South Africa Government Hears Out LGBT Activists On Corrective Rape

There is perhaps no phenomena so inexplicable as “corrective rape.”

A common practice in South Africa, corrective rape is an act of violence where lesbians are raped in order to “fix” them, because, you know, if we haven’t met the right dude yet, maybe it’s just because the right one hasn’t raped us! (Same-sex marriage in South Africa has been legal since 2006, proving once again that marriage equality is unfortunately not synonymous with equal rights.) The practice was called out by human rights groups in 2009:

A report by the international NGO ActionAid, backed by the South African Human Rights Commission, said the horrific crimes against lesbians were going unrecognised by the state and unpunished by the legal system.

The report called for South Africa’s criminal justice system to recognise the rapes as hate crimes in an attempt to force police to take action over the rising tide of violence.

The ferocity of the attack became clear in April last year when Eudy Simelane, former star of South Africa’s national female football squad, became one of the victims. Miss Simelane, and equality rights campaigner and one of the first women to live openly as a lesbian, was gang-raped and brutally beaten before being stabbed 25 times in the face, chest and legs.

But scores more women have been deliberately targeted for rape, the Guardian reports.

Now, as charming as that sounds, it is clearly time to wave goodbye to that trend. Gay and lesbian activists lobbying in South Africa for corrective rape to be labeled a hate crime agree. They have been tireless in their efforts to not only spark conversation on the tragic practice of corrective rape, but to hear their government speak out against it with them.

In Cape Town, government officials have finally met with a group of those activists. This marks the first time the government has acknowledged the discussions surrounding corrective rape in the region.

The activists gathered outside of Parliament to spotlight the practice, and call out the perpetrators for targeting lesbian women based on their sexual orientation. Members of the group met with the Justice and Constitutional Development Minister (sounds fancy, right?) Jeff Radebe today – and they were ready. The activists’ demands were clear: for Radebe’s department to research, develop, and implement an action plan for the nation to tackle hate crimes and even other acts of homophobic violence.

Activists had circulated a petition calling him to take action; it was signed by over 170,000 people from 163 countries within 100 days. (The petition was one of the most popular / successful on of all time.)

There’s no word yet on the outcome of the meeting; it may be too much to hope that all activists’ demands were met. But it’s not too much to hope that with the government finally meeting with LGBT activists, the road may be paved for further efforts to stop corrective rape and diminish its commonality.

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 919 articles for us.


  1. I waited 20 minutes to comment because I get first commenter on a post anxiety, but I have to go now and I can’t hold it in any longer.

    Thank god someone is finally doing something about this horrendous, (oxy)moronic atrocity.

  2. Thank you for this article. I can’t believe corrective rape is not yet labeled as a hate crime. The fact that the activists were able to initiate dialogue with the goverment is HUGE. Let’s hope it changes things for good.

  3. There is also the believe that having intercourse with a virgin will cure HIV/AIDS, causing girls down to eight years old to be raped and infected with the virus. Sexual violence is prevalent in the spread of HIV, and this is no exception.

    • You would think it would be a matter of education. Surely people with the right info would make the right decisions.

      *sarcasm alert* because the U.S. senators and representatives who spend SO MUCH TIME and effort evangelizing (what else should it be called?)in these countries (hmm, which US STATES were they elected to represent again?) that surely they would bring that vital much knowledge to people who lacked it in the first place. For the basic good of mankind. If nothing else, do no harm…ugh.

      I need to stop now or I’ll say something I regret (along the lines of how damned I think U.S. Reps/GAOs/religious organizations, etc. are for deliberately misleading people w/r/t such important information).

      My heart goes out to every victim of corrective rape, and every child subjected to sexual assault. It’s a damn shame, and it should not happen.

      • With regards to the rape of virgins being seen as a possible cure for HIV, the issue is not necessarily knowledge-based, it’s largely cultural. HIV/AIDS education/treatment is available (almost) EVERYWHERE in Southern Africa but knowing what another culture believes about a certain topic doesn’t mean you believe the same things. Many people in the region are completely aware of what western medicine says about HIV/AIDS but most traditional Southern African cultures are shamanic and believe that illness derives from problems relating to an impurity of the soul or a conflict with the ancestors. Consequently, there is a large number of people who trust traditional healers over western medicine, and recently it has been reported that the rape of virgins has been suggested as a diagnostic tool by some, probably illegitimate faith-healers. Even for those who do believe and trust what western medicine dictates in general, the fact is that if one group of people says “THERE IS NO CURE” and another says “YOU CAN HEAL YOURSELF” the desperation surrounding a pandemic of terminal illness is bound to increase some faith in the latter option.

        I am, by no means, condoning corrective rape, as a victim myself I am probably one of the least likely people to ever hold that view. I am simply saying that corrective rape and the rape of virgins have different etymologies and shouldn’t be considered as one problem. In my opinion the distorted Southern African perception of rape is a problem that stems from the despair of an entire continent rather than the ignorance of its people.

    • 8 years old? Last I heard, it was 18 *months* old… the man had been left to mind his girlfriend’s toddler and took the opportunity to ‘cure’ himself. It makes me feel utterly sick.

  4. It’s interesting that ‘corrective rape’ is popularly used amongst women, and not gay men. That point is that it seems women are unwilling to act on this, but men are gladly doing it for us.

    Also, I like the Banksy-esque picture, if not Banksy.

  5. I hate to be pessimistic but I wonder how any amount of talking will help this situation. I mean there’s something like one rape committed every 3 minutes every day in SA, and people have also started raping children because they think it’ll cure them of AIDs, it’s a massive problem that I dont think the police even know how to begin to solve. It’s great they have gay marrigae in SA but when im there and in a rural area I pretend im straight, im not proud of it but I feel it’s necessary, there’s this macho culture for example amonst most of the Afrikaners I know and gayness just doesnt seem to be accepted at all, so yeah, how right you are, having equal rights doesnt automatically mean we’ll ever be accepted, sad times.

    • Part of me feels the same way – SA has such a long way to go in women’s/gay rights (so connected) and cultural acceptance that it seems ridiculous to get excited over “talks.” But I still think the fact that government officials are willing to acknowledge the problem and meet with activists shows a change, if ever so slight, in the misogynist, anti-gay mentality that ultimately affects legal and social structure. Institutional change is gradual and needs to build momentum – I see this as a small but necessary part of that.

      I pretend I’m straight in Africa. You’re right – it’s absolutely necessary. And I hate it. HATE it.

      • Yeah you’re right, there’s a very long and dangerous fight ahead of gay people in SA but at least they’re starting to try and make change!

        Aw I feel bad for you, hopefully you’ll be able to live openly sometime. Im looking forward to visiting CT in July and actually being able to be who I am when in Africa! My two lady friends had a beautiful wedding there before so it’s not all bad, just mostly bad, ha! :-)

        • Ah, I wish I was in CT right now! I’m actually not even in SA – I’m in CAR. That probably has something to do with my point of view. SA (excluding rural areas…) seems like a progressive heaven in comparison.

        • Also, that sounded super self-pitying which is nonsense because I love it here. It’s mango season which pretty much much makes up for things like systemic injustice and mandatory mid-calf length skirts.

  6. And yet a lot of you people oppose people’s right to carry weapons to defend themselves. Infuriating.

    • Hi, so, I know we’re all upset because this is really, really horrible, but probably saying things like “you people” isn’t really the best way to make your point? Just a thought.

      Another thought is maybe we should be mad at them and not each other. You know, just . . . just saying. They say a word to the wise is sufficient.

      • I say “you people” because I’m talking about a group that I’m not a member of, because they think people shouldn’t be allowed to defend their life through physical means if necessary. That is an illogical, unethical, and anti-life way of thinking, and it should be treated with contempt.

        I know you don’t think I’m not mad at the people that do this, because that is ridiculous. I am also mad at people whose response to this stuff is to throw the blinders on.

        Point blank, if a woman is about to be correctively raped, should she be able to defend herself with a weapon?

        • Sorry, we’re not talking about gun ownership in America here! Im quite sure when a lot of people talk about gun ownership being ridiculous they are talking about America and the absurd amount of guns some people have as it seems entirely unecessary and you end up more likely to shoot a family member than an intruder.

          But South Africa is completely and utterly different when it comes to crime, dont assume that you know what everyones opinions are about gun ownership in South Africa as it’s vastly different, different continent, different world almost…..and requires thought!! I just think you dont know what people’s views on gun ownership in South Africa are so no need to be so defensive….but this article isnt about that. And answer me this, where will the women that are being raped get money to even buy a gun? A lot of the women being raped are from poor townships, a lot literally have nothing, buying food is more important than buying a gun to some im quite sure. No ones throwing the blinders on, no one even mentioned guns till you said it!

          • Hang on… it requires thought?



            I’m aware of varying points of view about guns in different countries. I just don’t hold the commonly promoted point of view.

            This article is about people being violently attacked and raped, so I brought up the natural corollary to that: self-defense. It’s not so much about guns specifically. I’m sure these people don’t think the average person should be able to carry around a samurai sword, a flame thrower, and a mace.

            The women would likely acquire a gun on the black market, or perhaps for free. According to the group Gun Free South Africa, “The two major sources of illegal firearms in South Africa are loss and theft from licensed firearm owners and the state.” Hit the attackers over the head with a rock though, for all I care. It’s free.

            No one did mention guns, or self-defense in general until I said it – a problem in and of itself. You said:

            “I hate to be pessimistic but I wonder how any amount of talking will help this situation. I mean there’s something like one rape committed every 3 minutes every day in SA, and people have also started raping children because they think it’ll cure them of AIDs, it’s a massive problem that I dont think the police even know how to begin to solve.”

            I think talking could help this problem long term, but in a situation where an angry mob is bent on stabbing you to death and the police can’t/wont help, defending yourself isn’t ignorant extremism. It’s common sense.

          • I just think that if those women do acquire guns, what with theft rates so high, all that will happen to said guns is that they will get stolen, and then that stolen gun will be used in further robberies and rapes, that’s almost a guarantee. It’s just a different world over there and im not sure arming people will save them. A friend of mine got mugged recently, by 5 men, she was very lucky to not have been killed by them in my opinion, it all happened so quickly that there wouldnt have been time to pull a gun and if she had pulled one out she would they would have shot her first, and at 5 versus 1 theres no way in hell she would have survived. Having a gun in that instance would have gotten her killed…so it’s not always just a case of, im being attacked, time to shoot someone!

          • I don’t know enough about the effects of gun legislation in Africa (or elsewhere) to comment, so I won’t.

            I resonate with diver’s sentiment that women should be empowered with a way to protect themselves. But I also get what Lou is saying – the cultural differences make this issue much more complicated than it might first appear. For example, I can’t think of one African woman I know (including the 20+ who have been raped) who would buy/carry a gun, even if it were legal. Culturally, gender roles are extremely rigid. The lines are clearly drawn, and anyone who crosses them risks social isolation (which, in a collective society, is basically the end of the world). Guns are for men – period. It’s aggravating.

            I am constantly surprised at how counter-intuitive things are to my Western mind. So it’s hard to know what the effects of different gun policies will be. It’s complicated is all I’m saying.

          • Policies would have not useful effect, but it is a societal problem that only men feel empowered to defend themselves.

    • so we can defend ourselves from someone whose views are different from ours? Everyone has a different belief they will go to the extreme for so lets just shoot each other while work out why it is we are doing what we are doing?

      • Anybody can have any point of view they please, and other people can say whatever they want about that point of view. For instance, you can say that I think we should all just shoot each other and not work things out.

    • Um, that is not the solution to the problem. This problem is a structural, institutional one and what needs to happen is targeting the rampant homophobia and misogyny that exists, and teaching men *NOT TO RAPE.* Not just giving people weapons. That does not SOLVE the problem. I would argue it would likely make it worse. It’s the poisoned attitude that rape can change a person’s sexual orientation (in these cases). And that being a man means having a penis and sleeping with women and vice versa.

      • Of course it isn’t the solution to the problem. It’s a practical strategy that a person can employ if they are totally out of options. I definitely don’t think it would make it any worse. Understanding that women have enough personal agency that they can and will defend themselves would be part of the structural social change that would need to take place.

        I find the idea that men have to be taught not to rape odd. Actually, they must be taught *to* rape. Men are not animals that we must tame.

        • Of course men aren’t animals we must tame, but society often perpetuates the idea that men “can’t help themselves” and “have needs.” So yes, that idea that men are animals does exist, and so does the idea that rape is okay (to many people).

          While rape does need to be taught, just like sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc do, there is undoubtedly a lesson that goes on in these perpetrator’s minds that rape is acceptable. So yes, men do need to learn that rape is not okay. That no one deserves to be dehumanized and abused and violated. Too often, as a part of rape culture, we teach women how to avoid being raped, and if they don’t follow the rules, it is their fault that it happened to them. Instead of focusing on (mainly) men who commit these crimes and ensuring that they know not to behave this way.

          I personally don’t believe more weapons ever brings about more peace. If a woman in South Africa, or anywhere, is confronted and takes out a weapon- what if she is outnumbered? What if she chooses not to use the weapon, and the man comes back another time and this time chooses to kill her? If there are such intolerant, violent, misogynistic, homophobic attitudes in South Africa, then violence against women, especially lesbians, is inescapable.

          • “What if the gun gets taken away?!”
            “What if the gun gets stolen?!”
            “What if somebody gets mad that she has a gun and comes back and kills her?!”

            What if I’m in a car accident, and my seatbelt traps me in a burning vehicle?

            People, come on. I mean… “If a woman in South Africa, or anywhere, is confronted and takes out a weapon- what if she is outnumbered?” Then luckily she at least has a gun! That line was ludicrous.

            My bottom line is that if I was about to be gang raped and killed, I would want a weapon to defend myself with, and it’s an inexcusable injustice that the right that I have to do that has been taken away from some people.

            If you think getting raped and murdered for being gay is horrible, but out of the other side of your mouth you actively espouse the view that people should be prevented from accessing tools they could use to defend themselves as a last resort, you are being willfully ignorant and nutty.

          • “If there are such intolerant, violent, misogynistic, homophobic attitudes in South Africa, then violence against women, especially lesbians, is inescapable.”

            Violence towards ANYONE should never be viewed as an inescapable fact of life, no matter how common or socially accepted it is. That is a victimhood mentality of the most dangerous type. Violence should be viewed as an abhorrent injustice that has to be corrected.

          • That seat belt analogy does not relate at all to what I’m trying to say. I agree with what Lou was saying earlier, but I also don’t want to speak much about the South African situation, because unlike Camille who posted earlier, I have never lived there and don’t fully understand the culture and societal rules.

            My line about being outnumbered is not ridiculous. Gang-rapes are common, and if a woman even attempts to take out a weapon (which is unlikely if she is already confronted), and possibly shoot one of them out of defense, I highly doubt she is going to make it out alive. If women were to start carrying around guns or other weapons with them, then men would soon learn of it and make sure their own weapons were out when they confronted a woman with the intention of raping her. (I’m sure many do already).

            That idea reminds me of the anti-rape female condom with “teeth” that was a trap in a way for the penis- once the male entered, he would be unable to remove the condom. People praised this idea, but to me, it would make the men even angrier, and maybe they would end up killing the woman instead. And once more men learned of it, they might start raping women in other ways. To connect this, I essentially mean that if men began to learn that women were allowed to and were carrying their own weapons, they would still figure out ways to rape them.

            Like I said, I don’t understand the situation in South Africa well enough- I can only base my beliefs off of what I know in the U.S. and the fact that evidence shows here that having more guns does not protect people more.

            If a woman is about to be attacked, then I don’t think it should be illegal for her to use a weapon to defend herself. So yes, I agree with you there. But on a grander scheme, I think institutionally there should be laws forbidding guns, but in a country like South Africa that is not going to happen any time soon, if ever.

            I did not mean to express a victimhood mentality, but simply state that with the current attitudes towards women in South Africa, which connect to an institutional, structural level, I don’t believe that women being allowed to carry weapons in case they are raped will benefit them overall. Of course no act of violence should be socially accepted as inevitable, but the present notions held by men in South Africa will continue to lead many of them to rape the women, as horrible as it is. 1 in 2 South African women will be raped in their lifetime, so yeah, it is extremely common, and if I lived there, I would likely live in fear that it is almost inescapable. That’s just me, and I am lucky enough to live somewhere where I can feel much safer in that respect. It’s not my decision as to whether women should be able to carry weapons in S.A., and I completely understand how a weapon may make a woman feel more protected in a situation like that. I could get into lots of specific situations, but its 2 AM haha, and in general, I don’t think it would lead to good things. This is just my personal opinion and I completely respect yours, because god knows I want women to be able to protect themselves if there were ever to end up in a situation like that.

    • I’ve had many long, difficult, heated, fruitful, and yes, peaceable discussions with people while holding a firearm. This idea that if someone has a weapon, they are not willing to work things out is false.

      Anyway, my main point here is that everyone is horrified at this stuff, but they are hysterically and irrationally opposed to one of the most obvious strategies that could actually help people in a practical way, and I think that’s insane.

      • Not trying to get involved in this debate, because I don’t feel like I know enough about it one way or the other to have an informed opinion. I’m just wondering: diver, what do you do that you have had many conversations with people while holding a firearm?

  7. Sooo…anyway…

    I’m not finding humor in it, but I sort of have to laugh at the notion of “corrective rape” because I really don’t know that it’s got much of shit to do with “fixing” us.

    I think it’s just a fucking power ego trip to put us in our little places and keep us well-mannered and well-behaved, and not be a threat to their machismo bullshit.
    Maybe in a sense then it’s “correcting” our bad girl behavior, but I just see it as a terrorist act of intimidation and domination.

    How dare we choose each other over them. How dare we not make them the centers of our universes. How dare we not be submissive and serve only their needs before each others and our own.

    • It helps that it’s socially condoned, too. Most of the (non-government/police) men in the clip posted by Kumquat and in the one I posted could completely understand why a man would rape a lesbian, whereas they almost certainly would not understand child-rape in the same way. As one man (obviously thinking he was being very reasonable) said: ‘sooner or later’ it has to happen, to make us straight.

      The police do not pursue prosecution of corrective rape as they might other crimes and the courts adjourn many of the cases again and again rather than deal with them. In some cases, rape victims have been sent home from court in the same transport as their attacker. Bail is set at pathetically low amounts and attackers feel free to break the court orders requiring them to stay away from their victims (source: Luleki Sizwe, but I can’t find it as they have a new website and much of the older stuff seems to have vanished).

      When it is so widely socially condoned, *of course* men feel they have a free license to rape lesbians.

  8. i hate that it took someone famous/well-known getting attacked for the government to listen to any extent. i hope that the activists are truly HEARD and not just humored.

  9. As a South African women, and the daughter and sister and friend of so many South African women, queer and straight, I am telling you that you do not understand the issue as well as you think you do. South African women can acquire illegal firearms as easily as we can buy koeksisters at the corner shop. However, we are raised not to ever commit an act of violence on another person. The arguments for firearms and other weapons in the States are very, very different from the arguments in S.A. I’m not educated enough to talk about American firearms; similarly, you would have to have a much more intricate understanding of the black South African culture in order to make a convincing argument.

    Ask a rape victim if she’d like a gun as the monsters descend, and she’ll say yes. Ask a black South African woman if she’d like a gun at any other time, and she’ll turn you down.

    • “Ask a rape victim if she’d like a gun as the monsters descend, and she’ll say yes. Ask a black South African woman if she’d like a gun at any other time, and she’ll turn you down.”

      well said*

    • “However, we are raised not to ever commit an act of violence on another person.”

      I was raised that way too, but there was an important difference. I was taught that if someone was trying to maim, rape, or murder me or a loved one, and I was completely out of options, I could and should do whatever it took to stop such a tragedy from taking place. I think it’s senseless to teach young girls any different.

      “Ask a rape victim if she’d like a gun as the monsters descend, and she’ll say yes. Ask a black South African woman if she’d like a gun at any other time, and she’ll turn you down.”

      Isn’t it obvious that these things don’t exactly happen at planned times? I mean, “you are going to need a weapon next Thursday at 2 pm, but you will not need it at 12, 1, or 3.” The entire reason people have weapons is for the times they are needed, but they don’t know when those will be.

      Do you think people have weapons so they can run around causing mayhem? I hate to break it to you, but people who carry weapons often do so for very different reasons than what you seem to be envisioning. I also think it is unethical to refuse to take responsible steps to ensure your safety.

      Many women have internalized a kind of social sickness which dictates that they accept the completely inhuman and counter-intuitive notion that they are not worth defending. A few years ago a woman told me that if she was being attacked, she wasn’t sure she could bring herself to “do anything bad” to her attacker in self-defense. That is a sickness.

      • It’s not a sickness, it’s a personal opinion, and in the case of black South African women, it’s cultural. You may disagree with it but just because a woman doesnt want to shoot her attacker or carry a gun in case shes attacked there’s no need to call her own personal opinion a sickness!

Comments are closed.