Intensifying Public Awareness Campaign To End Sexual Violence
Sexual violence is a serious public health and human rights problem and it’s an extremely traumatic experience that affects women and girls disproportionately. Such forms of violence include child marriage, intimate partner violence (rape within marriage or dating relationship), rape by strangers, systematic rape during armed conflict, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, forced abortion among others. It is often associated with psychological, physical, social distress and sometimes results in fatality either from shock, severe injury or murder of honor by the perpetrator, in an attempt to shield his identity.
It has both short and long term consequences for women’s physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health and individuals may be stigmatized and ostracized by their families. Violence, ranging from sexual, emotional or psychological violence, is often experienced at home by young women and girls and the fact that violence has been accepted as a ‘private affair’ often stops other people from intervening and disallows girls and young women from reporting cases of violence.
Girls can experience violence in schools ranging from bullying, sexual harassment and intimidation and this can affect girls’ ability to continue and complete their education especially when the violence is committed by those in positions of care or authority. Violence against women and girls is also common in cities, even rural areas, during emergency situations and even in online spaces, it is a rising issue as girls and young women report harassment and abuse and as such girls are pressured to leave online platforms or self-censor in order to avoid abuse. The fear and threat of harassment and violence confine the capacity of girls to lead a free and full life.
Globally, 35% of women have been estimated to experience either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. Studies have shown that women who experience physical or sexual intimate partner violence report higher rates of depression, having an abortion and acquiring HIV, compared to women who have not been violated in their lives. Evidence has also shown that men who experienced their fathers using violence against their mothers and those who experienced some forms of violence in their homes as children are more likely to be perpetrators of intimate partner violence in their adult relationships (UN WOMEN, 2018).
Globally, about 15 million adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 have experienced forced sex in their lifetime (UNICEF 2017).
It is estimated that of the 87,000 women who were killed internationally in 2017 worldwide, 58% of them were killed by intimate partners or family members. Also, 71% of all human trafficking victims detected globally were adult women and girls and almost 75% of trafficked women and girls are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
Sexual violence occurs in every part of the world, but the prevalence and risk are higher in places where violence is normalized and places where rigid concepts of gender exist. Some cultures accept violence against women and girls as a social norm, this must be addressed as a matter of urgency. Girls must never be held accountable for the violence that happens to them as it is the exclusive responsibility of the perpetrator who must be apprehended according to national or international legislation. The fear or threat of violence must be addressed and should not restrict girls from living free and full lives or from realizing their full potential.
Violence is not a private matter, therefore, it must be reported in order to correct it. Evidence has shown that less than 40% of women who experience violence seek the help of any sort, among those who do, most of them seek help from family and friends and very few seek help from formal institutions and health services (UN WOMEN, 2018).
To end sexual violence, there is a need for actions at all levels: public enlightenment is very important in order to change behavior, beliefs, and value system of people. This will also extend to education at schools, social clubs, cultural group gatherings to challenging social norms that condone violence or impose gender roles, churches, mosques and even through the media to demystify the myths about sexual violence; educating the girl child, strengthening legislation that criminalizes violence, putting an institutional framework to deal with cases of violence comprehensively and prosecute perpetrators, encouraging victims/survivors of violence report cases of violence by eliminating the blame, shame and stigma they face and also making the services available freely, children must begin to learn about gender equality at schools from a tender age, promote and strengthen values that support non-violent, respectful, nurturing, positive, gender-equitable relationships for all children and adolescents, including the most vulnerable and excluded.
As it is often said that ‘prevention is better and cheaper than cure’ it is important to prevent sexual violence before it occurs by changing the environments and making it safer for women, changing behaviors/attitudes or even building the skills and knowledge of individuals will go a long way in preventing violence. It is also important for victims of sexual violence to seek help in order to prevent its consequences and ensure that violence does not occur again or intensify.