World News

South African gangs use rape to "cure" lesbians

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Gangs of South African men are raping lesbians in the belief it will “cure” the women’s sexual orientation, an aid agency said Friday. NGO ActionAid said in a report titled “Hate Crimes: the rise of corrective rape in South Africa” lesbians were increasingly at risk of rape, particularly in South African townships where homosexuality is largely taboo.

South Africa has one of the world’s most progressive constitutions and became the first country in Africa to allow gay marriage in 2006, but homosexuality is still widely frowned upon and same-sex unions are often decried as “un-African.”

The brutal rape and murder last year of female soccer player Eudy Simelane, a lesbian, threw a spotlight on homophobic violence, particularly toward women.

“We get insults every day, beatings if we walk alone, you are constantly reminded that you deserve to be raped,” ActionAid quoted one lesbian as saying. “They yell, ‘if I rape you then you will go straight, you will buy skirts and start to cook because you will have learnt how to be a real woman’.”

One lesbian and gay support group told ActionAid it was dealing with 10 new cases of lesbians being targeted for what it called “corrective rape” every week in Cape Town alone.

Thirty one lesbians have been reported murdered in homophobic attacks since 1998, but support groups say the actual number is probably much higher because crimes on the basis of sexual orientation are not recognized in the South African criminal justice system, ActionAid said.

Of the 31 cases, only two cases were brought to South African courts and there has been only one conviction. South Africa has one of the world highest rates of rape but activists say very few cases end in conviction, and women’s groups say police and the justice system have failed to tackle the problem.

ActionAid estimates there are 500,000 rapes in South Africa every year.

It said the police were particularly reluctant to investigate crimes against lesbians and said support for survivors was inadequate.

Editing by Michael Georgy and Matthew Jones