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Corruption behind bars

The week in corruption, 2 July 2021

Photo: Gerhard Pettersson on Shutterstock

Transparency Int'l

This post addresses cases of sexual and physical abuse, sexual exploitation and harassment. Some readers may find this content upsetting. Reader discretion is advised.

With the launch of the Global Corruption Barometer – European Union (EU) just a couple of weeks ago, we once again highlighted sextortion, an often-ignored form of corruption.

While 75 per cent of people across the bloc think that sextortion occurs at least occasionally, 7 per cent of people report either having experienced it directly or knowing someone who has.

That same week, Centro de Integridade Pública (CIP) – our chapter in Mozambique – released the alarming results of their months-long undercover investigation into sexual exploitation of women prisoners in the country’s capital, Maputo. Their report exposes widespread abuse that has occurred over the last ten years in a prison previously regarded as exemplary.

CIP’s investigation revealed that inmates of the Ndlavela Women’s Prison were forced into prostitution by prison guards who promised to make their lives easier if they obeyed – a promise that was barely even kept. The guards reportedly continued to sexually harass, physically abuse and humiliate the inmates.

They don’t accept those who are supported by their families. They don’t need that. For those who have no family support, which is my case, the situation is very difficult […] If I don’t accept, I shall be punished, I shall be denied food
Maria, 35 (name changed)

These revelations had an immediate impact: the Ministry of Justice suspended the prison’s management and announced an inquiry. The commission investigating the allegations is due to deliver its recommendations next week.

Investigations need to take place in other women’s prisons, too. Women who spoke with CIP investigators confirmed that inmates rarely dare to speak up, afraid that they will be shamed, further assaulted and traumatised for blowing the whistle.

These fears are common among victims of sextortion, which disproportionally affects women and others who are marginalised or vulnerable. They are coerced into paying a bribe through sexual acts, rather than money, in exchange for public services or, in this case, “protection” from corrupt guards.

This story illustrates how corruption thrives in the shadow of social stigma and cultural taboos, making it even harder to prove, denounce and uproot – as we see with LGBTQI+ communities and other groups at risk of discrimination in far too many places around the world.

The links between discrimination and corruption deserve much more attention than they’re currently given. We're working on it – more on this next week.

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