Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Nowhere to turn..

"He came back from time to time to threaten to disclose my identity if I did not give in to his demands."
Kweku, Ghana

"I didn't dare to lodge a complaint. I was afraid they were going to question me and that it would come out that I was gay...I would have risked being locked up in prison."
Alex, Cameroon

"I feel trapped in a cage."
Symon, Malawi

Wherever lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are forced to keep their sexual orientation and gender identity secret for fear of prosecution, violence and other legal and social persecution, blackmail and extortion of LGBT people is endemic. In Africa, where a majority of countries criminalize same-sex sexual activity and where a variety of laws are used to penalize transgressive gender expression, blackmail and extortion are part of the daily lives of many LGBT people who are isolated and vulnerable to abuse.

The Report, Nowhere to Turn: Blackmail and Extortion of LGBT People in Sub-Saharan Africa (PDF) investigates the problem of blackmail and extortion of LGBT in Africa - a challenge that has remained unaddressed for far too long. The report illustrates how LGBT Africans are made doubly vulnerable by the illegality of same-sex activity and the stigma they face if their sexuality is revealed. Based on research initiated in October 2007, the volume features studies by a number of leading African activists and academics on the prevalence and severity of these crimes in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi and Cameroon.

These contributions vividly depict the difficult position that LGBT people are placed in by blackmailers and extortionists - victims are often deterred from seeking help and justice, for fear of further persecution by authorities and communities and can end up being isolated from any supportive community, humiliated, manipulated and threatened with theft, vandalism, rape and even murder.

Human rights defenders, non-governmental organisations and governments have a responsibility to understand that these crimes are a constant reminder of LGBT people's legal and social vulnerability. The report's contributors explore the role the state plays in these crimes by ignoring blackmail and extortion when officials in the police and judiciary fail to ensure that victims are able to safely report incidents and obtain redress. It goes on to argue that states are in fact failing in their human rights obligations by refusing to acknowledge and respond when victims are robbed of their dignity, privacy, their autonomy violated with impunity and they are denied equal access to the protection of the law. The Report's concluding chapter urges attention to the rampant problem of blackmail and extortion of LGBT people and urges States to take concrete steps to reduce the incidence of these crimes by decriminalizing same-sex activity and ensuring that all people are able to access the justice system.

Some excerpts from the Report:

Rashid, a 22 year-old student in Mamobi, met the man who would later blackmail him through a mutual friend. The two had several sexual encounters, until one day Rashid refused to have sex with him. Upon hearing this, the blackmailer removed his clothes and started to yell throughout the communal residence about Rashid’s sexuality. He would not stop until Rashid paid him 200,000 cedis. In these situations, blackmailers take advantage of the presumptive innocence that so often results from speaking up first – by announcing that they have been taken advantage of, the blackmailer immediately puts their victim on the defensive in front of a suspicious public.


Many of the most extreme threats were made by extortionists. Victims who
did not comply with their demands were not only threatened with disclosure, but were also threatened with assault, rape, attacks on friends or family, damage to property, or murder if they did not comply with a set of demands. K.K., a 37-year old bar attendant, was raped at knife-point for several nights by a customer from his shop. K.K. remembers how the customer “came with a knife and fucked me every night,” using the threat of mutilation or murder to force K.K. to have sex with him. The kinds of threats that extortionists made were patently illegal, but without access to the police or the full protection of the law, gay and bisexual men were often helpless to stop them.


Yaw, a 28 year-old
Christian, was alarmed when someone he met through church threatened
to inform other members of the faith community about his homosexuality.
According to Yaw, “he threatened to report me to the church’s elders – saying
that I raped him and paid him off with the things he actually stole from my
room – if I kept on demanding them back from him.”

Here is what the IGLHRC had to say about this in a press release.


Naughty feeling said...

Where is justice?
Where is sanity?
Where are our rights?

Eshuneutics said...

A disconcerting post and a troubling report. Written in 2008, the report is already out-of-touch with the realities-- it pre-dates all the homosexual "witch hunting" in Malawi, for instance. I suppose (underlying the issue) is poverty and fear. The report on Malawi does a lot to describe the problem, but little to analyse its causes: the fear generated by Evangelism and the extent to which it creates its own form of blackmail--convert or be ostracised. And the use of fear to bring rich gay individuals subsequently into the Church under the pretext of salvation. Blackmail is more complex than money, though it is often the root of all evil. Thank you for drawing my attention to this report.