Nowhere to Turn: Blackmail and Extortion of LGBT People in Sub-Saharan Africa

"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, 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 and manipulated, and threatened with theft, vandalism, assault, rape, and even murder.

Human rights defenders, non-governmental organizations, 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 by officials in the police and judiciary and by failing 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, and autonomy, violated with impunity, and 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.