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EDITORIAL - Rape 'cure': When women face brutality for sexual orientation

Written by Susan Mannella on .

A recent report was issued on the treatment of women that should infuriate every person of conscience regardless of politics, nationality or sexual orientation.

"Hate Crimes: The Rise of Corrective Rape in South Africa" revealed that lesbians are being targeted in the country's cities and rural townships by men who want to "cure" them of homosexuality. The account was prepared by the international NGO ActionAid, backed by the South African Human Rights Commission.

Last year, Eudy Simelane, the star of South Africa's women's soccer team and an equality rights campaigner, was gang-raped and murdered, activists say, because she was open about being a lesbian. Despite the confession of one rapist, the presiding judge said Ms. Simelane's sexual orientation played "no significance" in her killing. In July, three more men will go on trial for the crime.

In 2007, the brutal double rape and murder of Salome Massooa and Sizakele Sigasa horrified many, but failed to generate legislation to thwart the targeting of lesbians.

ActionAid says that up to 10 "corrective" assaults are made on lesbians a week in South Africa. The attacks have resulted in 31 murders since 1998. Because the police and political authorities don't take the crime seriously, this figure may dramatically under-count the number of victims.

Even without factoring in the rape and murder of lesbians, South Africa has one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the world. Civilized societies should be enraged by the unresponsiveness of South Africa's police and political leaders to these harrowing reports.

In a country where any rape trial is rare, the prosecution of such crimes based on sexual orientation never happens. The trial of the three men accused of raping Eudy Simelane will put a much-needed international spotlight on South Africa's criminal justice system and its deplorable attitude toward women in general and lesbians in particular.

  

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