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“Taking Off the Mask” to Screen at International Documentary Festival

  • June 10, 2021

Just Detention International-South Africa (JDI-SA) is thrilled to share that “Taking Off the Mask: Isak’s Story” — a documentary about one man’s journey of survival and healing following years of sexual abuse in a South African prison — was selected for the 23rd Edition of the Encounters South African International Documentary Festival.

The documentary’s inclusion in the festival takes on greater significance given that June is Pride Month. While anyone can be raped in prison, people who are LGBTIQ+, or simply perceived to be LGBTIQ+, are among those most at risk. Misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia are rampant behind bars. In men’s facilities, for example, anyone seen as not sufficiently “manly” is routinely targeted. The recent spate of hate crimes against LGBTIQ+ people in the outside community is mirrored by the sexual abuse of LGBTIQ+ people behind bars. This violence, wherever it occurs, is fuelled by the belief that queer people are not real “men” or “women”, and are therefore fair game for violence and abuse.

It is vital that we recognise the sexual abuse of LGBTIQ+ people behind bars as the hate crime and gender-based violence that it is. As long as this violence is allowed to continue, it plays a role in preserving and intensifying rape culture in broader society. Once a male prisoner has been raped, for example, he is considered to have lost his “manhood”, while the perpetrator is viewed as retaining his masculinity. Hundreds of thousands of inmates who are released back into our communities every year — whether victims, perpetrators, or those who have witnessed this violence — have been schooled in the notion that sexual violence is a hallmark of manhood, and that women are the sexual property of men.

We hope that this film’s festival debut will not only sensitise people to the plight of survivors of sexual abuse in detention, but also strengthen the fight for the rights of all LGBTIQ+ people, including those who are behind bars.