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“Corrective Rape” and Black Lesbian Athletes in South Africa

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ESPN has a new prime time newsmagazine called E:60 featuring profiles, investigations and emerging stories. This 16 minute video and story, by Jeremy Schaap, is incredibly powerful and disturbing. It focuses on the phenomenon of “corrective rape” in South Africa. So-called “corrective rape” is a form of sexual violence directed toward lesbians, particularly lesbian athletes. The intention of “corrective” rapists, in addition to the motivations of violent domination and humiliation characteristic of other rapes, is to teach a lesbian, or a woman assumed to be a lesbian, that she is a woman, that she should stop “acting like a man” and to make her straight.

Several lesbian football (soccer) players have been victims of corrective rape, often a gang rape accompanied by brutal beatings. The most well known instance of corrective rape was Eudy Simelane, a player on the national South African women’s football team and a lesbian activist. She was gang raped, beaten and stabbed 25 times in the face, legs and chest and then her body was dumped in a creek near her home. Her murderers were finally charged after an international outcry. Only two of the four men were convicted. This is a YouTube video about Eudy Simelane:

Sadly, “corrective rape” is primarily a black on black crime in South Africa perpetrated in small, poor townships where the rapists and the women who are targeted often know each other. The rapists are rarely punished and the women must live with the probability of seeing their rapists or being taunted and threatened by them after the attack. Even though South Africa has a progressive constitution with legal protections for LGBT people, hatred and bigotry toward LGBT people is still alive and well.

There is always a danger in focusing on injustice in another culture. That danger is to fail to hold a mirror to one’s own culture and recognize the injustices at home. My intention in writing about “corrective rape” in South African is not to ignore anti-gay bigotry in the United States or to focus on black homophobia as opposed to white homophobia. Anti-gay violence and hatred of women who challenge sexist and heterosexist assumptions are social problems around the world and homophobia and sexism infect all racial and cultural groups. It all makes me angry. It all makes me sad. I don’t want it to also make me feel helpless to do something about it. So, I am writing about it so you can read this and watch the videos if you choose. Then you can help to make others aware of the “corrective rape” of lesbians, particularly lesbian athletes, in South Africa. You can also reflect on homophobia and sexism in your own culture and how women athletes, especially women athletes who challenge gender and sexuality norms, are treated where you live.

There is something else you can do to help the brave women of South Africa who are fighting against “corrective rape.” The men’s World Cup in soccer will be played in South Africa from June 11 to July 14. For those who would like to help South African activists call attention to “”corrective rape” and the indifference of South African authorities to it, there is an online petition sponsored by DailyKos, an online progressive community and news site. You can sign the petition asking that FIFA, the World Cup sponsor to “honor Eudy Simelane and all of the South African women who have suffered "corrective rape" at the hands of homophobic thugs who are rarely even brought to justice in South Africa.”


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