You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2016 10 14Article 477594

Opinions of Friday, 14 October 2016

Columnist: Abundant Robert K. Awolugutu

Sexual harassment, rape, defilement and Incest - Some thoughts

Sexual harassment, rape, defilement and incest have been on the ascendancy in recent times.

Hardly a day passes without some of these heinous crimes being reported in the print media. They are all forms of sexual aggression and violate the rights of the victims affected.

Here are a few examples to illustrate the point:

• A 27-year-old trader defiled a girl, 13, in his container store at Medie near Amasaman, in the Greater Accra Region (Daily Guide, August 9, 2016).

• A father of five was convicted on his own plea by an Accra Circuit Court at his first appearance after pleading guilty of having sexual intercourse with his 16-year-old daughter (Daily Heritage, August 25, 2016).

• The number of defilement, rape and assault cases are soaring on daily basis in the Upper Manya Krobo District in the Eastern Region as compared to criminal cases, Asesewa Police Commander, Supt. Stephen Kofi Ahiatafu, has disclosed”(Daily Guide, August 30, 2016)

• Another shocking story has it that an 80-year-old Presbyter allegedly defiled a 15-year-old girl at Peki in the Volta Region (Daily Guide, May 4, 2016).

Sexual harassment does not only occur in a marriage relationship, it frequently happens at the work place where the victim is threatened with job loss if she does not accede to the demands of the boss. This is a situation where women are seen as sex objects. Socialisation in certain cultures has not helped matters; a man must demand sex and the woman is expected to accept the proposal without questioning.

Experts have defined sexual harassment in various ways. The European Commission has stated that “Sexual harassment is behaviour of a sexual nature or other behavior based on sex that affects the dignity of men and women at work. This may include physical, verbal, or non-verbal unwished for behaviour.”

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission in the United States observed: Sexual harassment is said to exist when there are “unwelcome sexual advances, sexual favours required or other verbal and/or physical behaviours of a sexual nature.” This behaviour takes the form of verbal harassment, lascivious looks, sexual comments, verbal insinuations, unwanted physical contact, asking for sexual engagement, and physical aggression

Masters and Johnson noted: “Sexual harassment includes sexual looks, insinuating verbal comments, sexual expressions or comments regarding the attractiveness of the woman, touching and pinching, unwanted caresses and last but not least more intimate contact which can end in penetration.”

Sexual harassment has serious implications for the victim. They suffer humiliation, anxiety, stress, depression, feelings of helplessness which can lead to the request for sick leave, transfer to another section or location, and sometimes changing jobs altogether. They often have guilt feelings and live in constant fear.

Given the enormity of the problem, what is the way forward?

In their book Encyclopedia of Health and Education For The Family, Dr. Isidro Aguilar and Dr. Herminia Galbes proffer the following as possible solution: “Businessmen and managers must inform all the workers, by way of a declaration of principles that sexual harassment will not be permitted and that if it were to occur, the victim has the right to report it, as well as the fact that all the workers have the right to be treated with dignity”.

The one who is being harassed can report the harasser to the police or courts in order to seek protection from further harassment.

The victim can also write a note to the harasser and indicate clearly the words or comments that have offended her and ask that it be stopped. An attorney can also write to the harasser on behalf of the victim.

In the case where the victim has been dismissed for not acceding to the sexual demands of the harasser, the victim should not sweep things under the carpet; she should resort to court action or appropriate channels within the organization to seek redress.

Rape is a “citizen” of every country. It has been defined “as a sexual act, generally including intercourse or abuse against a person, carried out by the use of physical violence, lies, intimidation or cunning”.

Rape has serious consequences for the victim and may include unwanted pregnancy, psychological trauma, and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). They are often left with deep emotional scars such as hatred for men, depression, shame and aversion to sex in some cases.

Rape is considered a serious offence that violates the rights of the victim since it invariably involves forcing the body, the mind, the will and the spirit. It is even worse if it is perpetrated against a defenceless person because of physical weakness or mental disability.

Victims of rape should receive counseling from the experts such as a clinical psychologist or even a psychiatrist to overcome the trauma. They should receive medical attention for possible infections arising out of the sexual assault.

The incidence of rape can be reduced if the following advice is adhered to:

• Avoid being in secluded places when alone. Do not be in enclosed places with people you do not know.

• Do not open your door especially at night to any visitor until you have known the person.

• If you stay alone, do not disclose this fact to anyone except your relatives and trusted friends.

Masters and Johnson have given practical advice on defensive tactics for women who face attempted rape:

• It is prudent to act swiftly without wavering.

• Scream and try to run away.

• You will be wiser to scream “fire” than to scream for help.

• If shouting is impossible, the victim should fight the rapist with any available object (hitting, biting, kicking, and pushing). Research on women who faced attempted rape seem to indicate that “resistance did not increase the risk of serious bodily injury, but it did increase the risk of minor injury such as bruising and black eyes”.

• The woman should tell the rapist she has some contagious or deadly disease such as HIV/AIDS which could serve as a disincentive.

Experience has shown that if the rapist starts his aggressive behavior, resistance from the woman can deter completion of the crime.

• If the woman can urinate, vomit or defecate, it will discourage the rapist from carrying out his plan.

Incest may be considered to be any sexual intercourse between blood relatives whose level of relation does not permit them to marry. It is often done undercover since it is a prohibition in most societies and cultures. The most cogent reason for the prohibition is to avoid rivalry which can destabilize the family.

Most people erroneously believe only father and daughter can commit incest; it also happens among siblings.

Overcrowding offers a fertile ground for incestuous relationships. Girls should always be separated from their male siblings to avoid the temptation to commit this serious crime.

As much as possible, fathers should not sleep in the same bedroom with their daughters.

Defilement cases have been increasing by the day. Defilement may be considered to be sex with a minor usually less than 18 years. It often involves relatives, married men and in some cases very well respected people in the community.

Defilement can lead to infertility years to come, sexually transmitted diseases, psychological trauma, and tearing of their genitals among others.

Sexual harassment, rape, defilement, and incest are a blot on our collective conscience. Society has a huge responsibility to protect the vulnerable especially women and children from all forms of sexual violence.

If we are to stop or reduce the frequency with which sexual violence occurs, it must begin with education and awareness creation about the problem-who are the victims and who are the perpetrators?

As children grow up, teach them the names of the various body parts. Teach them to say ‘NO, STOP IT’ if somebody else other than a parent touches certain vital areas of their bodies. Teach them to say ‘NO, STOP IT’ to requests or demands that requires them to do something they feel uncomfortable with. For instance, an adult who gives this instruction: Be a nice girl and take off your clothes or starts to remove the underwear of the child.

Parents have a responsibility to watch their children for any sudden behavioural change and investigate any claims made by children to the effect that an adult has touched their genitals, inserted their manhood in their mouth or fondled their breasts if they are adolescents.

Children should not be left with adults with questionable character traits. We should educate children about the need to be proactive and avoid situations that could expose them to sexual predators.

Do not allow a child to sleep alone with an adult other than the child’s parent or another safe adult. They should refuse expensive gifts and money from any adult who does so in the absence of the child’s parent especially if that child is singled out for special attention by the same adult. Children are the future and need protection and a safe environment to grow and develop.

There is the need for stiffer punishment for sex offenders such as long prison sentences or heavy fines to deter others.

There is the need for our chiefs, civil society organizations, faith based organizations, and community based organizations to collaborate and protect the rights of the vulnerable from any form of sexual violence. They can educate the populace about the dangers of these crimes and the consequences that follow.

We need to constantly remind the young ones about our moral values such as the need to protect their virginity until marriage, honesty, integrity, remain in school and receive a good education, patience, perseverance, courage, patriotism and diligence which are necessary for a successful life.

The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection should launch a vigorous campaign to reduce the incidences of the aforementioned sexual abuse and all forms of sexual violence. The ministry should assist victims to access health care, counseling services and appropriate skills training for their rehabilitation and reinsertion into their various communities.

The media must be commended for giving publicity to sexual offences which has helped victims to access justice from the Criminal Justice System. It should intensify the campaign until such crimes are brought to the barest minimum.