"Curing" lesbians through rape

In South Africa, sexual violence is used to punish gay women.

Published March 14, 2009 10:00AM (EDT)

A rainbow's array of attempts have been made at straightening out homosexuals' kinks -- for example, through "gender affirmation," "reparative" therapy, hypnotism and preaching. But, possibly the most disturbing form is on the rise in South Africa: so-called corrective rape. The Guardian reports that lesbians are routinely being violently attacked by men; worse yet, the state has failed to officially recognize the attacks as hate crimes, and they often go unpunished.

"What we're seeing is a spike in the numbers of women coming to us having been raped and who have been told throughout the attack that being a lesbian was to blame for what was happening to them," said Vanessa Ludwig, the chief executive of Triangle, a gay rights organization. A whopping 86 percent of lesbians in the Western Cape said they are in constant fear of being raped, and 10 cases of "corrective" sexual assault arise every week, according to a Triangle report. Even the state's prosecuting authority agrees that it is that shockingly prevalent, yet he told the newspaper that the attacks are "not something that the South African government has prioritized as a specific project." Sorry, preventing and punishing the rapes of lesbians just isn't at the top of their list.

It isn't just lesbians that are being attacked, though. "When asking why lesbian women are being targeted, you have to look at why all women are being raped and murdered in such high numbers in South Africa," said Carrie Shelver of Powa, a local women's rights group. "So you have to look at the increasingly macho culture, which seeks to oppress women and sees them as merely sexual beings." Lesbians are a slap in the face to this masculinist vision of women as sexual playthings. These men aren't trying to turn lesbians straight in the traditional sense of "curing" homosexuality; they're raping women, straight and gay, as a means of social intimidation and control. I'm sad to say that, in that regard, South Africa is hardly alone.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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