Lesbian ‘witches’ chained and raped by families in Cameroon

She was enchanted: concluding herself with an unhappy resignation – tired of wrestling with her sexual attraction towards girls – Viviane, a 14-year-old attending a dreary Sunday morning church service – Openly (2 Oct) in YAOUNDE.

She had long been told that liking someone of the same sex could be seen as a sinful act, but it was not the only sin that could be cast as sinister in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, both in church and at school.

“I thought it was a bad spirit that invaded her girlfriend’s phone when she told me with a rueful laugh that she sought asylum in France – I didn’t see girls like her anywhere else.”

“So I began to pray in order to make it disappear.”

After discovering that she was a lesbian, Viviane was forcibly married to a man who violently raped her and later chained her to a wall. Despite her prayers, her attempts to escape her forced family failed for four years.

In Ecuador, India, and South Africa, gay individuals who are believed to have a mental illness called homosexuality are subjected to corrective rape by vigilantes, strangers, and even their own families.

Sometimes, when it rains heavily, the screams of gay Cameroonians are muffled by the pounding rain on tin roofs or under the cover of darkness, as reported by Thomson Reuters Foundation.

It is often arranged by other family members, who regularly take the law into their own hands, that witches or cursed individuals who have lesbian and gay relatives are responsible for murdering, raping, and torturing.

In Cameroon, witchcraft is widely believed in. Even though it is illegal to practice black magic, many families consult sorcerers to ‘cure’ their relatives of homosexuality, with little intervention from the authorities.

Same-sex relationships are taboo across Africa, with some of the world’s most prohibitive laws against homosexuality in place, resulting in gay people routinely being blackmailed, assaulted, and raped, and facing punishments ranging from imprisonment to death.

The 2017 report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) found that a total of 33 African countries criminalize same-sex relationships, which accounts for 54 nations.

CAMFAIDS, an LGBT+ advocacy organization, reported that a minimum of 50 individuals were found guilty of various offenses, including wearing clothing typically associated with the opposite sex and sending a message expressing affection (“I love you”) from one man to another, during the period of 2010 to 2014 in Cameroon. It is important to note that engaging in homosexual activities in this country carries a penalty of imprisonment for five years.

As per the findings of Human Rights Watch, Michel Engama, the leader of CAMFAIDS, stated that the level of violence against the LGBT+ community is escalating. Additionally, Eric Ohena Lembembe, who held the position before him, tragically lost his life in 2013. His body was discovered with a broken neck and his face had been subjected to burning with an iron.

Humanity First Cameroon, an umbrella organization for the LGBT+ community, stated that nearly 600 homophobic attacks and violations were documented in Cameroon last year, with approximately 20% of lesbians and 10% of gay men reporting incidents of sexual assault.

Advocates argue that the actual magnitude of the issue is probably far more severe as the majority of assaults remain undisclosed.

CLEANSING.

Viviane’s family assaulted and whipped her after they uncovered graphic text messages she had sent to her girlfriend.

The local witch doctor took her to their village, where her brothers and aunt forced her to drink concoctions made of hot pepper-infused chicken blood, justifying it as a ritual “cleansing” and inserting it into her anus.

She clarified that there was an opportunity to find a husband who was a pastor in the church and explained that it was not a consideration that he was older than 30 years and had two wives.

She expressed, “There was no conversation regarding it,” including that even prior to notifying her of the agreement, her family obtained the dowry from the clergyman.

“To them, I was akin to a necklace they sold.”

Viviane declared that her spouse could never be compared to such an allegation, notwithstanding the fact that sexual assault is a punishable act in Cameroon.

She stated, “If you accuse him of rape, you are likened to the devil. Furthermore, it is impossible for god to commit rape. A pastor in Cameroon is revered as a deity.”

In 2016, following her departure from an LGBT+ seminar in Yaounde, Frederique bravely shared her experience of being sexually assaulted by a cab driver, while Viviane decided that her safest choice was to escape from Cameroon.

The driver halted in a desolate section of the city, where they both sexually assaulted her, tormenting her with allegations of being a homosexual and a sorceress, before picking up another man and taking her away.

The 33-year-old woman, who shared her story with hundreds of girls in Cameroon during workshops on LGBT+ and sexual health awareness, stated, “They kept shouting at me, indicating that I deserved this punishment because they were trying to correct me.”

“If I had reported it, I would’ve been seen not as a victim but rather as someone who deserved what had happened.”.

She is convinced that her choice to voice her opinion rescued her existence.

Frederique said she had almost killed herself, fighting back tears. She felt completely depressed, isolated, and alone, and I also had a friend who had been raped.

I wanted to denounce the perpetrators so that it would stop. I didn’t want other girls to go through this like I did, to be a victim like me. I was also very angry. But… I thought of doing the same thing.

It is not easy, she said, to gather lesbians in Cameroon who live with caution and secrecy, constantly changing the names of public places where they communicate using code.

“We persist in our struggle, despite facing dual discrimination – firstly as females, and secondly as lesbians,” she expressed.

Engama of CAMFAIDS understands that even with these precautions, the tragic incident where 20-year-old Kenfack Tobi Aubin Parfait was fatally assaulted by his elder sibling due to his perceived sexual orientation serves as a reminder that safety cannot be guaranteed.

“It’s a genuine battle fought against us,” expressed Engama, who frequently encounters menacing messages of demise.

“However, we will persist in our fight until they become exhausted … Nobody will grant us liberty. We must seize it.”