Declare war against sexual violence

Declare war against sexual violence

When I read a friend’s post on social media that April is a month earmarked as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I started looking around, trying to find out what the Ministry of Gender and Youth, Sports and Recreation had lined up for the month. To my dismay, I found none.
However, all hope was not lost as I thought maybe it was the Ministry of Social Development that had taken up the task. But again I was dismally disappointed to find that they too have nothing to say with regard to activities and campaigns that will create awareness on the issue of sexual violence.

Moreover, the Ministry of Education and Training, as a stakeholder could also have taken upon itself to lead from the front on this issue of sexual assault and ensuring that they partake in the awareness campaign as schools are fertile grounds for sexual assault.
I must admit though that it is also my first time this year to learn that April is the month in which the world creates awareness on sexual violence and how it impacts the lives of the people especially women. Thanks to a post by a friend, I now know.

Curiosity and my inquisitive nature led me on a research path. With the help of my friend, I found that the United States-based National Sexual Violence Resource Centre web page indicates that 2019 marks the official 18th year since the United States began celebrating Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The campaign started because there was a rape crisis in the US at that time.
Here in Lesotho, we have media briefings every Monday by the police on crime. Rape and sexual assault are always dominating the briefings. We must now do something about this.
I also found that the Action Lesotho Child Protection Policies define sexual abuse as a form of cruelty that includes direct or indirect sexual exploitation or corruption of children or vulnerable adults by involving them (or threatening to involve them) or exposing them to inappropriate sexual activities.

In addition, Lesotho has the Sexual Offences Act 2003. This is an Act that was promulgated to consolidate and repeal laws relating to sexual offences, to combat sexual violence and to prescribe appropriate sentences for sexual offences and provide for incidental matters.
In essence, even though we are not celebrating the Sexual Assault Awareness Month, at least we have some legislation and policies in place to combat sexual assault. However, it would be even more appealing if our country through the collaboration of the three ministries that I have mentioned could join hands in celebrating the Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Lesotho.

This is critical for people in remote areas so that they can become aware of their sexual and reproductive health rights in a bid to quash incidents of sexual abuse. This year, the Sexual Assault Awareness Month theme is “I Ask.” The theme champions the message that asking for consent is a healthy, normal and necessary part of everyday interactions. The implication of this message is that people should not assume they have permission, they should make sure they have been given such permission.
The I Ask campaign encourages people to respect each other and acknowledge that no actually means no. The campaign is also created to make people, especially males, aware that buying a female some few bottles of cider at the night club is not consent for sex.

If the three key ministries that work with women and youths could take it upon themselves to adopt the joint celebration of the Sexual Assault Awareness Month, this could go a long way in combating the occurrences of sexual abuse among our people.
It is an open secret that there is rampant sexual assault in schools perpetrated by teachers on students although reporting is very poor. It is during campaigns such as this one that students can be made aware that they do not have to sleep with their teachers to gain higher marks in tests and examinations.

Girls and women in remote areas could also be spared the harassment that they encounter at the hands of their male counterparts who believe that ho seha qholo (drawing a line in the path and claiming a kiss from a girl that grosses it) is consent. The I Ask Campaign will make the boys aware that what they are doing is tantamount to sexual assault.
It is time for us as a country to embark on campaigns that will help us thwart sexual assault before it happens. Creating awareness among the perpetrators on what constitutes sexual assault will in the long run help us to combat the problem before it happens. This is because some perpetrators are not even aware their actions will lead to crime. Let us stand together against sexual abuse as a nation and encourage each other to always Ask For Consent.

Kelello Rakolobe

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