“Sodomized” is not a synonym for “Raped”. Also, the word is not OK.
February 6, 2015
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community is a minority and marginalized group in South Africa. Before the advent of constitutional democracy, gays were hunted, persecuted, imprisoned and sometimes murdered.
Even today, in our shiny new “rainbow nation,” gays still hold the hot end of the rod.
Gays are attacked, mutilated, subjected to so-called “corrective rape” and sometimes murdered. For this reason, our public institutions should be sensitive to the impact of language on this minority group.
The word “sodomy” betrays the entrenched homophobia in South Africa. Sodomy—or male anal penetration—was a common law crime until it was declared unconstitutional in 1998. Today, the word “sodomise” is derogatory; it refers to consensual male sex.
Yesterday, City Press broke a story that six (white) pupils from an agricultural high school in the remote Northern Cape province assaulted a young (black) pupil. They held him down and sexually assaulted or raped him with a broom handle. There is video footage of the incident.
Strangely, the City Press reporter who broke the story does not call the incident “sexual assault” or “rape”. Instead, she says the pupil was “sodomised”. Her choice of words is, possibly, an unwitting mistake. I assume that she meant well. What follows is a clarification.
First, sodomy is not rape. Rape is not sodomy. These two words are not synonyms. Sodomy refers to sexual intercourse through anal perpetration. Generally, the term is used for same-sex (male) anal penetration but would also apply equally to opposite-sex anal penetration.
Sodomy is a lawful sexual act by two consenting adults.
I want to make it clear that anal sex (of whatever form) by persons of consenting age (sixteen years and older) is lawful. Non-consensual anal penetration, with genitalia or an object, is sexual assault or rape.
Finally, do not use “sodomy”. The word is not OK. Like the words nigger, kaffir, or fag, “sodomy” is a relic of a dark past in South Africa. It won’t be OK to call me a kaffir. So too, it won’t be OK to say one adult sodomised another.
Lack of valid consent does not change the meaning of the word. If the act is non-consensual, then it is rape. Full stop! Calling such conduct sodomy is not only blatant reductivism, it entails that the conduct is lawful. Sodomy, and I am repeating myself here, is not a crime in South Africa. The Constitutional Court has said as much!
More importantly, the word maligns an acceptable, legally-protected sexual practice, thus marginalising a minority group. Sodomy—which is reference to “unnatural sexual relations,” such as those imputed to the inhabitants of Biblical Sodom—reinforced biblical stereotypes about same-sex relationships. It is, in the view of the Constitutional Court, unconstitutional.