This June, there were international celebrations due to America’s legalisation of same-sex marriage. Rainbow flags were flown with pride, with social media also joining in with the festivities; the popular rainbow filter flooded Facebook, and the ‘rainbow heart emoji’ was widely used on Twitter. Although America’s progress should be applauded and celebrated, it is easy to forget that across the globe there are millions of members of the gay community still living not only in fear of being unable to marry their partners, but in fear of their lives. Certain countries have not only got dangerously negative attitudes towards homosexuality, but have even begun to widely implement degrading, life-threatening and arguably pointless ‘cures’.
Despite the world heading towards a future where people can live in peace, no matter their choice of sexual orientation, we can still be shocked by watching scenes of violence against homosexuals.
Corrective rape refers to when individuals are raped with the intention to ‘cure’ them of homosexuality, or other behaviours that deviate from gendered stereotypes such as feminism, and is the latest phenomenon to sweep nations including South Africa, Brazil and India.
The practice involves raping homosexuals, usually lesbians, with the intention to impregnate them, and therefore, force them into marriage and a life raising children, so they can be ‘real women’. The victims are also often tortured, and verbally abused with the perpetrators claiming they are ‘doing them a favour’ and ‘teaching them a lesson’. It is estimated that 500 lesbians per year fall victim in South Africa, with a government survey from 2009 revealing that 1 in 4 men admit to having sex with a woman against her will, with a further half admitting to have raped more than once. Terrifyingly, a quarter of schoolboys interviewed in Soweto describe “jackrolling” (gang rape) as “fun”.
In 2013, The New York Times brought up a serie of horrific stories that happened in South Africa, showing how contradictory was the number of victims of corrective rape. Girls were being raped and killed in large scale, just because of their sexual orientation.
This type of attitude towards rape culture coupled with the fact that attitudes towards homosexuality have got worse in the last 20 years means it is not surprising that many victims never come forward.
Shockingly, despite the fact that South Africa was the first African country to legalise same-sex marriage, and the first country in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, the legal system does not recognise corrective rape as a hate crime. This, therefore, makes it incredibly difficult to know how many of the rapes carried out on women every 17 seconds in South Africa are motivated by the desire to ‘cure’ lesbians.
Between 1998 and 2009 there have been 31 recorded murders of lesbians in South Africa, with only one case resulting in a conviction. In 2007, Sizakele Sigasa and Salone Massooa were found dead in Soweto. The women had been tied up with their underwear, tortured, raped, and shot in the head due to Sizakele’s openness about her sexuality. Nobody was convicted. These types of statistics indicate that despite the acknowledgement of obvious homophobia, gay lives are not as valued as straight ones. This notion is not by any means exclusive to South Africa.
Homosexuality was criminalised in 2013 in India after being legal for just four years. The sentence for the ‘crime’ can be up to 10 years long. This means that victims of corrective rape have nowhere to turn, and no way to find justice, as if they go to the police, they risk imprisonment themselves. What is worse, the cases happen at home where parents are adopting the practice to find a “cure” to their children, no matter if they are boys or girls.
Due to homosexuality being so stigmatised, many Indian families do not want others to know of their children’s ‘problem’ so take it upon themselves to ‘cure’ their family members.
According to Dr. Maíra Nunes, a Brazilian researcher in studies on sexuality, lesbianism bothers the “heart” of patriarchal society. Nunes believes that, in Brazil, the media, for any reason, is hiding the real problem from the society. “I’ve been shocked by the recent data of the corrective rape in this country. In Brazil, lesbians are persecuted in the suburbs and in what we call ‘morros’. The media never explores the subject. A newspaper from Rio de Janeiro published a small feature about the problem back in 2011. It was a one-page feature that ended up at some trash bin. Far from the cover of periodicals and TV news, thousands of lesbians are decimated physical and morally in Brazil,” she adds.
Until people’s attitudes are changed, and until legal systems recognise hate crimes against those deviating from gendered stereotypes as the atrocious tragedies that they are, milestones such as that of the legalisation of gay marriage in America will always be bittersweet for those left living in a nations where they may be raped, killed and tortured at any moment, simply for desiring a basic human right; freedom.