World News

Tanzania cracks down on 'sextortion' by public officials

DAR ES SALAAM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tanzania has warned its public officials that using positions of power to extort sexual favours from women will no longer be tolerated after nearly nine in every 10 women in the public sector were estimated to have been sexually harassed.

Guidelines issued this week by the independent Ethics Secretariat that oversees ethics in public leadership marked a crackdown on “sextortion” - when an official exercises power to sexually exploit someone for a service in his or her authority.

The move came after hundreds of women in Tanzania’s public sector, that accounts for about 5 percent of the workforce, complained of becoming increasingly susceptible to sextortion in the male-dominated system, women’s rights activists said.

A Dar es Salaam-based women’s rights group TAMWA recently reported that about up to 89 percent of women in the public sector have experienced some form of sexual harassment while looking for a job, promotion or seeking a service.

Salome Kaganda, the Ethics Secretariat’s commissioner, said sextortion has become a major problem in the east African country of 50 million people due to an erosion of morals.

“Sex corruption has caused a lot of pain to women who sometimes have no choice than to accept it,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Women’s right groups last year launched a campaign to raise public awareness about the scale of sexual harassment in work places, schools and higher learning institutions.

Student Catherine Olomi told a recent forum on sextortion at the University of Dar es Salaam that many female students were pressured from tutors to have sex for good grades in exams.

“You have to be very bold to resist temptations, but it is not easy since it involves a lot of risks such as failing or sitting for supplementary examinations,” she told the forum.

However a deputy vice chancellor of the university, David Mfinanga, said no sexual harassment claims had been reported.

“I have not heard a single incident of a female student who was sexually harassed since I started working in this office. We have very strict anti-sexual harassment regulations,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Kaganda said the new guidelines had established a mechanism by which people could report sexual abuse to various public offices anonymously through letters, emails or in person.

The guidelines also highlighted disciplinary measures that could be taken against any official found to abuse his or her power including written warnings, demotions, fines, or the sack.

Lawyer Faudhia Yassin from the Women’s Legal Aid Centre said although no law recognised “sextortion”, such action involved two crimes - corruption and sexual abuse - both punishable with jail or fines of up to 5 million Tanzanian shillings (1,653 pounds)

But she said the anti-corruption law was too weak to handle cases of sextortion because it was difficult to prove the crime beyond reasonable doubt as it was carried out in secrecy.

“There is a need to amend the law and make it an exception to the general rule of evidence and allow proof not to be beyond reasonable doubt. This will give justice to victims,” she said.