From corrective rape to acceptance and support

16 April 2019

In the second of a new series of guest blogs from citizen journalists in southern Africa, Thuthu Magagula talks to rape survivors from eSwatini about the needs of LGBTI+ adolescents.

Image of eSwatini rape survivor black female youth

Relatives are often complicit in corrective rape when they should be supporting their lesbian youth.

In eSwatini, where the LGBTI+ community is severely marginalised and criminalised, it‘s all too common for young women to get beaten up by men who are trying to propose, often prompted by the woman self-identifying as a lesbian. She may be assaulted by a man in public and will not get assistance from passers-by.

And even worse, corrective rape is on the rise. In just four months last year at least five women were raped by a relative to ‘correct’ their sexual orientation.

These gross violations of human rights are being documented by Rock of Hope ‘REActors,’ data collectors who log cases of human rights violations within the LGBTI+ and sex worker communities.

Corrective rape pretends to fix what is not broken and irreversible trauma is often compounded by family members not only being unsupportive but also claiming that the assault was deserved.

According to REActor and rape survivor, Nontokozo Gumede, a high percentage of unreported cases of corrective rape among lesbians goes unreported and of those that are, more are carried out by close relatives than by strangers.

“In many of the cases, the perpetrator is trying to change the woman and make her ‘normal’ which heterosexuality is commonly described as opposed to homosexuality. They think being a lesbian is tantamount to being insane and that raping her will help bring her back to her senses,” Nontokozo says.

Younger lesbians are most at risk because they are still dependent on their families, especially financially. Older women know and understand their rights more and have usually moved out of their family homes.

“I think some families are surprised by lesbian teenagers who appear to suddenly change their behaviour and openly say that they’re attracted to women,” says Lungile, a nurse and psychologist who is sensitised to LGBTI+ issues.

“I have encountered lesbians with many social problems and I have discovered that all they need is to be treated with care and respect.”

Nosipho Dlamini, a rape survivor says:

“I felt like the family sat down and planned it, and that my uncle was assigned to do it. When I voiced it out, the family protected him and even threatened me instead of giving me support. As it went on continuously over the years, everyone knew but they all chose to turn a blind eye to what was happening in broad daylight.”

Nosipho speaks of the victim blaming which is often typical of these cases:

“They were ganging up on me… every time I tried to have the issue addressed, the response I got was that I should change my behaviour and dress code.”

There’s a lot of fear, even where one should feel free and comfortable. Some girls leave home at a very young age and struggle to make a living. Alcohol and drug abuse among lesbians staying in one-room houses in informal settlements is common. They use substances as a coping mechanism.

Dealing with all this stress in isolation often leads to low self-esteem which is a high trigger for suicide.

“Instead of getting support, my sister said I had thrown myself at her husband; and that it wasn’t possible that he had raped me,” says Nontokozo.

“One cold Friday, while heavily pregnant with a child I hadn’t asked for, I overdosed on tablets and woke up in pain. I cried myself to sleep for two weeks. I felt my life had been ripped away. Drugs made me feel safe in my own world. But then I had to face reality and that is when I considered suicide.”

“These monsters must be arrested and the keys thrown away, and families and police officers must be sensitised about these matters,” says Nosipho. “There’s a big information gap when it comes to how we deal with minority issues as a society.”

The more that REActors are visible in communities, the more people will be able to talk about what’s going on, without being censored by relatives at the very least. At best, families will become sensitised to the needs of LGBTI+ adolescents, and be supportive of their right to choice.

Image: Key Correspondents

Author: Thuthu Magagula

Thuthu is an LGBTI+ activist from eSwatini. He leads interventions that seek to improve the lives of marginalised people and create enabling environments, working extensively with national and regional stakeholders.

Thuthu studied law at university and became a human rights defender upon graduating in 2010. He was keen to create positive change and so joined The Rock of Hope, an LGBTI + organisation, focused on rights initiatives and advocacy in 2011.