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Barriers to victims reporting sexual violence in Zimbabwe

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Summary of story from TrustLaw, January 23, 2012

Zimbabwe’s laws for reporting rape should consider cultural factors that result in the underreporting of abuse, say advocates for victims of sexual violence.

The country has strengthened laws and established the Victim Friendly System to provide specialised services for victims of sexual violence. But to make care and justice accessible to all requires approaching the issue from a cultural perspective.

“The social, political and economic and cultural status of women in the country exposes them to rape,” says Gerald Matiba, executive director of Christian Legal Society of Zimbabwe.

Matiba points out several ways in which women are vulnerable, including unreported cases of rape within churches as some leaders take advantage of their positions in order to rape women.

Matiba says “Churches such as the African Apostolic sects have rituals and practices that expose women to be raped.

“A church leader may ask a woman within the church to go for prayers in the bush at night, and this is where some women may be raped.”

Dorcas Mbvuto is a case in point.

A Shona religious leader raped 32 year-old Mbvuto during a cleansing ceremony, but she refused to report the crime because the perpetrator threatened to cast evil spirits on her.

Mbvuto’s story exemplifies the difficulties involved in encouraging women to report rape and so statistics do not reveal the full extent of sexual violence in Zimbabwe.

Also, many victims know their perpetrators and this familiarity results in a lack of reporting.

“Some men, particularly those in the rural areas who are not educated, still think they can have sex with their wives or partners at any time without their consent,” says Matiba, and “such cases may not even be reported because the perpetrator is usually the breadwinner.”

Matiba cites a “culture of silence” in rural communities that prevents women from reporting sexual abuse for fear of being stigmatized by friends and family.

According to 2005-2006 statistics from a Demographic and Health Survey, one in four women aged 15 to 49 had experienced sexual violence.

Yet this figure is likely to be much higher given the high incidence of silent victims.

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