The Triangle Project has slammed the alleged homophobic assault of a teenage suspect by police officers in Gugulethu, Cape Town.

The victim of the alleged assault, Banele Qhina (19), was walking home with his siblings when two police officers stopped to search them. The police are reported to have brutally assaulted and verbally abused the gay youth at the scene and later at the station when they learned of his sexual orientation. Qhina has laid a charge against the officers.

“It was horrible. He insulted me about my boyfriend’s picture I had as a screensaver on my cell-phone. He joked to a colleague that he should stop beating me because ‘maybe he is pregnant,’” Qhina told Triangle. He himself has since been cleared of any charges in court.

Vista Kalipa, Media Coordinator for Triangle, said that, “We unequivocally label this incident as a hate crime. It is particularly disturbing that in this instance members of the SAPS (South African Police Service), to whom gay and lesbian people should be able to turn for protection or to report hate crimes, have displayed such blatant homophobia against a defenceless youth.”

A recent study conducted by Triangle Project, in partnership with UNISA’s Centre for Applied Psychology, revealed widespread victimisation of gay and lesbian people throughout the Western Cape.

Sixty five percent of gay and lesbian respondents had experienced some form of victimisation, ranging from verbal abuse to assault and sexual abuse. These incidents are very rarely reported to the police; a disturbing 66% of respondents felt they wouldn’t be taken seriously by members of the SAPS.

“We look to the police to serve and protect us. It is disconcerting to hear of incidences like this still happening in our communities,” said Kalipa. He added that this is not the first time that the Gugulethu police have displayed improper treatment to gay and lesbian people.

“A couple of years ago a similar incident happened when a young gay man went to report robbery to the Gugulethu Police Station. He was later taken into custody and was harassed by the same police he hoped would help him,” he said.

Glenn de Swardt, Health Services and Research manager at Triangle Project, commented: “Social institutions with a particularly patriarchal ethos may have difficulty in recognising and acknowledging how homophobic and prejudiced they actually are.”

“In this light, gay and lesbian people are often justified in being particularly wary of exposing their sexual orientation to the police. This makes it impossible for us to determine the true extent of hate-crimes perpetuated on the grounds of sexual orientation. I suspect we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg”, he said.

De Swardt adds that Triangle Project has offered specialised counselling services to the youth who suffered the assault.

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