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Sarah Starrenburg

Why We Need Men

Posted on Jan 31, 2011 in Politics, Society | 5 comments

The first time I heard the two words put together, just a few days ago, my brain struggled to comprehend what it could possibly mean.

‘Corrective Rape’.

The mind recoils from even the suggestion. That these two words even exist together as a phrase is an appalling indictment on the depth of human depravity.

Yet this phrase does exist. And, what’s sadder, it exists as a descriptor for a particularly ugly kind of violence against women.

Millicent Gaika (right, pictured) knows about this phenomenon first hand. The South African woman was bound, strangled, tortured and raped for five hours by a man who boasted that he was ‘curing’ her of her lesbianism. This is the face of so-called ‘Corrective Rape’ – a heinous crime whereby men, specifically in South Africa, rape lesbian women in order to ‘turn them straight’.

Though post-apartheid South Africa was the first country in the world to constitutionally protect its citizens from discrimination based on sexuality, it is a culture of the worst kind of patriarchy. President Jacob Zuma himself (below, pictured) stood trial for rape as recently as 2006, and a South African girl born today is more likely to be raped than she is to learn to read. Perhaps this is not surprising, since a 2009 survey by the country’s Medical Research Council found that one in four men admits to raping someone. Moreover, 62 per cent of boys over 11 believe that forcing someone to have sex is not an act of violence, with a third of these believing that girls enjoy rape.

All this in a country with the world’s largest population of HIV-positive individuals.

It’s so very, very wrong.

It’s wrong the way that kidnapping little boys, arming them with assault rifles and forcing them to attack their own villages is wrong. It’s wrong the way that sterilising Jewish women and performing medical experiments on them in concentration camps is wrong.

Some things are beyond discussion, or politics, or opinion. There’s no room for devil’s advocate here, no back and forth, no particular contexts or cultural relativity. They’re Just Wrong.

And anyone who entertains for even a second that that might not be the case, needs to seriously re-examine their humanity.

It’s disgusting. It’s sickening. It’s obsene.

But it’s more than any of these things.

‘Corrective Rape’. Seriously – how do you even begin to describe how wrong that is? I can barely bring myself to use the phrase and dignify this abominable euphemism as if it’s in any way representative of reality.

In fact, there seems to me only one thoroughly fitting descriptor for the ugliness and depravity of the whole situation.

It is, quite simply, fucked up.

So what can you do about corrective rape in South Africa? Well, you can sign the petition that over 140,000 people have signed, and add weight to the call for President Zuma to take action.

Perhaps you can personally make a real difference in South Africa. Perhaps not.

But what you can do, what you must do, is be sickened, be appalled, be outraged. And then stay that way whenever you see or hear something similar.


Because, as Dumisani Rebombo (right, pictured) ,  a South African man who raped a school friend as a teenager and 20 years later – after the rare step of seeking out the woman to apologise – is now a gender activist, explains, “We live in a society that has known so much violence for so much time that it becomes normalised,” he says. “People don’t shudder and jump when they hear these things….There are men who don’t rape but when they see these atrocities around them they remain silent. When they speak out, we will win the battle.”

We must shudder. We must jump. When we see even the beginning of behaviour such as this, we must speak out. We must guard the culture we are part of.

This is especially true for men.

We need you men. This behaviour…this is not you. This is not your gender. This is not who you are. I know this. Many women know this.

But too many don’t.

Too many women don’t know the kind of men I know. Good men; strong men; protective men. Men who would never for a second think there is really such a thing as corrective rape; never suggest its legitimacy.

And we need you – I need you – to uphold that standard. To guard against the smallest devaluing of female worth. To reject even the beginning of male sexual entitlement.

We need your voice. We need your strength. Now more than ever.

Because rape, ‘corrective’ or otherwise, isn’t a women’s issue. Rape is a men’s issue.

And we need men to fight it.



Nkalen, Michael, ‘Protest against “corrective rape”‘, Sowetan Live, Jan 6, 2011.

Shields, Rachel, ‘South Africa’s Shame: The Rise of Child Rape’, The Independant, May 16, 2010.

Smith, David, ‘We have a major problem in South Africa’, The Guardian, Nov 18, 2010.

Medical Research Council of South Africa, ‘Preventing Rape and Violence in South Africa: Call for Leadership in a New Agenda for Action’, MRC Policy Research Brief, Nov 2009.

Kelly, Annie, ‘Raped and Killed for Being a Lesbian: South African ignores “corrective” attacks’, The Guardian, Mar 12, 2009.

Mkize, Nonhlanhla, ‘Cloud over the Rainbow Nation’, Human Sciences Research Council, Vol. 5, No. 1, Mar 2007.

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Dear Mums

Posted on Jan 6, 2011 in Life, Society | 2 comments

Tonight I took a leisurely trip to Chermside shopping centre. The after-christmas sales crowds had, happily, dispersed, and so after quickly finding a park near the entrance, I went merrily about my business. I returned a dress that was faulty, stopped into priceline’s beauty products, picked up a coffee and some beans for the grinder at home, and found a jacket that was just what I had been looking for.

It was a thoroughly lovely single girl Thursday night.

And then I saw them. Or rather, I heard them. Along with everyone else in, well, roughly a 5 kilometre radius. A mum and her toddler. A toddler who was, it is no exaggeration to say, going absolutely Nuclear. We’re talking mushroom clouds and vast swathes of destruction here.

I really try not to look when a child is in tantrum mode, because I know it must be hard enough for a parent without feeling like everyone is looking, but this little one was going postal in the most un-ignorable way, and so I did look.

The mum saw me look right at them.

She probably thought I was judging her.

Of all the thoughts I had at that moment, can I just say, mums, that judgement was the last thing on my mind. That woman, bless her, was not only staying calm, but staying engaged. She didn’t lose her temper, though it must have taken every shred of self-control not to. And she didn’t tune the little girl out, and just give up on the situation. She stayed calm, and engaged.

I was in awe and complete respect.

I wanted to go up to her and tell her what a good job she was doing, at doing the hardest job in the world.

But I didn’t. There was no way to cross the distance and do it with any subtlety or naturalness, so I didn’t say it to her.

But if you’re a mum, and you’re reading this, I want to say it to you.

You’re amazing. Please don’t think that a look from a girl in work clothes carrying a coffee and shopping bags is a look of judgement. If they’re anything like me, it’s a look of admiration.

And, let me say this time – you are doing a great job at doing the hardest job in the world.

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