing as ‘corrective
rape’; there is nothing about rape that is correct.

‘Corrective’
rapists are motivated by the idea that homosexuality is ‘unnatural’. We
should be teaching African boys (and shouting it from every rooftop)
that every rape is inarguably unnatural, that the perpetrator forfeits their membership in the human family and is worthy of maximum punishment.