Blackmail and Extortion of LGBT People in Sub-Saharan Africa

Ryan Richard Thoreson

On June 2, 2010, the anonymous blogger at GayUganda posted a threatening letter sent by a group calling itself the National Anti-Homosexual Taskforce. The letter was written to someone who GayUganda called “Mr. Semakula Zilaba,” and described just how much the Taskforce knew about him – his age, where he went to school, where he worked, details about his wife and child, and his whereabouts on certain days and times. The letter’s authors then demanded a list of all the homosexuals that Semakula knew in Kampala and Jinja. They also demanded a letter denouncing homosexuality that they could use to show that they were eradicating homosexuality in Uganda. If the demands were not met, the letter stated, the Taskforce would expose Semakula to his family, friends, employer, and neighbours, would get him fired and blacklisted from future employment, and would publicize his sexuality in every neighbourhood in which he tried to live in the future. It also implied that Semakula’s friends faced physical harm if they themselves failed to comply with the demands of the Taskforce.

It is difficult to overstate the terror and helplessness that these types of threats evoke for their victims. In places where it is illegal, stigmatizing, or dangerous to identify as LGBT or to engage in same-sex activity, keeping one’s sexuality a secret may be, quite literally, a matter of life or death.

In 38 countries across the continent of Africa, same-sex activity is criminalized and one has only to look at the reports of human rights organizations to see evidence of the violence and discrimination unleashed on LGBT people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The profound repercussions that would stem from the disclosure of sexual secrets and the vulnerability this creates allow people, like the authors of the letter on GayUganda, to keep LGBT people in a debilitating state of fear and worry and to manipulate their lives for gain – even as their victims go to great lengths to protect their secrets. The gravity of the consequences of disclosure – beyond creating vulnerability – also deters victims from seeking support, reporting these crimes and seeking justice.

The letter posted on GayUganda is not unusual. Of all of the violations that LGBT people in sub-Saharan Africa deal with, blackmail and extortion are perhaps the most prevalent – and the least visible. A recent survey of men who have sex with men (MSM) in Malawi, Namibia, and Botswana found that blackmail was one of the most prevalent human rights abuses they faced, with 18% of those in Malawi, 21.3% of those in Namibia, and 26.5% of those in Botswana reporting incidents of blackmail. Among those surveyed across all three countries, the 21.2% of people who had been blackmailed because of their sexuality were a larger proportion than those who, on the same basis, were afraid to walk in their community (19%), were afraid to seek health services (18.5%), had been beaten up by a government or police official (12.2%), were denied housing (6.9%), or were denied health care (5.1%). A study in Abuja, Nigeria, similarly suggested that 23.1% of respondents had been victims of blackmail. Even in South Africa, where same-sex activity has been decriminalized and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation outlawed, a worrying 10.5% of MSM respondents reported being blackmailed in peri-urban townships outside of Cape Town.

The prevalence and severity of blackmail and extortion are exacerbated by the fact that these are arguably among the most difficult violations to deal with through the legal system. Although blackmail and extortion are criminal, in practice, the law typically offers little protection for LGBT people who are its victims – particularly in places where police are complicit or even responsible for these violations. Where same-sex activity is criminalized, victims often fear that they will be arrested if the police are alerted to the situation. Moreover, the fact that the state is not the only or even the primary perpetrator makes it difficult to employ a human rights framework.

In response to the severity of the problem, groups across sub-Saharan Africa have begun to target blackmailers and extortionists as a priority, by both collecting data from their members and by creating networks to publicize the identities and scams of known blackmailers and extortionists. Alongside these various efforts, IGLHRC undertook a project to document and explore the phenomena of blackmail and extortion facing LGBT people in sub-Saharan Africa. The project launched with a consultation held in Johannesburg in October 2007. For two days, a range of activists, researchers, lawyers, and community leaders gathered together to further discuss and define the problems of blackmail and extortion and the challenges in addressing them.

Prominent themes at the consultation were the lack of research into the prevalence of blackmail and extortion, the factors that facilitate the commission of these crimes, and the strategies that have successfully been used to mitigate their effects and to prevent victimization. IGLHRC commissioned research in five countries – Cameroon, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe – exploring some of these questions and the effect of blackmail and extortion on the lives of LGBT Africans. While this is only a small sampling of the many countries in which blackmail and extortion occur, it represents a range of socio-legal contexts in which these problems arise. The researchers looked at contexts where laws against same-sex activity vary in their scope and severity, where histories of French and British colonialism persistently shape legal systems, where religious or customary laws are recognized alongside state law, and where LGBT groups are and are not visible and active in combating blackmail and extortion. Their research is compiled in this volume, which both explores the scope of blackmail and extortion against LGBT Africans, and suggests steps that might be taken to hold perpetrators accountable and deliver justice to victims.

Defining Blackmail and Extortion

Blackmail and extortion are profoundly social phenomena, and are deeply influenced by the context and web of relationships in which a person lives their life. Nonetheless, blackmail and extortion are also legal phenomena, with particular meanings and potential remedies under the law. Definitions provide a useful means to determine the ways in which blackmail and extortion are harmful, what their dynamics and nuances are, and the specific ways in which they might be deterred or addressed. Any discussion of blackmail and extortion across a variety of jurisdictions must begin with a discussion of what these crimes entail, particularly if the goal is to think critically about how they affect LGBT people across Africa.

While definitions do provide a useful starting point, definitions of blackmail and extortion differ across jurisdictions, and the relationship between the two crimes is not always clear. The crime of extortion involves obtaining money, property or services from another person through, for example, intimidation or threats of physical harm. The crime of blackmail is similar, but involves threats to disclose information that a person believes to be potentially damaging to their reputation or safety. Typically, extortion involves the threat of acts (if there is failure to comply with demands) that would be criminal in and of themselves – for example, threatening to vandalize a person’s property or harm their person. By contrast, the threat to disclose information is, for the most part, not criminal per se. For example, speculating about another person’s sexual orientation publicly is likely not a crime – except when the person threatening to make such a disclosure is doing so to manipulate another person to comply with their demands.

The distinction between the two crimes is not always clear, and differs from place to place. In many legal systems, and within this volume, blackmail and extortion are differentiated as two distinct offenses. In other systems, extortion is more expansively defined to include threats of reputational as well as physical harm, and blackmail is understood to be a subset of extortion. Regardless of how they are defined, it is widely acknowledged that the two are closely related, frequently deployed simultaneously, and very often indistinguishable. At their core, both blackmail and extortion exploit a victim’s vulnerability to place them in an impossible position and restrict their options. In this volume, we focus on the threat to reveal a secret related to one’s sexuality or gender – a threat which, however defined, has consequences for the victim. While particular cases may variously fall under a jurisdiction’s laws on blackmail or laws on extortion, the distinction does not typically make the problem better or worse for victims, nor does it significantly alter the remedies available to them.

The Impact of Blackmail and Extortion

As the contributors to this volume vividly show, blackmail and extortion have a wide variety of harmful effects on their victims and the society at large. For the individual victims, blackmail and extortion are psychologically, financially, and often physically traumatizing. They often feel they have nobody to turn to, and are intimidated and disempowered at the same time that they are stripped of their money or possessions. The strain that blackmail and extortion put on individuals as well as their relationships with others exacerbates the financial and material loss that these offences so frequently involve. As Oliver Phillips suggests in his incisive analysis of blackmail in “Blackmail in Zimbabwe: Troubling Narratives of Sexuality and Human Rights,” blackmail also deprives those involved of the ability to freely and honestly narrate their own relationships. When blackmail occurs, LGBT people are forced to narrate their relationships in such a way that they will not incriminate themselves before police, the judiciary, or the wider society.

The sheer prevalence of blackmail and extortion against LGBT people is staggering. While this has profound consequences for the victims who face these threats, there are subtle effects on the wider community that are more difficult to document and measure. Victims are often driven into increasingly desperate and untenable situations, forcing them to bribe, steal, or silence those who might disclose their secret. Whether they live in a constant state of fear and security, neglect their other commitments and relationships to appease their blackmailer or extortionist, or are forced to flee the situation to safety, blackmail and extortion make it virtually impossible for victims to fully and meaningfully contribute to society.

The secrecy and desperation involved in both offences, and the fact that they are often committed with impunity, encourages criminality and creates perverse incentives. Perpetrators are effectively being rewarded for a range of crimes that trap and manipulate their victims, including spying, entrapment, false accusations, theft, criminal coercion, withholding information from the police, and physical violence. Furthermore, blackmailers targeting LGBT people, as described in this volume, are often attempting to privately enforce legal and social mores – thus usurping the state’s power. These various factors ultimately weaken the justice system and result in a disregard for, and subversion of, the rule of law – and all of them provide a rationale for the criminalization of blackmail and extortion. Understanding the profound impact of these phenomena on society at large is important in motivating changes that will reduce vulnerability. However, to make these changes effectively and to develop a range of short-term prevention and response strategies, it is important to gain a better understanding of the dynamics of blackmail and extortion in Africa.

Forms of Blackmail and Extortion

The types of blackmail described by contributors are tremendously diverse, ranging from demands for snacks and small favours to demands for cars, houses, or sex. While most cases presented here involve demands for money or possessions, this is not the only form that blackmail can take. In “Blackmail Among Gay People in Malawi,” Wiseman Chibwezo describes the story of Samson, who is not only blackmailed by a sexual partner who demands a car for his silence, but by his wife, who finds out about the affair and threatens to publicize it unless given half of his monthly salary. Unoma Azuah’s “Extortion and Blackmail of Nigerian Lesbians and Bisexual Women,” describes the story of Bola, a woman who is blackmailed by a co-worker for money, blackmailed by her boss for sex and ritual favours, and is finally exposed, fired, and forced to flee to a different city anyway. Mac-Darling Cobbinah relates the experiences of Paa and K.K. in “‘Because of You’: Blackmail and Extortion of Gay and Bisexual Men in Ghana.” Both were repeatedly raped at knifepoint or gunpoint with the knowledge that the police would not help them because they are gay. From Zimbabwe, Phillips shares the story of Joe, Farai, and Tendai, who find themselves facing arrest when the police become complicit in blackmail and put their relationships under traumatic scrutiny. In these different ways, blackmailers and extortionists use the need for secrecy and lack of support to manipulate their victims – to demand money, to force them into sex, to keep them in a particular place or relationship, to force them to cut off ties with partners, friends, or families, or to perform services, including those which are unpleasant, dangerous, or even criminal.

Generally, the stories contained in this volume point to two key ways in which sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and other aspects of sexuality increase the vulnerability of potential victims. Firstly, non-normative or transgressive sexuality itself constitutes a secret that LGBT people feel they must keep. The illegality and stigma attached to particular behaviours or identities may give victims good reason to value non-disclosure, and to go to great lengths to prevent disclosure from taking place. Secondly, sexuality limits the access of LGBT people to the police, the rule of law, and the personal and professional support networks that allow victims to cope with threats.

Most of the cases of blackmail described in this volume are based on a fear of disclosure, where victims are vulnerable because there is some aspect of their sexuality that the blackmailer threatens to disclose. Others – particularly cases of extortion – are based on a general state of vulnerability, where the threat itself may be totally unrelated to the victim’s gender or sexuality, save for the fact that the perpetrator knows that the victim, as a result of their orientation or identity, will not have support if they try to stand up to the threat. Often, these overlap, with a threat to disclose some aspect of a victim’s sexuality backed by the knowledge that the victim is vulnerable and lacks any capacity to stand up to the perpetrator.

Who is involved in Blackmail and Extortion

The victims of blackmail and extortion whose stories are compiled here are a diverse group, and powerfully illustrate that these crimes are not limited to any one particular subset of LGBT populations. Respondents who described instances of blackmail or extortion came from many walks of life – they were gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, male and female, married and unmarried, of a variety of ages, African and foreigners, and included students, professionals, artists, labourers, and people who were unemployed. The common denominator in all of the cases is simply that, as LGBT or same-sex practicing persons, the victims have reason to fear disclosure and feel that they are vulnerable and unable to access help.

Many of the chapters, however, detail the various ways that different communities might specifically be at risk. Writing in the Malawian context, Chibwezo finds that outness was a major determinant of victimization in the sample of gay and bisexual men interviewed in Malawi. Men who were married or in relationships with women were primarily concerned about their partners discovering their relationships with men, and were prepared to surrender money and material goods to avoid the possible dissolution of their marriages. By contrast, Chibwezo finds that those who were out to the most important people in their lives – particularly families – were in a significantly better position to confront blackmailers and deal with threats.

Gender also matters, shaping both how people are victimized and who they can turn to for help. Azuah shows how blackmail and extortion impact upon the lives of lesbian and bisexual women in Nigeria, who face threats from family, friends, lovers, and the people in their schools and workplaces. It is notable that the women rarely reported being targeted by police or agents of the state. Instead, they were threatened by those they knew in the private sphere, who were still able to force them to surrender money, cars, apartments, sex, and labour – and, in many instances, still disclosed their secret and forced them to flee their community.

The issue of blackmail and extortion of people living with HIV/AIDS is also a concern raised by a number of the contributors. Mac-Darling Cobbinah describes how, in Ghana, blackmailers falsely accuse their victims of infecting them with HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and use that threat to extort them repeatedly. The blackmailers not only threatened to accuse them of participating in same-sex activity, but of infecting them with an STI. Even within LGBT communities, these allegations can be used to leverage prejudice or stigma around HIV and STIs for the material gain of the blackmailer.

Of course, blackmail and extortion affect a much wider population than a single volume can accurately capture. None of the chapters in this volume specifically address transgender, intersex, or gender-variant individuals, who also face blackmail and extortion. The high premium that victims place on non-disclosure may be less of an issue for those whose gender expression is transgressive but public, and not a closely guarded secret. Nonetheless, transgender victims of blackmail and extortion have been targeted by police and other officials in a number of cases, particularly when they become aware of any discrepancy between their victim’s gender expression and what is listed on their identification, passport, or other documentation. The laws against same-sex activity, too, can be used indiscriminately to target transgender individuals, who can face blackmail and extortion on the basis of same-sex activity whether or not those allegations are true.

While the vulnerabilities of these different groups within the larger community of LGBT people merit further research, the chapters in this volume suggest that blackmail and extortion can plausibly threaten anyone who is marginalized, whether by illegality, stigma, or a toxic combination of the two. The fear of disclosure and state of vulnerability that facilitate blackmail and extortion are not only characteristic of people who are LGBT. Blackmail can be based on real or alleged sexual orientation, but it can also be based on the revelation of one’s sex, gender identity, or gender expression when these are not widely known. Blackmail can involve disclosure of the identities, numbers, or types of sexual partners a person has, as well as their serostatus or the types of sexual practices in which they engage. While the illegality and stigma attached to homosexuality may give same-sex practicing people reason to fear disclosure, it is often those who are female, poor, gender non-conforming, HIV-positive, or otherwise marginalized who have the least recourse to the police and the protection of the law.

Some of the most complex factors in the blackmail and extortion of LGBT people are class, privilege, and wealth, and this complexity is a common theme in this volume. One of the persistent beliefsthat underpins and fuels blackmail and extortion is that LGBT people, particularly self-identified gays and lesbians, are affluent, if not spectacularly wealthy. In “Extortion and Blackmail on the Basis of Sexual Orientation in Africa: A Case Study from Cameroon,” Charles Gueboguo and Marc Epprecht find that respondents in Douala and Yaoundé were frequently targeted because they were perceived to possess above-average wealth, despite the fact that many were unemployed, students, or labourers. Even if some victims are affluent, this myth of affluence places significant stress on those who are not wealthy and cannot meet demands for cars, apartments, or large sums of money.

Indeed, as Phillips suggests, it may be those LGBT people who are poor and under-resourced who are, in fact, particularly vulnerable, as they lack the means to cope with blackmail and extortion threats. Poorer victims are less able and likely to access LGBT groups and support networks, to hire a lawyer or counsellor to help respond to the problem, or to file a complaint with the police and be taken seriously. Poorer victims are also less likely to be able to leave their home, either temporarily or permanently, to escape a blackmailer or police prosecution – a strategy that both Azuah and Cobbinah describe victims turning to when the pressure becomes unbearable.

The diversity of victims is important in understanding the scope of the problem, but finding practicable solutions to blackmail and extortion also requires a deeper understanding of those who perpetrate these crimes and why they do so. Arguably, one of the most difficult aspects of addressing blackmail is the wide range of people who commit it. Blackmail of LGBT people in Africa is not only committed by professional blackmailers or experienced criminals. While this does occur, the data and narratives collected in this volume illustrate that anyone can become a blackmailer, including LGBT people themselves. Victimisation is often driven by greed and the material inequalities that blackmailers perceive between themselves and their victims. But like Semakula’s blackmailers in Uganda, blackmail can also be spurred by homophobia, transphobia, and the belief that LGBT people are deserving – and easy – targets. Greed exacerbates homophobia and transphobia in many of these instances, as blackmail and extortion are among the few violations against LGBT people that come with a direct monetary or material incentive.

However, given that the crux of blackmail is the need for secrecy, the perpetrators of blackmail can be virtually any person with knowledge of a secret that somebody else is desperate to keep private. In practice, LGBT people are often blackmailed by their friends, family, lovers, or any other people who know them intimately and are aware of their vulnerability. Similarly, extortion may be committed by anyone who exercises power or force over another person – this would include police and agents of the state but also teachers, employers and those who are otherwise close to the victim.

Who the victim’s secret must be kept from then becomes another important factor in blackmail. In “Dealing with Blackmail – Notes from a Zimbabwean Lawyer,” Derek Matyszak suggests that blackmailers fundamentally leverage two kinds of threats – disclosure to friends, family, neighbours, and other “intimates” in a victim’s life and disclosure to the police. In countries that criminalize same-sex activity, blackmailers frequently threaten to report their victims to the police if their demands are not met and the fear of arrest prevents victims from reporting the blackmail. When LGBT or same-sex practicing persons live in a perpetual state of criminality, the threat of exposure to the police can give the blackmailer or extortionist power even when they know next to nothing about their victim.

Essentially, blackmailers may threaten to disclose information about their victim to a wide array of people from whom their victim wishes to keep a secret for fear of disclosure being embarrassing, damaging or dangerous. This may include a victim’s family, neighbourhood, church, school, partner, employer, or friends. As long as the victim values disclosure and is willing to meet the blackmailer’s demands to prevent it, a blackmailer has the leverage necessary to make a plausible threat.

How are Blackmail and Extortion Addressed?

Across most of Africa, and in the five countries represented in this volume, there are laws against blackmail and extortion, and a victim can, theoretically, report any threats to the police. In practice, this often becomes difficult, and victims find that their recourse to the law is thwarted by a number of obstacles. Extortionists often intimidate their victims with immediate physical harm, including threats that they will kill them if they go to the police. For victims of blackmail, making a report to the police and facing the prospect of a public trial risks the very real possibility that their secret will be exposed to a much wider population. Victims risk being fired, expelled from school, or ostracized as a result of the allegations against them, even when these are very clearly being levied as part of a blackmail attempt. The problem is especially acute for populations that are criminalized under the law, for whom the risk of reporting to the police goes beyond shame and the risk of exposure to the wider community and includes the very real prospect of arrest and imprisonment. Notably, many countries have specific provisions stating that whether or not a victim of blackmail is guilty of an allegation contained in a blackmailer’s threat – for example, allegations of same-sex activity – is irrelevant to the prosecution of the blackmailer, who should be brought to justice. Nonetheless, police frequently ignore these aspects of the law, and open prosecutions against victims who report being blackmailed on the basis of their sexual orientation.

For a variety of reasons, the human rights framework too has been of limited utility in addressing the problem. Blackmail and extortion are typically addressed under domestic criminal law, and states bear responsibility for prosecution. Unfortunately, because perpetrators are often intimates of the victims – and the cases occur in the so-called “private” realm – states are often unable or unwilling to intervene or are reluctant to make sufficient efforts to deliver justice to LGBT or same-sex practicing people. In some instances, police and other agents of the state directly participate in blackmail and extortion – often because there are few mechanisms in place to check abuses of their power and hold them accountable. Furthermore, the secrecy and shame surrounding these crimes has made it particularly difficult for human rights defenders to report, investigate, and document them and to highlight patterns of abuse and impunity.

The stories in this volume illustrate how these realities of blackmail and extortion against LGBT people limit the efficacy of legal remedies after the fact. It is thus critical that any attempts to address blackmail and extortion target the root causes of the crimes – that they remove both the conditions that make the crimes attractive to potential perpetrators and the barriers to support or redress for victims.

Beneath the surface of the individual cases presented in this volume lie the common roots of illegality and stigma. Historically, decriminalization has been a necessary step to curb the prevalence of sexual blackmail and extortion. With striking consistency, laws against same-sex activity around the world have been linked to the high prevalence of blackmail and extortion against LGBT people. Lawyers in the United Kingdom went so far as to dub the law criminalizing gross indecency – Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 – “the blackmailer’s charter.” When the Wolfenden Committee was convened by Parliament to review the law in 1954, they found that Section 11 proved so detrimental to the lives of same-sex practicing men – and fostered so much corruption and criminality – that they recommended that it be repealed. This recommendation was ultimately taken up through the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which decriminalized same-sex activity in England and Wales.

A similar drama played out in the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics during the Cold War. Homosexuals with security clearances were seen as suspect as a result of their sexuality – thought to be not only morally or politically weak, but also more susceptible to blackmail and thus more of a security threat. Unfortunately, rather than decriminalizing homosexuality, governments typically sought to purge suspected homosexuals from their ranks, perversely increasing the precariousness of their positions.

As these governments recognized, the criminalization of same-sex activity irreparably harmed individuals at the same time that it weakened the state and society. Although decriminalization of same-sex activity around the globe has been partly motivated by the recognition that such laws foster blackmail and extortion and entail myriad negative consequences, few people have looked at these issues in an African context, where victims of blackmail and extortion may be affected in different ways. The stories contributed to this volume demonstrate how the impact may be amplified in places where victims depend on their families and communities for emotional and material support. In many instances, the victim not only faces a loss of money, goods, or even prestige, but also the loss of vital human relationships – with parents, children, their kin networks and communities – and the sense of safety and belonging that those relationships provide.

Researching Blackmail and Extortion

The six chapters in this volume approach the blackmail and extortion of LGBT people in sub-Saharan Africa from a variety of angles – looking at different populations in different geographic settings, and blending a mix of methodologies and approaches to do so. The result is a glimpse into the diverse and multiple ways in which blackmail and extortion affect the lives of LGBT people – and the ways in which victims, LGBT groups, and policymakers might begin to address this persistent problem.

In the first chapter, Phillips focuses on the dynamics of two cases of blackmail and extortion in Harare. The chapter tracks how blackmail places its victims in an impossible situation – not only by exposing them to homophobic laws, but by robbing them of the agency and intimacy of their relationship as it is redefined by outsiders. Phillips incisively notes the limits of law as a response to blackmail and extortion, and foregrounds the role that social expectations play in interpreting, stigmatizing, and policing same-sex relationships.

The subsequent chapters look at survey research carried out in four different countries in sub-Saharan Africa – Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi, and Cameroon – to reveal the dynamics of blackmail and extortion and begin to formulate potential responses. In the first chapter, Azuah looks at the victimization of lesbian and bisexual women in Nigeria, noting how patriarchy increases their isolation and vulnerability and leaves them with few places to turn. Cobbinah looks at how laws and norms around sexuality have increased the vulnerability of gay and bisexual men, particularly those who are entrapped and threatened by sexual partners. Chibwezo notes the many ways in which gay and bisexual men in Malawi are victimized, particularly by people they know – and details a number of case studies where family, partners, and officials were the perpetrators. Gueboguo and Epprecht look at a rich body of survey data from LGBT people in Cameroon, blending quantitative and qualitative analysis to explore how people are victimized and how they respond.

Finally, Matyszak draws on his expertise as a lawyer affiliated with Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) to offer practical suggestions for dealing with blackmail and extortion in areas where illegality and stigma make thoughtful strategy indispensible. The chapter walks readers through the many considerations that factor into responses to blackmail, noting the potential pitfalls and the ways in which blackmailers might be tactfully – but firmly – deterred from pursuing their victims.

All of these chapters point to a number of variables which facilitate blackmail in sub-Saharan Africa. While illegality and stigma are arguably the most influential of these, the authors also tease apart the ways that inequality, isolation from a supportive community and networks of professionals, misguided notions of justice or indebtedness, misinformation about what the law says about both homosexuality and blackmail and extortion, corruption and complicity by authorities, historical memory, nationalism, sexism, racism, colonialism, and skirmishes in the political arena all exacerbate the vulnerability of LGBT people to blackmail and extortion.

As these contributions suggest, one of the reasons that blackmail and extortion are so important to address is that these crimes sit at the crux of a number of issues. They thrive on the ideas that same-sex activity is illegal, immoral, and un-African. They are problems that profoundly affect LGBT people in their depth and breadth, but that police and judges are unable or unwilling to address domestically and that the human rights community has had a difficult time addressing internationally. They also illuminate how the well-being of LGBT people can have immediate and wide-ranging implications. As the research shows, blackmail and extortion destroy relationships, encourage greed, illegality, and suspicion, and illustrate how the criminalization of sexuality begets criminality in the form of spying, libel, slander, theft, violence, and murder. In all of these respects, the illegality and stigmatization that foster victimization are not only damaging for LGBT people, but for all Africans.

By beginning to investigate a problem that has remained invisible for far too long, the contributors to this volume lay the groundwork for future inquiries and the development of a robust research and advocacy agenda. Their research suggests that blackmail and extortion are incredibly complex and multifaceted phenomena, and that scholars and activists who are grappling with these issues have their work cut out for them. At the same time, they hint at a number of exciting possibilities for intervention that have the potential to make a meaningful difference for LGBT Africans. As this work moves forward, this volume makes it abundantly clear that substantive research and interventions addressing blackmail and extortion are urgently needed, and that human rights defenders, NGOs, and governments cannot afford to let blackmail and extortion go unaddressed any longer.