Photo essay: The Horror of “Corrective Rape” in South Africa

Originally posted by Slate


Zukiswa Gaca, Khayelitsha, Cape Town. In December 2009, Gaca left a party to buy cigarettes. A man she had just met accompanied her. He led her to a shack where someone was sleeping. “He said he was going to show me I was a woman, so he took off his pants and put a blanket over the man sleeping on the bed. He raped me in front of his friend, who just lay there under the blanket,” she said. © Clare Carter

Long before LGBTQ rights were on many countries’ radars, South Africa banned discrimination against gay people in 1996 and legalized same-sex marriage in 2005—the fifth country in the world to do so. Yet many gay men and lesbians in this patriarchal society face extreme and sometimes deadly discrimination. In 2008, a South African lesbian soccer player training for the World Cup was raped and murdered in a crime known as “corrective rape.” The term, believed to originate in South Africa due to its prevalence there, refers to when gay men or women are raped to “cure” them of their sexual orientation; the hate crime is almost never reported or prosecuted.

When British photographer Clare Carter heard of these crimes, she was surprised that the gay community would be so violently targeted. “I didn’t understand the contradictions,” Carter said. “I couldn’t understand why people were being assaulted for having loving relationships and why the individual’s right to choose who they love was causing such conflicts.”

After researching the issue, Carter headed to South Africa on one of many trips she took over a two-year period while working in New York assisting photographer Nan Goldin. She decided to work on a project that was comprehensive enough to show the victims of corrective rape and to underscore the problem’s scope of culpability.

Pearl Mali, Khayelitsha, Cape Town. In 2004 when Mali was 12 years old, she was raped for the first time by an elderly man that her mother brought home from church. He raped Pearl in her own bedroom, which he did daily until she was 16. “My mother didn’t want me to be gay, so she asked him to move in and be my husband. She hoped it would change me,” she said. © Clare Carter
Khayelitsha Township, Cape Town. Khayelitsha is reputed to be the largest and fastest-growing township in South Africa. The name is translated from Xhosa, meaning “New Home.” According to the South African police, 249 sexual crimes were reported between April 2011 and May 2012; however, the majority of sexual crimes go unreported. © Clare Carter
Nono Ntshangan, Nyanga, Cape Town. After Ntshangan’s cousin discovered she was a lesbian, he raped her each time he saw her. She had his daughter in 2000. “He never approved of me being a lesbian. He always wanted me to be a girl,” she said. © Clare Carter

She began by connecting with people involved with NGOs in South Africa—some of whom had been victims of corrective rape—who then put her in touch with other victims. The more she visited and gained the trust of people, the more she would be introduced to victims and to people indirectly involved, including priests who believe homosexuality can be changed and police who often did little to protect those who came forward about their attacks. “It was like peeling an onion,” Carter said. “Just layer upon layer, and there was always more to the story. It’s never black and white: cultural, religious, familial—they all have a hand in what’s happening.”

Despite the country’s progressive laws, South African men use corrective rape as a means of asserting their masculinity and frustration with the liberal laws, Carter said. She said many men don’t like or don’t understand why a woman would wear her hair short or wouldn’t wear a dress. “What I was being told about gender and sexuality [by the perpetrators] was: ‘Why are you stealing our girlfriends? We’re going to rape you and show you what it is like to be a woman,’ ” Carter said. “They don’t understand the relationship between being a woman and feeling attractive to other women.”

To create a visual storyboard of what she discovered, Carter included death certificates, scenes of the crimes, and other shots of evidence. Carter also decided to photograph the women with a classic sense of portraiture, something she said is common in her other work, to capture the women’s bravery. “One might expect survivors to become more insular and protective about who they are after a corrective rape, but most are not—that’s what was so empowering to me,” she said. “Most don’t change the way they dress or act or wear their hair. They are showing that the men who are perpetrating these homophobic attacks aren’t winning, and they are staying true to who they are.”

Carter is currently working on a book about the project. Although she feels the project’s photography is finished, she says her work as an activist and supporter of the NGOs she worked with will continue.

Nqobile Khumalo, Kwamashu Township, Durban. In May 2011, Khumalo was raped and murdered in Kwamashu township, pictured above. Her ex-boyfriend later confessed to the crime, stating that he had killed her because he could not accept that she had left him for another woman. © Clare Carter
Lungile Dladla, Daveyton, Johannesburg. Dladla stands in a field were she and a friend were raped at gunpoint in February 2010. “He started saying he was going to show us that we are women and we are not men. He undressed us first and then tied our hands and feet. I remember thinking, please not again, because my dad had raped me when I was 7,” she said. © Clare Carter
Anelisa. One night in March 2007, Anelisa was raped by a male friend of her girlfriend. She said: “He took me into an alleyway and said, ‘Listen here. I am going to show you that you are not man. You are not going to date a woman while there are men, and you are a girl.’ ” Anelisa became pregnant from the attack. Her child is 5 years old. © Clare Carter
Ntsiki Tyatyeka, Nyanga, Cape Town. Tyatyeka’s mother, seen above at her daughter’s gravesite, last saw her daughter alive on Sept. 3, 2010. Almost one year later, a rumor led her to a man she had suspected to be responsible for her daughter’s disappearance. When she confronted him, he freely admitted to killing the young woman. He even admitted that her body was still in the bin, just some 100 yards from his house. “All that I saw in the bin was a round figure like a head and a few bones. I thought at least I would see her skeleton, but no, just a skull and a few bones,” her mother said. © Clare Carter

2 thoughts on “Photo essay: The Horror of “Corrective Rape” in South Africa

  1. Reblogged this on Tiffany's Non-Blog and commented:
    This is an important story to be told. The tragedy is that these practices melt into the status quo where they are not challenged, not questioned, where they are accepted as normal and eventually even as moral. Bringing out these stories is the only way that these horrific practices may ever change.

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