As a result of the many reports on violence against women both in the home and in public which showed that sexual violence was on the increase, RAU conducted a preliminary study in 2012 on Zimbabwe’s perceptions of sexual violence. This report will be published at the end of this week. Causes of violence against women in Zimbabwe include; economic dependency of women on men. This was exacerbated by the political and economic crisis of 2007/8 which we are yet to recover from. The inability of the policy framework to effectively protect women and girls, coupled with a poor reporting systems for victims, the subjugation of women; and social degeneration associated with the breakdown in social values and cultural, religious or ideological permissiveness and bias that condones gender-based violence also emerged as factors that increase women’s susceptibility to rape.
As a precursor to the findings in that report, it is important to lay out our understanding of sexual violence as there seems to be a misunderstanding of what it entails.
Sexual violence is:
- i. sexual act
- ii. attempt to obtain a sexual act
- iii. unwanted sexual comments or action
- iv. non-contact sexual act (detailed below)
committed against a person’s sexuality by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any place, be it the home, the streets, the work place, entertainment venues, public transport or any other place.
A sex act is;
- i. contact between the penis and the vulva or the penis and the anus involving penetration, however slight
- ii. contact between the mouth and penis, vulva, or anus
- iii. or penetration of the anal or genital opening of another person by a hand, finger, or other object.
An attempted (but not completed) sex act is;
- i. Unwanted sexual action which can be intentional touching, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person without his or her consent, or of a person who is unable to consent or refuse.
Non-contact sexual abuse does not include physical contact of a sexual nature between the perpetrator and the victim. It includes acts such as voyeurism; intentional exposure of an individual to exhibitionism; unwanted exposure to pornography; verbal or behavioral sexual harassment; threats of sexual violence to accomplish some other end; or taking nude photographs of a sexual nature of another person without his or her consent or knowledge, or of a person who is unable to consent or refuse.
These definitions cover both males and females; where either can be a perpetrator or a victim but in most cases the victims are women, so the focus of this blog is on them. It is not surprising to learn that every woman will experience some form of sexual violence at least once in their lifetime especially taking into account unwanted sexual comments and non-sexual contact actions.
One of the reasons sexual violence is highly unreported is because of the myth that a woman who is dressed in a particular way or is seen alone in a particular place at a certain time is inviting sexual advances and should therefore be prepared for the consequences. According to the report that RAU has produced which shall be published in the following days, this myth is perpetuated more by women than by men; possibly because they have been socialized to believe it as truth for such a long time.
There needs to be greater understanding that sexual violence does not only mean rape and indecent assault, not only actions but words and non-sexual actions fall under this definition. Instead of targeting men’s behavior as the real reason behind rape, women are being blamed for becoming victims and told to change the way they dress when they go to certain areas and not be in these ‘dangerous’ areas especially after dark. Let us stop blaming the victims and all play a part in ending sexual violence by first understanding what it is and how we are contributing to its perpetuation.