The study by Medecins Sans Frontieres Belgium-Zimbabwe (MSF) mission and the University of Zimbabwe (UZ)’s Centre for Applied Social Sciences says poverty has made young girls and boys, women and men more vulnerable to sexual abuse than ever before.
“Poverty and high unemployment rate in the community further contribute to the risk,” says the report. “Desperate for some financial security, young girls are being forced to work in unsafe and unsuitable places such as the beer halls.”
The report, entitled Baseline Study Report on the Perceptions of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Mbare, Harare, Zimbabwe, was launched at the University of Zimbabwe recently.
The study, commissioned to establish how women in Mbare were affected by sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) reported that 24% of the 1 159 women that took part in the survey had experienced sexual violence.
“It is interesting to note that 1% of the respondents had their first sexual intercourse between five and 10 years of age (which is assumingly forced), 7% between 11 and 15 years, 49% between 16 and 20 and the other 43% were above the age of 20.”
Children as young as 12 years were already sexually active in Mbare, says the report.
The report says there are very few services available at community level for the survivors of the assaults even though it is vital that they seek medical treatment within the first 72 hours.
“There is need for medical services for survivors of SGBV in the Mbare community and to expand the services to the local clinics in Harare, so that survivors of SGBV can get comprehensive care at any medical facility in Harare,” says the report.
It says survivors of SGBV are at immediate risk of unwanted pregnancies and contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.
In the long term, survivors are more vulnerable to depression, substance abuse, repeated sexual abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide and sexual dysfunction later in life compared to persons who have not experienced SGBV.
Part of the report entitled Baseline Study Report on the Perceptions of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Mbare, Harare, Zimbabwe, reads: “Cultural beliefs, traditional practises and belief systems contribute to sexual and gender-based violence. Women are often taught that violence is an inevitable part of relationships. This makes it difficult for women to escape their marriages even in times of violence and mistreatment.”
The report says SGBV encompasses rape, sexual threats, exploitation, humiliation, assault, molestation, domestic violence, incest, involuntary prostitution (sexual bartering), torture, insertion of objects into genital openings and attempted rape.
The report bewailed lack of transparency and gaps within the judiciary system that allows perpetrators to escape retribution.
It also bemoaned delays in the justice systems with cases often postponed and survivors of SGBV ending up withdrawing their cases from court, opting for out of court settlements instead.
Courts, both civil and criminal, should be further decentralised to many provinces and districts so that more cases can be tried and perpetrators brought to justice.