Most lesbians have heard it at least once in their lives: all they need is a good screw by the right guy to turn them straight, to "cure" them of being lesbian.
That conventional wisdom, oft-repeated by heterosexual men, has been taken to its most literal extreme in South Africa, where the brutal trend of "corrective rape" claimed another victim on June 30 when Duduzile Zozo, 26, was found murdered.
Duduzile, an out lesbian, was partially naked and a toilet brush had been shoved into her vagina, rupturing it. She was found by her mother, Thuziwe Zozo, about 40 feet from the Zozo home, in a neighbor’s yard.
The neighbor was questioned and released by police, but Mrs. Zozo said she did not understand why he had told people he didn’t know who the victim was, when they were well-acquainted and lived next door to each other. No one else has been questioned in Zozo’s murder, which has garnered national attention and which has — unlike previous corrective rapes — been labeled a hate crime.
Corrective rape of lesbians has become increasingly common. It is practiced in several nations, including Thailand, Ecuador, Jamaica, and Zimbabwe, but nowhere is it as prevelant as in South Africa, where the term originated.
According to the World Health Organization, South Africa leads the world in rapes. It is also the capital of "HIV cure" rapes — essentially, raping toddlers and babies as an alleged cure for HIV, which is pandemic in South Africa. South African officials assert that there are at least 10 "corrective" rapes each week in the Cape Town area alone.
Corrective rape is supposed to cure or "correct" the sexual orientation of lesbians — to turn them heterosexual and make them stop "acting" lesbian and start acting "straight" — behaving more like the gendered stereotype for women. Like honor killings, corrective rape is frequently perpetrated or supervised by members of the lesbian’s family.
Corrective rape is extremely violent, often including stabbing, mutilation, beating, and stoning. It is usually perpetrated by more than one man. It is a leading cause of HIV infection among lesbians. Corrective rape is so brutal and causes such physical and emotional trauma, it leaves the victim scarred for life — or dead.
Mrs. Zozo told the Johannesburg Independent that she had feared for her daughter’s safety because of the frequency of corrective rapes in their Thokoza neighborhood in Ekuhuleni township, about 35 miles outside of Johannesburg, but that "everyone loved her," so she thought Dudu, as her friends called her, would be safe.
But she wasn’t. And as in many of the corrective rape cases that end in murder, there are no leads in finding her killer.
The country’s most infamous case of corrective rape and murder was that of Eudy Simelane, a lesbian rights advocate and former captain of the national women’s soccer team who was training to be the first female World Cup referee for 2010 when she was murdered.
On April 28, 2008, Simelane was left face-down and naked in a drainage ditch in a stream in a park near Johannesburg. Simelane had been beaten savagely. She had been stabbed 25 times, including on the upper inside of her thighs and the soles of her feet. She had also been raped.
Simelane’s killers were brought to trial, but only two of the five men initially charged were convicted. No mention of a hate-crime was made at the trial. Judge Ratha Mokgoathleng did not want to use the word lesbian at all, asking the prosecutor, "Is there another word that you can use instead of that one?"
Simelane’s was the first corrective rape to result in a conviction, but at their sentencing, her killers just laughed.
Since Simelane’s brutal corrective rape murder, the number of these crimes has escalated. In 2011, Zukiswa Gaca told CNN’s "World’s Untold Stories" that she was correctively raped by an acquaintance who told her that he hated lesbians and how they pretended to be men.
Gaca told her rapist, "I’m not a man. I never said I’m a man. I’m just a lesbian." But his response was "I will show you that I am a man and I have more power than you."
Like many victims of corrective rape, Gaca attempted suicide afterward, laying down on nearby railroad tracks. She was saved from death by a good Samaritan who pulled her from an oncoming train.
But when Gaca reported her rape to police, even leading them to her attacker, they merely questioned her attacker and let him go.
It was the second time Gaca had been raped for being a lesbian. The first time, the slender young woman, now 22, was only 15. She had moved to her new township because she thought she’d be safer. She said she would like to kill her rapist, but then she would be in jail while he was still free.