‘Lesbians Don’t Take The Train’
You cannot rape a woman to make her straight but some men are trying their damndest. In fact, some men in South Africa are trying their damndest to rape women, children and other men (particularly young boys and those in prison).
By Jennifer Thorpe
The trains in Cape Town, although irregular, are the cheapest form of transport. Normally a short taxi distance costs R5 where a long train distance costs R7. For some of those reading this, that might only mean the difference between a coffee and cappuccino, but for many South African women, the difference is substantial.
What’s the relevance of train versus taxi to rape in SA? It’s this: when talking about arranging for a delegation of black lesbians to come from Gugulethu to the city centre, I suggested the train. Yet, this idea was rejected with little hesitation. Why?
The problem is not as simple as a sneer or a look away. The problem is systemic violence against women, heterosexist norms that further designate lesbian women as viable victims of violence for perpetrators, and patriarchy. The issue I am talking about is corrective rape. For those of you ostrich-ducking to avoid learning about this issue, it is one of extreme complexity and seriousness and worth every second of your tea break and a substantial amount more.
The beautiful deception of national crime statistics means that we cannot disaggregate statistics to find out more about the nature and prevalence of rape, nor any more about its perpetrators in South Africa, nor can we assume that all rape survivors report their rape. So essentially, it is impossible to provide sufficient services for survivors because it is impossible to know the scale of the problem and where resources are needed.
On Monday at 11am a group of representatives from some organisations working with “corrective rape” survivors will meet with the minister of justice and constitutional development to discuss the issue of corrective rape and the intersecting issues of sexual violence, anti-LGBTI violence and hate crimes. The hope is that from this meeting the department of justice will instigate a multi-sectoral commission to investigate the nature and scale of corrective rape, establish the mechanisms necessary to improve support for survivors and provide sufficient resources for this commission to exercise its mandate. What must be central to this process is respect for the survivors of corrective rape, opportunity for them to share their voices and the empowerment of survivors so that they can choose the level of their involvement in the process. Their images should not be used without their permission and they should never be forced to be the face of corrective rape. Past mistakes must be avoided and the protection of survivors must be key.
The burden for carrying this process forward should not rest solely on these organisations’ shoulders.
It is also an opportunity for self-reflection. How much does each of us do to further negative stereotypes and social norms that make rapists more able to justify their actions? If, when we hear a question like that, we jump to the defensive, are we doing anything to end corrective rape and promote positive social norms that prevent rape?
Hopefully on Monday, government will answer “everything we can”. To encourage them to do so, why don’t you pop on down to Parliament at 10am and have your say?