ENOUGH! Online ‘corrective rape’ campaigns & petitions

A Thankful intervention – All this has to stop now! ENOUGH!

17 February 2011
Prepared by Triangle Project

Advocacy, activism and support services to address gender violence experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in South Africa occupies a central space in the work of Triangle Project. On a daily basis we grapple with how best to contribute to the transformation of a society that continues to enforce gender and sexuality norms through violence, and how to ensure that survivors have access to ongoing care and support.

Since the beginning of this year, we have been aware of several online ‘corrective rape’ petitions and campaigns. We have made a deliberate decision not to sign or endorse these petitions. Our position and core concerns regarding these campaigns are as follows.
The public exposure of bruised and battered faces and bodies of survivors is unethical and sensationalist. Many seem to assume that these petitions have been driven at least in part by survivors themselves. If you read carefully through the online petitions and the articles associated with these campaigns, you will find that the voices of survivors are largely absent. Once again black women in Africa are being cast as voiceless victims, as voiceless faces. No consideration seems to be given to the wide-ranging emotional and social impact that this kind of global and local exposure might have on survivors. The harm that this kind of sensationalist exposure is likely to have on survivors, their families and extended networks seems to have been overlooked.

We also have serious concerns about the implications of constructing a campaign around the concept of ‘corrective rape’. The term creates the impression that rape perpetrated against lesbians is a new phenomenon that is quite separate from rape perpetrated against women in general. We need to be careful of creating a false division between the categories ‘lesbian’ and ‘woman’ and ‘anti-lesbian’ and ‘anti-woman’. Rape is a form of gender violence that is rooted in patriarchal and heteronormative systems of control and power. Rape is a means of maintaining control and power over women and their bodies and of policing gender and sexuality norms. These norms prescribe what a woman is, how a woman should behave and stipulate that women’s bodies belong to men. It is precisely for these reasons that lesbian women in particular are targeted.

The main demand of one of the petitions is that ‘corrective rape’ be declared a hate crime with a minimum 25-year sentence. The narrow focus of this demand seems out of place in a country that has no existing hate crime legislation. The petitions seem silent on:
The other forms of violence experienced by lesbians, such as harassment, assault and murder; Violence targeted against transgendered persons and gay men; and Violence targeting other marginalised social groups.

We are concerned about the vague and unsubstantiated statistics used in support of these petitions. Some of these statistics have been circulating in the media for some time. Indeed, some statistics have been erroneously attributed to Triangle Project, when in fact we are very well aware that to date the resources necessary to ascertain the nature, the scope and prevalence of violence targeting LGBTI people in South Africa, have been largely absent.

Our view on the matter of hate crime legislation is that further debate and the collective engagement of various stakeholders is required. Beyond understanding violence against LGBTI people as gendered, it is also essential to interrogate the place of violence against women within the hate crime paradigm and the role of gender in the perpetration of ‘hate crimes’. The discriminatory targeting of women for violence can be said to meet the general ideological basis for what is considered a ‘hate crime’. This is a debate that we have not even begun to enter into in South Africa.

A context such as South Africa, where progressive legislation and extreme levels of gender violence co-exist, poses particular challenges and hard questions to LGBTI and gender activists. It impels us (or at least it should impel us) to engage politics and activism that moves beyond only demands for legislative reform. Hate crime legislation that focuses primarily on the individual perpetrator and issues such as motive and sentence enhancement will have little impact without sufficient focus on the institutional perpetrator and the need to challenge homophobia and heteronormativity in state institutions and within the broader society.

In theory hate crime legislation is created for the protection of the most marginalised groups, yet it is particularly these social groups who struggle to exercise their rights and access justice and resources. Without broader social and political transformation, hate crime legislation will have little benefit for those marginalised on the basis of class, race, geographical location and citizenship status. It is also vital that we guard against the very real danger that hate crime legislation be used as a smokescreen to avoid real systemic change.

We welcome the engagement of other organisations and individuals around the core concerns we have raised.
Responses and questions can be directed to:
Jayne Arnott at director AT triangle.org.za or Jill Henderson at research3 AT triangle.org.za
Tel: 021 448 3812
Fax: 021 448 4089