Sextortion rampant in Zimbabwe

Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ) has said that sextortion is one of the most common forms of gendered corruption in Zimbabwe but is difficult to prove.

Defined by the International Association of Women Judges, sextortion refers to the abuse of power to obtain a sexual benefit or advantage.

Participants a recent workshop organised by TIZ noted that sextortion is one of the most common forms of gendered corruption.

Participants agreed that in order to reduce overall corruption and protect women from sextortion and improve trust in public institutions, Zimbabwe should recognise and address sextortion as a significant but often ignored form of corruption and abuse.

TIZ Assistant Legal Officer Marylin Sibanda said that in cases where sextortion is reported, it is not always prosecuted.

“Sextortion is very widespread and also a blind spot in the fight against corruption,” said Ngwenya.

“But when sex is involved, prosecution is harder because the evidence is elusive, the law is unclear and victims often shy away from coming forward for fear of being shamed.”

One participant said that there is a worrying number of female students who have experienced unwanted sexual attention at universities and not reported it.

“This kind of corruption has often resulted in what university students’ term Sexually Transmitted Degrees (STDs) or what they term Thigh for Mark,” said the participant.

“These newly coined terms indicate that there are high levels of sextortion even at our institutions of learning where lectures are abusing their power through demanding sex and sexual favours from female students in return of a passing mark.”

Meanwhile, Young Women’s Alliance director Sikhangele Ngwenya said that women often have a choice to make when it comes to sextortion.

“Female students have a choice to make, they can choose to read and be professional rather than resorting to this so-called thigh for marks.”

Nikiwe Tshabalala a lawyer disagreed and said that the other views miss the significant harm caused by sextortion to the individual, and to the strength of the public institutions.

She said that the stigma associated with sexual crimes may prevent victims from coming forward.

“When these victims come forward, they often face barriers in the criminal justice system to file and pursue a sextortion claim,” said Tshabalala.

“We all know that poor women are especially at risk of “petty” corruption when officials sell public services rather than deliver them by right, because they may be more dependent on public officials for access to such services as health care and education.

“Instead of being asked to pay a monetary bribe to access a basic service or to advance in school, women are pressured to pay with their bodies. The victim is then forced to suffer in silence for fear of reprisal.”

She argued that sextortion amplifies gender inequality and hampers the development of women.

“It violates a woman’s right to protection against sexual harassment, degradation, and discrimination.”

Tshabalala said that the media and civil society is well placed to raise awareness on sextortion and also forge social accountability

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