Eight men and women, ages 18 to 53, have been charged with kidnapping, rape, murder, unlawful possession of a firearm, and obstruction of justice in South Africa. Their victims, Joey van Niekerk, 32, and Anisha van Niekerk, 30, went missing after leaving their home for a funeral in Pretoria. On December 16, their burned car was spotted, and eight days, later charred bones, which investigators believe belonged to the married lesbian couple, were discovered near their home.
Wynand van Niekerk, Anisha’s brother, wrote on Facebook that the last few weeks had been “a nightmare” and thanked the community for supporting their family through this heartbreaking time.
The rape and murder of this lesbian couple was not the first such crime in South Africa in 2017. Last April, Nonkie Smous was killed in a similar way. Her childhood friend, Nthabiseng Mokanyane, called on the South African government and religious leaders to help keep the women in the community safe.
“Since Nonkie’s death, people feel they can get away with everything,” said Nthabiseng. “Women identifying as butch lesbians are particularly singled out—being harassed for ‘thinking they are men’ and being threatened about the need to be ‘taught they are women.’” This particular act, assaulting someone to “fix” them because of their sexual orientation, is called corrective rape.
In 2012, South Africa had the highest rates of rape reported to police of any country. According to the United Nations, the number of rapes in South Africa documented by the police that year rose to over 64,000—or 175 per day. This statistic is likely is lower than the actual number of rapes, since many go unreported. According to The Independent, no statistics on corrective rape in South Africa have been compiled.
“There is a need for very strong signals to be sent to all rapists that sexual violence is absolutely unacceptable and that they will have to face the consequences of their terrible acts. The entrenched culture of sexual violence which prevails in South Africa must end,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in 2013. Her statement was in response to the rape, mutilation, and murder of 17 year-old Anene Booysen.