IT was around 6PM, three weeks back, when a male friend persuaded 15-year-old Gloria (not her real name) to visit him. She visited, they talked for a bit and everything was going well. Things turned for the worst when her friend started demanding to have sex with her, highlighted Gloria in her submitted court documents.
“He asked me to have sex with him. I refused. I tried to escape, but he hit me with a machete. I lost consciousness. All I remember is that he raped me a few metres from the main road of my village,” she said.
It wasn’t until 3PM the next day that someone from Gloria’s family found her. Still unconscious, she was taken to the nearest health centre. She was diagnosed with severe genital injuries.
Gloria is still recovering from the consequences of being abused and raped. Sexual gender-based violence occurs throughout the world.
Although in most countries there has been little research conducted on the problem, available data suggest that in some countries nearly up to one-third of adolescent girls report their first sexual experience as being forced.
Certain forms of sexual violence, for instance, are very closely associated with young girls, in particular, the violence taking place in remote areas, schools and colleges.
Recently, Mashonaland Central Province has been recording alarming rates of rape cases of minor girls and young women. Indications are that the whole province has been registering not less than three rape cases on a daily basis for the past 12 months. The increase in rape cases has largely been attributed to the Covid-19-induced lockdown as minor girls and young women were locked indoors with abusers who are either their close relatives or neighbours.
Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) Mashonaland Central Assistant Commissioner Mrs Emelda Chifodya said they are housing a sizable number of rape perpetrators in their correctional facilities.
“Rape cases have indeed gone up; we have some young men getting locked up for rape in the province. We are also witnessing elderly men, as old as 80 also getting locked up for rape. They are raping young girls and women,” she said.
According to the Zimbabwe Gender Commission, 22 women are raped daily in Zimbabwe. One woman is abused every 75 minutes, an average of 646 women are being sexually-abused monthly and one in three girls is raped or sexually assaulted before they reach the age of 18. Crime data from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat), compiled from police records, show a 74 percent jump in rape cases between 2010 and 2018. Assistant Commissioner Chifodya said with prisons receiving alarming numbers of rapists recently, it has become urgent to actively condemn rape.
“Let’s stop rape, everyone should play their part wherever they are to stop rape. We are experiencing high cases of rape here in Bindura. As correctional services, we know our job is to receive those who would have been arrested by the police. However, our correctional facilities are too small and they can no longer accommodate the large numbers of offenders being brought in. We are now getting more sexual gender-based violence perpetrators,” she said.
Provincial Information Communication Officer, Superintendent Mrs Sheila Tungadza said rape cases have been rising at an unprecedented rate and there was a need to scale up rape prevention efforts at household level.
“The issue that has been worrying us as the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) is the rise in incidences where minors are being raped. I don’t have statistics in hand at the moment but for the whole of Mashonaland Central in general, we record two or three rape cases on a daily basis,” she said.
She indicated that most of these cases involve minors and perpetrators who are in most cases relatives or neighbours.
“At times, mothers leave their daughters in the hands of trusted male relatives going to church or going to buy wares for sale in neighbouring countries. The relatives end up sexually abusing the little ones. I urge everyone to leave their children in the care of trusted female relatives more than male relatives because what we are witnessing here is not a good picture,” said Supt Tungadza.
She said that cases where fathers are abusing their daughters were also on the rise in the province.
“Fathers are raping their daughters to an extent whereby the girls are falling pregnant. The mothers at times take time to notice that their daughters are being abused and the abuse goes on for long,” said Supt Tungadza. She advised parents to create bonds with their children so that they will be able to notice if their children have been abused.
“Mothers and fathers, should establish relationships with their children. They should take time to listen to them every day after work and listen to their stories.
“By creating an environment whereby children feel free to share with them anything, parents stand a chance of noticing early if their children have been abused. The children will also be free to tell them if anyone touches them and does anything inappropriate to them. At times what makes children hide things from parents is that they fear getting beaten or scolded. Parents should avoid creating an environment whereby children fear them,” she said.
Sexual violence of women, particularly young girls is a horrendous form of gender-based violence because it traumatises them in several ways. Firstly, it is associated with an increased risk of a range of sexual and reproductive health problems, with both immediate and long-term consequences. Dr Charles Sibanda, a gynaecologist based in Bulawayo said forced sex greatly affects a young girl’s health.
“Forced sex can result in unintended pregnancy among adolescents. Gynaecological complications have been consistently found in pregnant teenagers who have been sexually violated. These include vaginal bleeding or infection, fibroids, decreased sexual desire, genital irritation, chronic pelvic pain and urinary tract infections,” said Dr Sibanda.
“HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases are recognised consequences of rape.”
Sexual violence also has a profound impact on mental health. Its impact on mental health can be as serious as its physical impact, and may be equally long lasting. In one population-based study, the prevalence of symptoms or signs suggestive of a psychiatric disorder was 33 percent in women with a history of sexual abuse as adolescents.
Abused women reporting experiences of forced sex are at significantly greater risk of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder than non-abused women. Post-traumatic stress disorder after rape is more likely if there is injury during the rape, or a history of depression or alcohol abuse. Research also indicates that women who experience sexual assault in childhood are more likely to attempt or commit suicide than other women. Lastly, forced sex in childhood or adolescence, for instance, increases the likelihood of engaging in unprotected sex, having multiple partners, participating in sex work, and substance abuse. In order to help girls heal from sexual abuse, a lot of care is needed. Mr Brandon Dube an advocate at Justice For Children’s Trust said it’s important to give the girls psychological care and support.
“Counselling, therapy and support group initiatives have been found to be helpful following sexual assaults, especially where there may be complicating factors related to the violence itself or the process of recovery. There is some evidence that a brief cognitive-behavioural programme administered shortly after assault can hasten the rate of improvement of psychological damage arising from trauma,” said Mr Dube.
“As already mentioned, victims of sexual violence sometimes blame themselves for the incident, and addressing this in psychological therapy has also been shown to be important for recovery. Short-term counselling and treatment programmes after acts of sexual violence, though, require considerable further evaluation.”