#Sextortion in Zimbabwe : An evil we all have ignored for long

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On the 2nd of December I was part of a breakaway panel at the 2017 International Anti- Corruption Conference (#17IACC) that deliberated over the topic: New Standards of Equity and Accountability, Bringing Sextortion and Gender into the Anti-Corruption Discourse and Response. My presentation which was informed by a number of studies that l conducted with Transparency International Zimbabwe (TI-Z) explored the Intersectionality between Corruption and Gender Based Violence  in Zimbabwe.

It is perhaps important to note that the term #Sextortion is a fairly new concept to both academic and policy writing. The term sextortion was coined most recently by the International Association of Women Judges and it makes reference to abuse of power to obtain sexual benefits or advantages. Normatively it is money or anything of financial value that exchange hands in a corruption transaction but with, sextortion sex or sexual favours is the medium of exchange or transacting currency between the parties involved and women are often the victims.

Sextortion in Zimbabwe

The 2012 Youth and Corruption Baseline study by TI-Z made reference to the acronym “STDs. This acronym is often used by students in institutions of higher learning in referring to what they call Sexually Transmitted Degrees in their context. In other Universities such as Bindura University, the equivalence for the STDs acronym is Thigh for Marks. These newly coined terms and acronym make reference to a growing practice in the academic institutions where lectures are alleged to be abusing their power through demanding for sex and sexual favours from female students in return of a passing mark. These terms have in a way helped shape and amplify the discourse on the interlinkages between Gender Based Violence and Corruption i.e Sextortion. While such a discourse evolves and takes shape, perhaps the most important question is how long have women in Zimbabwe been subjected to this? Thigh for Marks and STDsgives us an understanding of the experiences of female students but it leaves us with many questions on how women and girls in other social, political and economic spaces are confronted by this form of corruption that is gendered based

As l continue to reflect and learn more about this seemingly new phenomenon (#Sextortion), I have realised that women in Zimbabwe have always been subjected to this form of exploitation which is intrinsically linked to both Corruption and Gender Based Violence.  In the 90s, the late Paul Matavire did a song entitled Tanga Wandida (meaning love me first in return for a favor) This song in a way shows how powerless and vulnerable women have always been and continue to be forced to trade their sex and sexual favour in return for such favours as jobs, promotions, licenses, permits and better grades. Matavire ‘song represents one of the earliest attempts to document and exposes gendered corruption. I am sure that Matavire’ song was informed by his social experiences,essentially showing that back then sextortion existed in Zimbabwe. Those who of my generation would remember one of the popular

Those who of my generation would remember one of the popular set books in literature Minister Munhuwo which again shows how those in power abuse their power and authority through demanding for sex in return for a favour. Thomas Mapfumo in the 90s again did a song entailed Corruption in the society. This song by Mapfumo shows how the Zimbabwe then as it is now is shaped by a corruption law that states that “something for something” meaning if you want a service you give me something in return. This line of argument may make one to safely conclude that sextortion has always been there in Zimbabwe, it has been in manifestation (behind a veil of secrecy) for as long as other forms of corruption and corruption scandals have existed and taken place. Such scandals as the Willowgate, Paweni, ZISCO steel and many others. following this line of argument, one can even trace the manifestation of corruption in Zimbabwe from as far back as the colonial times with the liberation struggle being another key historical moment which needs to be analysed using the conceptual lenses of sextortion. I guess the biggest question then is why have the communities of practises (Communities on Gender Equality, Gender Based Violence and Anticorruption Activist) been quiet about this gendered form of corruption with a lengthy existence. One can only assume that most probably it’s because there haven’t been enough reported cases of #Sextortion. Guess it would be interesting if like-minded researchers can look into the reporting trends of sextortion in Zimbabwe. My wild guess is that such cases are very few if ever there exist.

Women in Zimbabwe remain disempowered to report this evil (#Sextortion) due to challenges that are deeply embedded in our political, social and economic structures. Due to gendered constructs that are socially ascribed, it is somehow normal for a man to ask for a sex from a woman in return for a favour. The socially ascribed roles define women’s role as one in the reproductive economy while that of men is  in the productive economy. This mindset has been internalised by most people in our society (men and women alike) such that those who want bribes in the form of money, would demand money or anything of financial value from men and demand sex and sexual favours  from women. Our society has accepted this socially ascribed gendered division of roles between the productive and reproductive economy and this had had an effect on how men and women are confronted by corruption.

Challenges of reporting #Sextortion

Sextortion is least reported form of corruption and this because of the structural constraints that women may face in reporting this form of corruption.

  • Negative social sanction and stigmatisation: Women and girls fear the negative social sanction and stigmatisation that comes along with reporting this form of corruption. If it’s in the education sector is highly likely that the female student would be regarded as a misfit who traded sex for a passing grade. Her peers will shun her and she will carry that social label for a very long time.
  • Challenges with supporting evidence. I am not a lawyer, but my limited legal analysis informs me that women and girl face the challenge of lack of evidence to support a reported case of sextortion. With money, there are means and ways of verifying evidence and even trapping the extorter but with sex, it’s so personal and difficult to prove. In most cases, sextortion is dismissed on the grounds of the consensual nature of some of these relationships. Besides it is highly probable that a relationship involving sextortion may develop from mere an exploitative sexual relationship to a love relationship.
  • Fear of losing the valuable service gained through sextortion: Women and girls fear to lose what one would have gained through sextortion. In most cases, l believe they would have gained a key essential service which is difficult to obtain. Such services include jobs, vending license or permit, promotion and better grade. No one would want to lose a job or livelihood opportunity in this current economic environment. In the case of women who trade sex for ease of smuggling their goods and services, the challenge is more structural in the sense that the cost of compliance may far outweigh the cost of bribing. In the case of female cross border traders, compliance might mean one paying more than $200 or risk losing the imported staff. Sex then becomes the cheaper cost one has to pay. After all the main reason why bribery is common in Zimbabwe is because of the higher cost of compliance. This cost should not only be seen from a financial perspective but also from the perspective of time and easiness of obtaining a service. (the next article will reflect more on cost of compliance in Zimbabwe). Women in Zimbabwe, therefore, find themselves at the crossroads, facing the gendered impact of the growing levels of corruption at one end, at the other end they face the effects of a shrinking economic feminization poverty, while on the other hand, they have to face the challenges of gender inequality and gender-based violence.
  • Damage already done legal challenges: I somehow think that at times the disincentive of reporting sextortion is the realisation by most women that the damage has already been done. Reporting in such circumstances will not provide the women with any tangible gain but would rather serve as a reminder of the terrorising moment she would have faced. A moment that made her lose more and her dignity being the greatest loss.
  • Institutions for legal redress-  I somehow think that our institutions for legal redress are not properly structured to respond in time to the problem of sextortion   Court cases in Zimbabwe n can drag for years without a final judgement being passed. The Kereke Case though not directly related to sextortion gives us insights into how some of our institutions for redress and justice are not properly structured to protect victims of such forms of corruption. Often at times such victims of sextortion want to move on with their lives and bury behind this difficult period. More so some of the data that my organization has received from other victims of corruption and sexual violence shows how those in power can bribe court officials so that dockets goes missing and thereby justice is denied

Way forward

I believe that we all have to do more in fighting sextortion. The SDGs provides a good global framework for addressing both corruption and gender inequality. This missing link is among the communities of practice. Those in anti-corruption and those in gender equality and GBV do not realise the need for collaborations in fighting this evil. There is a need for these communities to come together and elevate the discourse of mainstreaming gender into anti-corruption programming as well as mainstreaming anti-corruption into gender advocacy. I also believe that power lies with the people, therefore there is a need to work with citizens so that they are at the forefront of fighting #Sextortion. I am a firm believer in People Power and not Political will , therefore, believe we need to invest resources in promoting citizen action against corruption and GBV. Being a researcher l feel there a number of things we don’t know about sextortion in terms of its extent, driver, impact and also assess mechanisms in place if ever there is to detect and fight sextortion.

Farai Mutondoro is a governance, democracy, human rights and policy expert with over 7 years’ experience in the nonprofit sectors of livelihoods, natural resource governance, service delivery, transparency and accountability and anti-corruption. He has experience in strategy review and implementation, project and programme design, implementation and management, risk analysis as well as developing communication and information materials such as policy briefs, media statements, fact sheets info graphics and videos. Farai has managed various governance studies assessing the drivers, impact and extent of corruption on key sectors to the Zimbabwean political economy such as mining, land, state-owned enterprises, service delivery and climate finance. Farai is also a good presenter and training expert having presented and facilitated dialogue at such national, regional and international platforms as the 2015, 2016 and 2017 World Bank Land and Poverty Conference, 2017 Australia Africa Research Forum, 2017 Namibia Anti-Corruption Commission Extractive Industry Strategic Review, Zimbabwe Parliamentary Committee Trainings on Transparency and Accountability well as the International Anti-Corruption Conference.

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