Two days ago I met with two Swedish researchers for a discussion about their research. Their research is about “corrective rape”, thus the rape of lesbian women because they are gay. The focus of their research is on how therapists and caregivers do hope in the absence of safety and any guarantee that the rape survivors will not have to endure again such violence against.
Sarah and Calle wanted to speak to me about how South Africans understand sexuality, sex and sexual violence. During our discussion I had a profound realisation which I want to share with you.
Ever since I heard the term “corrective rape” it made me extremely uncomfortable. At first I thought it was about the incredible injustice of this violent act, but soon realised it was not only about that. There was more to my discomfort and anger with this term. In my conversation with Sarah and Calle it dawned on me what my discomfort was about.
It was about the term “corrective” rape. This term implied that there was something to be “corrected”. Men rape lesbian women to punish and to “correct” them. Such perpetrators believe that being lesbian is a choice and therefore it can be change. “They just need to have a real man, and then these gay women will change.” Thinking about this made me realise that if we continue to use the term “corrective rape” we are using the language of the perpetrator and therefore give credibility to this mindset. We should reject the term “corrective rape” outright. This kind of rape is not about “correcting” but intends to humiliate, violating and harm another human being. There is nothing “corrective” about this.
I came to the conclusion that this kind of rape is not only about supposedly “correction.” I believe that this kind of rape is rooted in fear and the indignant anger which results from patriarchal discourse. How could a woman even think of rejecting a man by wanting to be with another man? How can a women challenge the system of what is “acceptable” – thus that a women would want to be with a man?
I then thought about what other term could be used. The term needs to portray what this rape is actually about. I thought about the term “unjust rape”, but all rapes are unjust! It left me with the question: “Why do men rape lesbians?” It was not only about power: there is more to it – it is specifically because they are lesbian. It is because lesbians women are judged and find “guilty”. Maybe one should speak of judgmental rape, but this again might imply that there is something to judge. The same goes for discriminating rape.
Maybe we need to use the term homophobic rape, because that is what it is. A hideous and repulsive act of violence based on an irrational phobia of gay people!
We need to be aware that language is powerful. Words can give legitimacy to and even rationalise horrific acts. In future, when you hear the term “corrective rape” you have a choice, you can just accept it, or you can challenge it.