SOUTH AFRICA, confronts sexual violence and discrimination

In South Africa — a country often referred to as the murder and rape capital of the world—one group of women are especially at risk.

Lesbians are increasingly the targets of a particularly heinous crime: “curative” or “corrective” rape, which perpetrators believe will change their sexual orientation. We travel to South Africa to meet several survivors, who are speaking out to confront sexual violence and discrimination.

Corrective rape is a hate crime in which a person is raped because of their perceived sexual or gender orientation. The common intended consequence of the rape, as seen by the perpetrator, is to “correct” their orientation, to turn them heterosexual, or to make them “act” more in conformity with gender stereotypes.

The term was coined in South Africa after well-known cases of corrective rapes of lesbians like Eudy Simelane and Zoliswa Nkonyana became public. There are many health ramifications associated with corrective rape, and although some countries have laws protecting LGBT people, corrective rape is often overlooked.

Corrective rape is the use of rape against people who violate social norms regarding human sexuality and gender roles, often lesbians are raped by heterosexual men and gay men are raped by women, with a goal of punishment of “abnormal” behavior and reinforcement of societal norms.

The crime was first identified in South Africa, where it is sometimes supervised by members of the woman’s family or local community, and is a major contributor to HIV infection in South African lesbians. Corrective rape has also been known to occur in Thailand, Ecuador, Canada, and Zimbabwe. Corrective rape and the accompanying violence can result in physical and psychological trauma, mutilation, HIV infection, unwanted pregnancy, and may contribute to suicide.


In February 2007, the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation was contracted by the South African government to carry out a study on the nature of crime in South Africa.

The study concluded that the country is exposed to high levels of violence as a result of different factors, including:

  • The normalization of violence. Violence comes to be seen as a necessary and justified means of resolving conflict, and males believe that coercive sexual behavior against women is legitimate.
  • The reliance on a criminal justice system that is mired in many issues, including inefficiency and corruption.
  • A subculture of violence and criminality, ranging from individual criminals who rape or rob to informal groups or more formalized gangs. Those involved in the subculture are engaged in criminal careers and commonly use firearms, with the exception of Cape Town where knife violence is more prevalent. Credibility within this subculture is related to the readiness to resort to extreme violence.
  • The vulnerability of young people linked to inadequate child rearing and poor youth socialization. As a result of poverty, unstable living arrangements and being brought up with inconsistent and uncaring parenting, some South African children are exposed to risk factors which enhance the chances that they will become involved in criminality and violence.
  • The high levels of inequality, poverty, unemployment, social exclusion and marginalization.


According to a survey for the period 1998–2000 compiled by the UN, South Africa was ranked first for rapes per capita.  The incidence of rape has led to the country being referred to as the “rape capital of the world”.

One in three of the 4,000 women questioned by the Community of Information, Empowerment and Transparency said they had been raped in the past year.

More than 25 per cent of South African men questioned in a survey published by the Medical Research Council (MRC) in June 2009 admitted to rape; of those, nearly half said they had raped more than one person. Three out of four of those who had admitted rape indicated that they had attacked for the first time during their teens.

South Africa

Currently in South Africa, women have less sexual and economic power than men. One of the factors associated with this inequality is strict gender roles, which has led to one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world. Corrective rape is used as a “punishment” for people who are gay or do not fit traditional gender roles (usually women), where often they are verbally abused before the rape by the perpetrator saying things, such as that they will be “teaching [the women] a lesson” on how to be a “real woman.”

Because women have less control over their economics, which creates economic vulnerability, they have less control over their own sexual activities. Poor, black women who live in townships are more likely to become victims of corrective violence, and gay women are more likely to be isolated with little support, which increases their chances of being targeted.

Corrective rape is not recognized by the South African legal system as a hate crime despite the fact that the South African Constitution states that no person shall be discriminated against based on their social status and identity, including sexual orientation. Legally, South Africa protects gay rights extensively, but the government does not do anything to prevent corrective rape, and women do not have much faith in the police and their investigations. Crimes based on sexual orientation are not expressly recognized in South Africa; corrective rape reports are not separated from general rape reports.

In December 2009, there had been 31 recorded murders of lesbians in South Africa since 1998, but only one had resulted in a conviction. In the last twenty years, attitudes toward homosexuality have become worse in South Africa.

Corrective rape is on the rise in South Africa. More than 10 lesbians are raped or gang-raped weekly, as estimated by Luleki Sizwe, a South African nonprofit. It is estimated that at least 500 lesbians become victims of corrective rape every year and that 86% of black lesbians in the Western Cape live in fear of being sexually assaulted, as reported by the Triangle Project in 2008. Yet, victims of corrective rape are less likely to report it because of the negative social view of homosexuality. Under-reporting is high for sexually violent crimes, thus the number of corrective rapes are likely higher than what is reported.

One South African man stated, “Lesbians get raped and killed because it is accepted by our community and by our culture.”

South Africa also has among the highest incidences
of child and baby rape in the world.

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