Being Gay in South Africa, Lesbians Fear 'Corrective' Rape

South Africa is considered the most progressive country in Sub-Saharan Africa. The country boasts a developed economy, and has a post-apartheid constitution that stresses equal rights for everyone.

It's one of the few countries in the world with a specific provision in its constitution prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians.

It's also the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa where there are openly gay bars.

But behind the gay-friendly exterior of South Africa, lies the reality: a society that remains, for the most part, virulently homophobic.

VIDEO: Lesbians fear rape by men in South Africa.

Like much of the rest of the continent, attitudes towards homosexuality range from being viewed as unnatural or "un-African" to people calling it "a condition" that comes from and is encouraged by the West. Nowhere is this more evident than in the practice of "corrective" rape: men raping women who have come out as lesbians in an effort to "turn them straight." Many of these woman end up being murdered.

"Corrective rape is a horrific confluence of two things in South Africa: violence against women and a rising tide of homophobia and hatred against homosexuals," Laura Turquet, a women's rights advocate, told ABC News.

Turquet researched and authored a recent report for ActionAid, an international anti-poverty organization, focusing primarily on women's rights. The report found that in the last 10 years at least 31 women had been killed in sexual-orientation hate crimes.

But human rights groups say that number is deceptive. Even though the South African constitution specifically prohibits discrimination against homosexuals, crimes against gays and lesbians are not categorized as hate crimes under the legal system, so violence against lesbians is often not recorded.

"Some of the women we spoke to said that when they went to the police to report being abused sexually, they told us that the police were more interested in asking the women why they were lesbians than investigating the assault," Turquet said.

To date, of the 31 reported cases of corrective rape and subsequent murders, only one person has been convicted. One man pleaded guilty to the rape and murder of Eudy Simelane, a one-time national soccer player and outspoken gay right's advocate. She was murdered in 2007, found gang raped with 25 stab wounds throughout her body. Four other men have been charged.

The trial for three of the men, who have pleaded not guilty is under way. But despite friends' testimony that Simelane had endured constant threats for being an out lesbian, the judge in her killer's case refused to acknowledge that it was a motivating factor, reportedly saying during sentencing that her sexual orientation had "no significance" in her murder.

Police No Help to Victims of 'Corrective Rape'

Many victims of corrective rape said they often don't even bother going to the police. Phumla, a resident of the Soweto township outside of Johannesburg said she was raped by men she trusted after accepting a ride home from soccer practice. Instead of taking her home, they took her to a house where another man awaited and raped her. She said they repeatedly told her they were "teaching her a lesson" throughout the attack.

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