“Memory is really difficult for me,” she says.
Rebecca doesn’t smoke, but she makes movements with her hands when she’s anxious that give the impression she’s familiar with cigars.
“I can tell you what I remember. What I think I remember. They tell me" – they being the therapists and psychiatrists she’s seen over the years, who talk to and medicate her – “that memory problems are part of PTSD. It’s not just me, is what I’m saying.”
“When I was a kid, I could like boys or girls. It felt natural. I didn’t know words like ‘bisexual’. I’m talking about young, like 7, 8 or 9. I used to create these magazine cut-out collages of rock stars I had crushes on. Jim Morrison was an obsession for a long time. I was seriously in love with him. One day I heard he died, so I transferred my affections to a new love: Patti Smith. I became really obsessed with her too, and I didn’t know it was wrong to say aloud how much I just loved, loved, loved her. I won’t say my grown ups freaked, but there were a lot of sideways glances and changing the subject.
“I can’t swear what happened next was connected, but it happened next. Everything’s glued together in my mind about it all. Right after raving about Patti, we went to visit some relatives that we saw about 3 or 4 times a year. On that visit, a neighbour’s son came and asked for me. That’s all I remember about it, that day and the ones after – he’d knock, he’d ask for me, and my relatives just let me go. I remember he was twice my size, so I guess he was twice my age, about 14 when it started. It went on for a couple of years. He’d walk me down the street to an abandoned house, around back where the weeds had overgrown, and press me up against a boarded over doorway. I’ve no memory of ever seeing his penis, but I know he was very active with his hands and mouth, and he did things a boy his age shouldn’t have been doing with a girl my age. He never said a word to me. Then he would walk me back to my relatives’ house and leave me there.
“I never said anything after that about loving a girl. I just knew that’s what had gotten me in trouble in the first place. That whole thing fixed me.”
Rebecca doesn’t believe her relatives consciously put her in harm’s way, but she’s convinced that something about voicing same-sex desire caused them to stop taking the best care of her. She wonders what the hell they were thinking letting her wander away with a boy that age with no questions – “You tell me, was that natural?” – or whether a ‘good girl’, one who didn’t feel the things she felt (or at least didn’t talk about it), would have been better protected. She feels the experience ‘fixed’ her, as in ‘set her straight’, teaching her lessons about how men could be put in charge of her and whom she was supposed to want and love. Rebecca learned words like ‘bisexual’ and ‘lesbian’ later on, as she grew up, but didn’t have the courage to come out as a bisexual woman until she was much older, when she felt healthy and in control of her life.
Estimates are that a girl born in South Africa today has a greater chance
of being raped than learning how to read.
Rebecca’s story came back to me the day I opened the July 2010 issue of Diva magazine and read about corrective rape in South Africa: “carried out against women who ‘act like men’; lesbians who challenge traditional masculinity and therefore must be ‘fixed’.”
The article tells of the Chosen Few, an all-black lesbian football team that “through sport and football in particular… defend and advance the rights of all women, particularly black lesbian women in South Africa, whilst working for excellence in the sport itself.” By just being part of the team, the women players out themselves and take a political stance that “could cost them – and in some cases, already has cost them – their homes, families and lives.”
The most publicised cases of corrective rape are of nationally renowned footballer Eudy Simelane, who was gang-raped and viciously stabbed to death, and Millicent Gaika, who was raped for over 5 hours, while her attacker taunted her with “You are not a man. I will show you. I will turn you into a woman.” Human rights advocate and editor of lezgetreal.com, Melanie Nathan, claims that “South Africa is the rape capital of the world, with an estimated 500,000 rapes per year.” In 2009, the South African Medical Research Council reported that one in four men had at some point in their lives committed rape, half of them in the past year. There are approximately 10 new cases of corrective rape against lesbians every week in South Africa, Diva reports, but the vast majority go unpunished. The police don’t put effort into these cases, often victimising the women even more with taunts and abuse: “But you are a man, aren’t you? How can you be raped?”
In some ways, in relation to LGBT rights, South Africa outstrips much of the world. “The country’s constitution outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and a 1996 legislation legitimises same-sex unions… [and] the nation’s parliament has also passed a law allowing same-sex marriage, the first to do so in Africa.” Yet the reality on the ground for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is terrifying. In a 2005 survey, “20% of gay and bisexual men and 19% of lesbian and bisexual women reported having been raped or sexually assaulted when they were at school. One in three was physically assaulted in school because of their sexual orientation.”
The ‘fixing’ of lesbian women is not solely South Africa’s problem. It’s humanity’s problem.
South Africa’s corrective rapes do not stand alone as an indictment of one nation and people. The use of rape to abuse and control women (men and children) has its precedents all over the world. Rebecca’s story of the ‘fixing’ of an American girlhood is surely not singular…
- A United States magistrate recently called for the corrective rape of lesbians soldiers by their male comrades in order to “convert” them.
- In Zimbabwe lesbians, gays and bisexuals face harassment and rape by strangers and family members trying to “cure” them.
- A recent Kyrgyzstani report on Violence against Lesbians, Bisexual Women and Transgender Men provided evidence that people “had been raped to punish them for not conforming to gender norms, or to ‘cure’ them.”
- In Iran, women imprisoned for lesbian ‘offenses’ can expect to be raped in prison (“It is extremely well-documented that this happens to women”) while awaiting their sentence of 100 lashes and possibly execution.
If I had time and space, I could scour the internet and print media for instances of how rape is used to punish, control and direct people’s lives the world over. But I want to focus your attention on – and get your support for – the efforts of South Africa’s LGBT community to get corrective rape recognised as a hate crime. A hate crime can be defined as “any act of intimidation, harassment, physical force or threat of physical force directed against any person, or their property or advocate, motivated either in whole or in part by hostility to their real or perceived race, ethnic background, religious belief, sex, age, disability, or sexual orientation.”
31 lesbian women have been murdered (and many others brutalised and maimed) in homophobic attacks in South Africa since 1998, but in only one of these cases has there been a conviction.
“Although South Africa's constitution recognizes rights of gay and lesbian people, its legal system does not view crimes committed against gay and lesbians on the basis of sexual orientation to be hate crimes. The South African legal system must recognize ‘corrective rape’ as a hate crime in addition to a rape in order to establish a greater punishment for this brutal and widespread act of sexual violence.”
SIGN THE PETITION TODAY to urge South African President Kgalema Motlanthe to deem corrective rape a hate crime.
If South Africa succeeds in getting corrective rape established as the hate crime and human rights violation that it is, the reverberations will be felt all over Africa and worldwide. It will establish relief in law for the victims of hate crime in South Africa and set a precedent for other nations to follow. Any form of corrective rape and curative violence is abhorrent and must be stopped. Please take the time to do something today.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
-- Martin Luther King Jr