It is heartbreaking that in 2019 sexual assault still remains to be one of the least reported and prosecuted crime in the world, especially in developing countries like ours – Ethiopia. But before we get to discussing the statistics, the reasoning, and what can be done to change this sad fact, it is important to lay in concrete what sexual assault is to avoid any confusion.
According to Mariam Webster dictionary sexual assault is defined as “[any] illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent or is inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent (as because of age or physical or mental incapacity) or who places the assailant (such as a doctor [or family]) in a position of trust or authority.” With that in mind it is not surprising to learn that the victims are often women, often underage, and often are resourceless. As a result, victims usually stay silent.
According to NSVRC (National Sexual Violence Resource Center), the sexual crime report is deficient. Even in the United States “rape is the most under-reported crime, [and] 63% of all sexual assaults are not reported to the police.” The facts are even more staggering when we look at the crime rate report in Ethiopia. The research done by Ethiopian Journal of Health Science (EJHS) suggests that only 38.5% of sexual assaults are reported. While EJHS does acknowledge that research in Ethiopia is not abundant, “research evidence on child sexual abuse incidence in Ethiopia is scarce,” they also write “cross-sectional study conducted in Addis Ababa identified child sexual abuse prevalence rate of 38.5% among the general public, out of which 29% were committed by victims’ families, and 68% of them were victimized by adults they knew.
Why are the victims not reporting it? There are multiple reasons as to why crimes are reported at an incredibly alarming rate. Some of the ideas cited both by the NSVRC and EJHS are:
• Self-blame or guilt,
• Shame, embarrassment, or desire to keep the assault a private matter,
• Humiliation or fear of the perpetrator or other individual's perceptions,
• Fear of not being believed or of being accused of playing a role in the crime,
• Lack of trust in the criminal justice system.
While these are some of the main reasons recorded - it is essential to recognize that there are so many more reasons that victims have and they are all valid. Furthermore, this underreporting of sexual assault should not come as a surprise given all the stigma victims still face, even in today’s era of #Metoo and #Timesup. As those that have come forward with their stories can testify - the world and especially our Ethiopian community is not accepting of these stories. Our culture often blames the victims. Victims are bombarded with questions like, what were you wearing? What were you doing there by yourself? Why were you out so late? Additionally, the worst part is, we live in a society and culture that often defends the perpetrator. Instead of protecting the victims, culture makes it harder for other survivors to come forward by not believing the ones that have already come forward. What can we do to change it? It is our responsibility to take care of our survivors, as well as to make sure not one more personal experience such a pain.
Written by Lily Tesfaye (IG:@lilytesfayez)