Sexual violence in institutions of higher learning takes various forms. This ranges from catcalling, body shaming, rape, and sex for grades and in some cases sexual harassment. Sexual violence is meted on students in institutions of higher learning by university staff, lecturers and fellow students. Sexual violence is not a female only phenomenon, it also happens to male students but the stigma and silence that surrounds sexuality in many African societies and the notion of masculinity makes many males to suffer in silence.
1 in 2 female students and 1 in 4 male students have been sexually harassed to some degree at the hands of staff at Kenyan universities.
According to a survey conducted by Actionaid, out of 1,015 students, 49% of female and 24% of male have experienced sexual harassment from a staff member in their institution.66% of the incidences were by a lecturer. Sexual harassment is also through the invasion of personal space including standing too close, touching, kissing and unwanted office visits mostly after working hours under the guise of discussing academics or failing grades.
For 1st year students popularly known within university corridors as “freshers”, sexual violence occurs when senior student predate on the new arrivals in campus. Many a times the sexual escapades take place during fresher bashes. Sexual harassment in institutions of higher learning is manifested through sexual gestures, unwanted phone calls, emails and letters. It also takes the form of sexualised comments on one’s clothing or looks. Fear of victimisation makes many students to keep silent about sexual violence, the fear of what will other students say, the feeling of I brought it on myself and the bravery to ensure “I get good grades and make parents/guardians happy”.
Sex for grades is a phenomenon not only happening in Kenyan universities but happens across many countries as evidenced by the BBC Documentary Film Sex for Grades. Sometimes when students fail exams, they get lured into transactional sex so that they do not have to retake the same papers and do not want to study again for an entire semester. Other times the sexual transaction comes prior to exams and the student is assured of good grades. The other crisis is when students fail exams and they want to pass these exams, instead of reading, they end up making themselves vulnerable to to sexual predation by approaching lectures and telling them they do not want to fail exams.
Sexual violence can also come about when students are too open and share with lecturers. This is especially true of students coming from vulnerable households; this is likely to make the student vulnerable to predation not only from lecturers but also from fellow students who take advantage of the existing economic vulnerability to sexually exploit their fellow student.
Sexual violence is outlawed in Kenya and the Sexual Offences Act lays down punitive measures for various sex related offences. Sadly getting a conviction is difficult sometime because of lack of evidence or evidence being tampered with.
Sexual violence meted on university students not only taken place in campus, it also takes place off campus. In some cases the predators are university staff, other times they are fellow students (popularly known as comrades) as well as ordinary citizens in the community. Sometimes the sexual violence in the form of rape takes place during freshers bash when new students join campus.
When sexual violence occurs, the best the victims wants to do and do it immediately is to forget about it. This interferes with evidence especially when the victim takes a bath. It is important to emphasise that sexual violence and harassment is never the victim’s fault, sadly this is often what the victims are made to feel. They are also made to blame themselves by society for being in the wrong place. Sometimes when people share about sexual violence incidences they become subjects of ridicule and rumour mongering.It is also important that buddying systems be created in universities where students can freely talk in safe spaces about their experiences without fear of being judged.
For many female student, sexual violence makes them suffer in silence, too embarrassed to talk about it, they withdraw inwards. Due to the secrecy that surrounds sex and sexuality in African culture, there is the tendency of victims to suffer in silence for fear of victimisation Sometimes the victims get blamed by the very institutions supposed to protect them from these vices. This ends up affecting their academic performance and mental health .In some instances sexual violence has ended young lives and left families suffering. Furthermore, when victims speak up about their experiences, a lot of time has elapsed making a conviction difficult. There is also the challenge of evidence which due to fear of victimisation; the victim ends up destroying it.
It is important to embrace and be part of anti-sexual violence campaigns in campuses such as #CampusMetoo to have spaces for speaking out on sexual violence and harassment enables students advocate and speak out on sexual violence, it helps make victims bold and prevent would be victims from falling into the trap. It is also important to note that sexual harassment has to be dealt with in an effective manner that brings together collaborative efforts between students, government, judiciary, parents and student bodies. Students who also make complaints about sexual violence should be protected from victimisation. Only then will institutions of higher learning be safe for students to learn and thrive.
https://deeply.thenewhumanitarian.org/womenandgirls/articles/2017/12/06/… This story was submitted in response to Sharing Solutions: Ending GBV.