Hate crimes
Latest on hate crimes: Stats increases
… not yet liberated

The day is the 23rd of May 2005, and I’m out of town to do work in KZN. The message came in on my cell phone from the survivor who told me that she been bashed, bruised and has suffered a fractured hand. She doesn’t know what to do next even though she reported the case at the nearby police station. She told me she lives in fear now, as she is not sure what the guys who beat her—and are walking freely—will do next.

I felt helpless as I could not attend this woman in pain, nor could I record this latest case of hate crime that was reported to FEW on time. Three days later my colleagues managed to support and deal with the matter. Mainly, what FEW offers is a safe space, counselling and emotional support to the survivors, as well as direction to the appropriate service providers.

This is a fairly typical story though this woman is real and not just a “case.” She is a 24–year-old lesbian who lives in Vaal, Sebokeng where we, as an empowerment organisation, held the ‘16 days of activism’ intervention campaign late last year. The excruciatingly frustrating part is that I know with certainty that she is not the only one who has experienced hate crime against her body, against her identity. But for whatever reason, she managed to handle her case to report it, and to speak to someone about what happened to her. Others are too vulnerable to speak out about their daily issues and experiences, about the challenges that come with living their gendered sexuality.

Over a year ago in 2004, 4 rape cases of hate crimes were reported to the various local police stations around Johannesburg, and the current one of mentioned above is of bashing. The 4 young lesbian—all under the age of 24— were brutally rape in Kagiso, Ratanda, Mohlakeng and Meadowlands (Soweto) by men who were not strangers to them. Three of these women had never before had sexual contact or intercourse.

Not one of these cases has seen any meaningful results and justice. No one has been convicted for the kind of hate crimes that are tearing into our communities, decaying our sense of freedom, liberation, bodily autonomy, and above all, our sense of safety as women in this country.

It is so ironic that the very same year that South Africans celebrated our progressive Constitution and a decade of democracy, there was a simultaneous process of silence and silencing of the experiences of lesbian and bisexual women out there, especially women who are unemployed, poor, and living in marginalized spaces. Interestingly, there was a brief buzz in the mainstream media over a case of a white lesbian woman who reported having been [(check on internet article: Lesbian 'raped by cops':
13/09/2004 07:02 - (SA) by Marida Fitzpatricke].

The mainstream journalists craved the details for what was seen as a ‘newsworthy’ story. And more briefly still, FEW received calls from different media sources asking for the names of lesbian women who suffered the victimization. And yet today, we know nothing further about the case—was there a conviction? Did she drop the charges?

On ‘Freedom Day,’ this past April, FEW commemorated once again the Rose Has Thorns campaign that was launched initially on April 27, 2003. Back then, 4 lesbians publicly related their stories of experiencing hate crime, which led many other women to begin to verbalize their own experiences of being the target of hate speeches, eviction from their homes, of physical and sexual assault simply because they refuse to live their lives as ‘straight’ women. We can tell a lot about the insidious, and specifically gendered nature of lesbophobia from the fact that most of those who experienced hate crimes in the form of rape are those who happen to identify as ‘butch.’ In almost all cases, the perpetrators are men who were known to them.
As a community of lesbians, of gender, women’s and sexual rights activists, what we cannot hide away from is the very reality that ‘butches’ are specifically raped not only because they are lesbians, but also because they are lesbian women who do not conform to gendered stereotypes of ‘womanhood’ and femininity. These lesbian women identify with a type of masculinity that discomforts and disorganizes and threatens heterosexual ‘male’ masculinity to such an extent that the punishment these lesbians face is carried out in an explicitly sexually-violent way. As a result, we must always analyze how punishment is doled out, what form does it take, and by who against whom is it perpetrated? When the violence is of a sexual nature, we cannot assume that it is issues of sexuality that are at the centre of the motivation. Rather we must deal with the inseparability of sexuality and gender and realize that one produces the other.

It is at precisely that very intersection of gender and sexuality that mainstream women’s organizations and ‘gender’ departments, various service providers, and non-heterosexual women can ‘meet’ in order to join hands, resources, and networks so that violence against all women can be challenged more effectively.

So far more thousand signatures were collected from all those people who supports the campaign, we hope that at the end the state will support and impose anti-hate crimes legislation.


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