SEXTORTION IN WASH

Inequalities in access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), whilst not the root cause of violence, can exacerbate the vulnerability of women and girls to violence. One of the most prevalent and silent forms of sexual violence and corruption in WASH is sextortion. Sextortion is that form of corruption or practice in which sex, rather than money, is the currency for services. Sexual extortion (‘sextortion’) occurs when those entrusted with power use it to sexually exploit those dependent on that power.

Sextortion is difficult to prosecute as the existing laws, regulations; policies and strategies do not define or recognize it as form of corruption. Furthermore, data and information around it is scanty or non-existent due to limited research. One out of ten women in informal settlements has been a victim of sextortion. The local term for sextortion is ‘water for water’ which is understood as sex to water. The vendors capitalize on socioeconomic vulnerabilities of women and girls to coerce them into sex for water. Because of inadequate access to water, some women are forced to go the extra mile to seduce and offer sex to vendors in exchange for water.

Most of the water points in informal settlements are male owned and male managed which make it difficult address gender issues aside from giving the men undue power over decisions affecting the water availability. Secondly the cost of the water is fairly high with families spending an average of Ksh 1,400 per month. Poorer families are therefore unable to afford the required amount of water leading to incidences of sex for water. Residents, especially women and girls who have the responsibility for water collection, queue for long hours before they can fetch water. Lengthy queues and overcrowding at water points are contributing factors to sextortion and sexual abuse.

On sanitation and hygiene, factors such as the cost (Ksh 10 per visit), the distance, overcrowding and insecurity expose the women and girls to sexual harassment and sextortion. For these reasons, users have improvised flying toilets, buckets or small containers for relieving themselves in secure environments around their houses. The cost for the space is also high. For these reasons, women and girls prefer to bathe in or near their houses. Cases of sextortion and/or sexual harassment are largely unreported due to fear of victimization, stigmatization or lack of knowledge on how to access justice. Majority of victims/survivors of sextortion and sexual harassment are mostly single adult women (over 35 years), while majority of the perpetrators are adult men (over 35 years). In addition, most victims/survivors of sextortion do not report cases due to fear of reprisal following disclosure, stigmatization by the community, feeling of guilt and shame, bribe demand and lack of information on reporting mechanism.

The community referral pathway that links victims/survivors to appropriate support services is weak, even though the services exist. The victims/survivors need protection measures against reprisal, guidance on prevention and reporting of incidents, and economic empowerment.

To reduce sextortion there is need to develop and implement a legal framework for sextortion to enable adequate prosecution of cases and improve access to adequate and reliable water supply and sanitation services within informal settlements. Other measures include, the need to strengthen level of women’s participation and involvement in WASH decision-making structures at community level; providing safe confidential and gender sensitive reporting mechanism that gives victims/survivors access to appropriate support to resources needed (such as physical, psychological, health as well as legal support) as well as empowering women and girls to get out of poverty, and participate in decision making in the WASH sector.

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