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Extorting sex for food in Zimbabwe

Basic rights have become a privilege of the few, and some people who have power are using it to have sex with others who don’t.

Muchaneta Mundopa

This article addresses the sensitive topic of sexual violence and may be upsetting to some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

In Zimbabwe we have diamonds, platinum, the mighty Victoria Falls and welcoming people, to mention but a few. Sadly for over a decade now Zimbabwe has continued to experience an economic, social and political meltdown. Corruption levels have soared, with the country scoring only 24 out of 100 on the Corruption Perceptions Index.

The economic meltdown — due to bad governance of public resources — has taken its toll on public service delivery. Every single day, the press is awash with stories of how certain individuals are embezzling public resources; ask any Zimbabwean about the National Social Security Authority scandal or the Command Agriculture scandal.

When basic socio-economic rights become a privilege of the few

Basic socio-economic rights — as enshrined in Zimbabwe’s constitution — include the right to health care, the right to food and water, and the right to education. But they have become a privilege of the few. For the majority of citizens, especially vulnerable groups such as women, children and people living with disabilities, everyday life has become “survival of the fittest” — doing what one has to do to survive the day.

Rungano is an elderly woman living in a remote rural area in Zimbabwe. She relocated to the rural areas from Harare in 2008 when all her savings where wiped out due to hyperinflation. Prices of basic commodities go up almost every month and with only a few people formally employed, access to sufficient food has been greatly compromised. Drought and natural disasters, such as Cyclone Idai, have added to the food instability. A lot of people especially in the rural areas now depend on humanitarian aid. Sadly, the food aid is in most cases distributed along party lines, meaning that those who do not support a certain political party are not given food. This can make those who miss out vulnerable to sexual extortion; people with power may ask them for sex in exchange for food. This is known as “sextortion” and is what happened to Rungano. Here she describes her experiences:

On days when we are told the truck bringing food aid is coming we all gather at the meeting point. Those who distribute the food aid will be having a list of beneficiaries — the list is drawn up by our village head. Everyone is supposed to benefit from this food aid regardless of their political affiliation, especially the vulnerable groups such as the elderly and child headed families, but in most instances you find one family getting a share for three families. I queried why my name was not on the list despite my dire situation. I was told to take up the matter with my village head. When I confronted him, he told me I don’t belong to his party and hence I could not benefit. Sensing my desperation, he said I could offer him sexual favours for my name to be included on the list. I had no choice, we were going to bed hungry and I desperately needed the food to feed myself and my grandchildren. I gave into his demands.

Understanding sextortion

Sadly, this is not an unusual case in Zimbabwe, as evidenced by a recent study by Transparency International Zimbabwe on gender and corruption. Through radio shows, mobile legal aid clinics and women empowerment circles, Transparency International Zimbabwe heard women talking about sextortion. It found that there was a disturbing trend of women being coerced into offering or giving sexual favours to those in positions of authority in exchange for a benefit that they are empowered to withhold or confer.

This prompted the organisation to embark on its first study on gender and corruption. The study sought to have a general understanding of how women and men in Zimbabwe experience and are impacted by corruption. The issue of sextortion was glaring in the report. For example, 57.5 per cent of the women who took part in the survey noted that they had been coerced into giving sexual favours as a form of bribe in order to access basic services. However, they often choose not to report this form of corruption due to the masculine nature of our justice system.

Generally in Zimbabwe the police are the first port of call when a person wants to report a crime, however we have more male police officers manning police stations than women. This discourages women from reporting sextortion. This has prompted Transparency International Zimbabwe to embark on another more in-depth sectorial study on sextortion in Zimbabwe. Through this we seek to understand and explore the sectors in which this form of corruption is most commonplace and the institutional, legal and policy impediments that hinder victims of sextortion from reporting it. This study is currently underway and will be launched in July 2020.

Read Transparency International Zimbabwe’s report, Gender and Corruption in Zimbabwe 2019. Transparency International has also produced a global report on sextortion, Breaking the Silence around Sextortion: The Links between Power, Sex and Corruption..

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For any press inquiries please contact press@transparency.org

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