South Africa: the continuing rise of ‘corrective’ rape

// 5 March 2010

Although the term ‘corrective’ rape is a comparative neologism, the concept – whereby men rape lesbian women, purportedly as a means of “curing” the woman of her sexual orientation (Wikipedia) – isn’t. And while the practice isn’t exclusive to South Africa, it seems to be an increasingly common hate crime in the country. Perhaps the most recent high profile case involved the openly lesbian soccer player, Eudy Simelane, who was gang raped, beaten and stabbed to death in April 2008. Last year, the trial of four of the suspected attackers ended with two receiving custodial sentences while the remaining two were acquitted. (NY Times)

Since then, the wave of violence against lesbians in South Africa has continued to rise and the country is now believed to have one of the highest incidences of rape in the world with 150 women reported to have been raped every day, although activists say that the figure is higher (Times Online). It’s been estimated by ActionAid UK that, not only will almost half of all women be raped during their lifetime but also that for every 25 men bought to trial for rape in South Africa, 24 walk free.

In its report Hate crimes: The rise of ‘corrective’ rape in South Africa (Direct link to PDF), ActionAid UK says:

This shameful record of male domination and violence has helped build an increasingly brutal and oppressive culture, in which women are forced to conform to gender stereotypes or suffer the consequences.

As part of this oppression, the country is now witnessing a backlash of crimes targeted specifically at lesbian women, who are perceived as representing a direct and specific threat to the 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.

In the run-up to International Women’s Day on Monday, when the economic, political and social achievements of women are celebrated, we shouldn’t forget that violence crosses boundaries of class, race, age and sexual orientation. If we are to stand any chance of eradicating the injustices we suffer, then securing equality and rights for all women must be our priority – and to achieve that, one of the first steps must be a concerted effort internationally to tackle violence against us.

Comments From You

Helen G // Posted 5 March 2010 at 4:19 pm

Thanks zohra.

Hope you don’t mind my reformatting the link you provided (it was disappearing offscreen)

tshirtman // Posted 5 March 2010 at 9:06 pm

As a man, I think “corrective” rape, is only a poor excuse for rape, I know how it’s easy to be fooled by your mind into thinking rape as just an easy way to get sex, and I think in these case, just any excuse can do… what’s wrong, however, is to let people think that it’s a good excuse, unlock that, accept that as “moral”, and you just discriminate a part of the population as “ok to rape”… So I think, discrimination in court is the first issue to attack. And education even if it takes longer probably the only way out.

Jeff // Posted 8 March 2010 at 3:28 pm

@ tshirtman,

“As a man, I think “corrective” rape, is only a poor excuse for rape, I know how it’s easy to be fooled by your mind into thinking rape as just an easy way to get sex, and I think in these case, just any excuse can do… what’s wrong, however, is to let people think that it’s a good excuse, unlock that, accept that as “moral”, and you just discriminate a part of the population as “ok to rape”… So I think, discrimination in court is the first issue to attack. And education even if it takes longer probably the only way out.”

“Poor excuse”!? There is NO excuse for rape. Not “good” excuses or “poor” excuses, there’s just no damn excuse. None at all. It’s one of the three vilest crimes humanity can inflict.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 8 March 2010 at 4:29 pm

Jeff, I’ve seen T-shirt man around the ‘Nets. He’s a troll so don’t waste your time. Just a friendly warning.

I suspect a boycott of South Africa until they stop this problem might be a good idea. But then again, it’s ingrained in the culture so it might never be eradicated.

tshirtman // Posted 10 March 2010 at 7:33 am

@politicalguineapig: thanks for calling me a troll, which i think i’m not, up there are things that i really think, as i’m not the kind of person to lie… i try to balance opinion most of the time not create hatred or flamewars, but well, if you don’t want to discuss anything, just don’t wast your time with me, that’s ok…

@Jeff: i should have seen that coming, i did not want to imply there was “good” escuses for rape, as well as there are no good excuses for murder, some people still sometime think they have one.

Helen G // Posted 10 March 2010 at 8:08 am

This is a difficult enough subject as it is and I’m not happy at the way this comment thread seems to be drifting into name-calling.

Please let’s keep comments relevant to the subject – as the saying goes, criticise the argument, not the person.

Thank you for your co-operation.


gadgetgal // Posted 10 March 2010 at 8:43 am

@tshirtman – I agree education is key, but I don’t think that rape is generally considered to be an excuse for sex anyway. Rape is mostly about power, not sex, and I think so-called “corrective” rape shows clearly how it’s used as a weapon to this end, not so much as an easy way to get sex.

tshirtman // Posted 10 March 2010 at 9:01 am

@gadgetgal: I agree it can be another motivation, that would come from frustration on difficulties on being a “dominant” male? lack of confidence? Then education/societal paradigm shift (males don’t *have* to be dominant) would help a lot. But I fear it won’t happen soon (it’s been a competitive advantage for so long).

Anyway your explanation probably answer why I wonder how a man could really enjoy raping, I was only thinking about the sexual aspect of it (And I don’t think you can enjoy something that rough) if it’s about power it’s better imo to just fight to hell with other people wanting to fight (easy to find I think).

Helen G // Posted 10 March 2010 at 9:20 am

@tshirtman: Fighting didn’t help Eudy Simelane – and she shouldn’t have had to fight, in the first place – because she should never have been put into that situation.

I’m curious, too, as to what kind of difficulties you think a dominant male might face that would cause him to rape. As far as I’m concerned there is no excuse, no reason, on this earth that justifies rape. Frustration? Seriously? It is, as @gadgetgal says, about power. And if this hypothetical dominant male has the power to rape, then he also has the power not to rape.

tshirtman // Posted 10 March 2010 at 9:48 am

Please don’t get me wrong, I said people wanting to fight should find other people with the same condition, not that girl have to fight back when assaulted (I don’t even know what’s the better option).

About difficulties making men wanting to rape, well, it’s self-evident that most men are not dominant so as it’s still a well believed fact that men *have* to be strong, then it can be, in a way, seen as comforting to be able to dominate someone like this, the same goes with most women mistreatments I think.

gadgetgal // Posted 10 March 2010 at 10:49 am

I actually heard a BBC documentary podcast that was about rape in South Africa where they interviewed a former rapist who now councils men and boys to try and prevent it. It was heart-rending, not only the fact that this girl was raped, and raped for a similar “corrective” reason, but also the pressure that was piled onto these boys to do it because it’s not only become normalised but it’s become almost a rite of passage.

I’ll include links, the first to a written interview with the man, the second to the World Service broadcast where they interview him, his victim (who he travelled to meet with and apologise to) and a few other groups of people. But be warned – it’s not graphic content but it may be triggering. I cried when I listened to it.

Sexual frustration doesn’t seem to figure into it – in his case it seemed to be bullying and peer-pressure and, in his own words, “I would say that it is the machismo feelings and beliefs, coupled with patriarchal processes and tendencies. I think that we raise boys in the wrong way”

tshirtman // Posted 10 March 2010 at 11:30 am

very interresting read. As I understand it, being “a man” (read a tough, grown up, dominating, man) seems to have a lot to do in the process, and peer pressure (girls have to like boys, boys have to “do” girls) seems to be the main problem.

thank for the read.

Kristel // Posted 10 March 2010 at 12:14 pm

Helen G, thanks for another of your good posts. I have a South African friend who left that country years ago, and this was one of the reasons.

I think it’s a pity that someone has been allowed to hijack what could have been an interesting discussion by employing arguments that can scarcely be described as coherent.

Helen G // Posted 10 March 2010 at 12:33 pm

@Kristel: It’s been hard to strike a balance in moderating this thread, that’s for sure. I’ve been concerned about the apparent thread drift and have been wondering if, in the interests of trying to maintain a safe(r) space, I should close comments.

But that’s not something I’m particularly keen to do: I’d very much like to see a more feminist-centred analysis of the subject of ‘corrective’ rape, and hope that other potential commenters won’t feel deterred from adding their insights.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 10 March 2010 at 3:27 pm

Now that I think about it, I wonder if ‘corrective rape’ is actually based in prejudices cultivated by Christianity.

Again, I’m fairly skeptical of any impact ‘rape-is-bad’ education would have. It doesn’t work in universities, what chance does it have in the streets?

Helen G // Posted 10 March 2010 at 3:53 pm

@Politicalguineapig: Well, it’s a possibility but, to be honest, I’m not convinced. Certainly, when we look at the lesbophobic (and transphobic and homophobic) attitudes of some sections of the religious Right, there’s always that chance. But everything I’ve read on the subject points back to heteronormativity and a sense of ownership amongst the men who carry out these hate crimes; I haven’t come across any direct reference to a specifically religious motivation.

Maeve // Posted 10 March 2010 at 3:58 pm

Dear Helen G,

I’d first like to say how terrible it is what happened to Eudy Simelane. Also the terrible things that happen to other lesbian women and trans women. It is so good that you highlight this, because the problems and dangers they face do not get anything like enough attention in the media, and when they do it is nearly always the most cruel and wrong kind. I have to admit (shame on me) that I was never as aware of the plight of transwomen and the problems they can face just surviving day by day until I started reading your posts on TFW.

As you point out, ‘corrective rape’ is by no means exclusive to South Africa, but is on the rise there. I suppose when even women who tick all the gender stereotype boxes can’t escape rape and murder, then any woman who dares to openly defy them is going to be even more viciously targeted. In any society going through chaos and change, the first thing that happens is that men seem to turn on women even more.

All societies need to make the shift from the heteronormative standpoint. I think the only way to achieve this (and I think it will take a depressingly long time, esp in SA) is to, as you say, tackle it at an international level. Persuade countries to enact legislation against it, strongly enforce that legislation and keep enforcing it. It could start with simple (!) things like people not being required to state their gender on passports, or on any of the the myriad of forms they have to fill in during their lives. We can’t wait for all men who murder and rape to shake off deeply rooted cultural stereotypes and behaviours and educate themselves, even if they’re willing to do that in the first place.

gadgetgal // Posted 11 March 2010 at 8:59 am

@Maeve – well said! Although education is important it’s more important to stop what’s happening NOW rather than waiting for the next generation to stop it – I’m just wondering what kind of pressure we can bring to bear at the moment internationally, though. With our insistence on invading every country the USA decide to dislike that month our international standing has taken a beating, and for historical reasons it’s always been difficult to make any real impact on legislation in pretty much any African country. Even if we try to lobby for the government to do something it’s doubtful they would get involved. Of course that’s not to say that we shouldn’t, but there must be other ways too, maybe international organisations, or local ones in the countries affected that are dealing with things on the ground there.

I just think that waiting for the government to do, or be able to do, anything at all for these women would be like waiting for the men to just educate themselves – we could be waiting a long time!

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