What has sex to do with corruption?

By Piero Locatelli IACC Young Journalist

Money is not the only currency used to pay bribes. In many places around the world, officials are using their power to get something else from woman citizens: sexual favors. This problem, often overlooked, was the theme of a session in the 16th IACC called “Sextortion: where corruption and sexual exploitation meet”.

This is sextortion. It is a crime from IACC Young Journalists on Vimeo. Learn more about the interview here.

Examples of this kind of extortion abound around the world. In Central America, border guards demanded sex to let woman get through frontiers. In Uganda, prison officials asked sexual favors from prisoners’ wives, so that they were allowed to bring the necessary food to their husbands inside the penitentiary. This problem also happens in the judicial system. In Ecuador, male judges asked sexual favors to withdraw allegations against woman citizens.

In all those cases, people in positions of authority extorted sexual favors in exchange for something else, what’s called sextortion. What distinguishes it from other corrupt and abusive conducts is that it has a sexual component and a corruption one. According to Engera Kileo Mammari, member of the Tanzania Women Judges Association, people often overlooked it because they don’t consider it to be a problem, such as sexual harassment or rape, as it happens due to psychological coercion rather than physical force. Nancy Hendry, Senior Advisor from the International Association of Women Judges (IWAJ), says that international organizations that fight corruption should address this issue just as they deal with other forms of corruption. “People have to broaden their interpretation of what’s a bribe”, says Nancy. “We have to shine a light on the many ways that corruption affects woman, contributes to gender inequality and problems such as HIV”.

A new name to an old problem

Sextortion is a term coined by IWAJ to raise awareness of this problem. “It’s very hard to talk about something when you don`t have a name for it. By giving it a term, we are also able to go against it”, says Joan Winship, former director of IWAJ.

She says that sextortion nowadays is similar to what sexual harassment used to be 30 years ago. Even though the problem was commonplace, most women didn’t notice the situation that they were in. Naming sexual harassment has led to changes in the workplace, so naming sextortion could be the first step to doing the same with another issue.


Interested in the topic? Read 2 cases in 6 years: is Malaysia doing enough to prosecute sextortion?

Categories: Corruption, IACC Young Journalist, Sextortion

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