Public Perceptions of Child Sexual Exploitation

Public Perceptions of Child Sexual Exploitation


Background 

Violence against women and children has gained international recognition as a grave social and human rights violation during the last few decades. The underlying causes and contributing factors of violence against women and children are deeply entrenched in community traditions, customs, and culture.

Gender-Based Violence (GBV) refers to violence that occurs within the context of women’s and girls’ subordinate status in a society characterized by a power imbalance in the home and society at large. GBV occurs on a vast scale and takes different forms throughout women’s and children’s lives, ranging from Child Sexual Abuse (CSA), early marriage, female genital mutilation, rape, forced prostitution, and wife beating, to the abuse of elderly women. 

The term GBV can be used interchangeably with “violence against women”; however, the latter is a more limited concept. This study focuses on rape against women and children, for which we used the term “sexual violence”. 

Rape was defined as sexual contact that occurs without the woman’s consent, involves the use of force, threat of force, intimidation, or when the woman was of unsound mind due to illness or intoxication and involves sexual penetration of the victim’s vagina, mouth or, rectum [5,6]. We preferred this definition to the legal definition of rape in Tanzania, which does not recognize marital rape.

Globally, it is estimated that between 14% and 25% of adult women have been raped and the prevalence of CSA varies between 2% and 62%. In Tanzania, physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner is re- ported by 44% of ever-married women aged 15-49 years. 

The same survey showed that 39% of the total sample of ever-married women reported having experienced physical violence, while 20% of the total reported having experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.

Methods

A qualitative design was employed using focus group discussions with male and female community members including religious leaders, professionals, and other community members. The discussions centered on causes of rape, survivors of rape, help-seeking, and reporting, and gathered suggestions on measures for improvement.

Six focus group discussions (four of single-gender and two of mixed gender) were conducted. The focus group discussions were recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed using manifest qualitative content analysis.

Results

The participants perceived rape of women and children to be a frequent and hidden phenomenon. A number of factors were singled out as contributing to rape, such as erosion of social norms, globalization, poverty, the vulnerability of children, alcohol/drug abuse, and poor parental care. Participants perceived the need for educating the community to raise their knowledge of sexual violence and its consequences and their roles as preventive agents.

Conclusions

In this rural context, social norms reinforce sexual violence against women and children and hinder them from seeking help from support services. Addressing the identified challenges may promote help-seeking behavior and improve the care of survivors of sexual violence, while changes in social and cultural norms are needed for the prevention of sexual violence.

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