When we think of “corruption”, we tend to think of the provision of monetary bribes. But as the 16th International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) has highlighted, corruption comes in many forms. One such form is the abuse of official power to extort sexual favours, or “sextortion”.
According to Interpol, there are hundreds of thousands of victims of sextortion around the world. But because there is often a lack of hard evidence and victims are too ashamed to come forward, incidents remain grossly underreported and corruption prosecutions for these practices are rare.
Mainstream anti-corruption movements tend to overlook it, despite victims of sextortion often suffering greater adverse effects than those of financial corruption. These effects include physical violence, a violation of human rights, social ostracisation and the possibility of pregnancy or disease.
Sextortion can be explicit or implicit, and often overlaps with sexual harassment. The spectrum of the nature of the extortion in reported cases ranges from the threat of withholding basic nutrient supplements by NGO workers in West Africa to promises of career advancement or good grades in first world workplaces and universities. A recent survey commissioned by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons revealed first-hand stories of junior surgical staff being expected to provide sexual favours to senior surgeons in exchange for tutorship.
A 2014 study by the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) and the Thomson Reuters Foundation of nine jurisdictions, including Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Uganda and Argentina, found that none of the countries had laws explicitly addressing sextortion.
Nancy Hendry, senior advisor at the IAWJ, told delegates at the IACC, “People tend to dismiss [sextortion], partly because it is seen as part of life. But it shouldn’t be, just like sexual harassment or domestic violence are unacceptable.”
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