GBV Glossary

Gender-Based Violence Terms

Abortion in South Africa is legal under certain circumstances. The Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act passed in 1996, allows abortion upon request up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Between 13 and 20 weeks, abortion is permitted under specific conditions, such as risk to the woman’s physical or mental health, foetal abnormalities, or socio-economic factors. If the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, abortion is permitted until the 20th week of pregnancy.

After 20 weeks, abortion is only allowed if the pregnancy endangers the woman’s life or poses severe fetal abnormalities.

If the person is under the age of 18, they are advised to speak to their parents. If the person is in a relationship or marriage, they can speak to their partners but also have the right not to do so.

Most government hospitals offer access to safe, legal and free abortion.
Marie Stopes offers great services, but they are not for free:

Accountability dictates that persons, States or other entities must be answerable for their conduct when it violates laws or rules or fails to meet expectations of a specific position or activity. Accountability can take different forms, including administrative, political, judicial, and criminal, and includes processes that seek to establish truth, justice and reparation for victims.

Investigating and prosecuting gender-based violence and other crimes requires a specific set of expertise and a broader understanding of such conduct beyond rape, including how it affects men, boys, and LGBTQIA+ persons (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual). It needs to be gender-sensitive and capture the experiences of victims truthfully.

In all countries, accountability for gender-based violence and crimes often remains elusive due to reporting barriers, limited capacities to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators effectively, incomplete and ill-suited legal frameworks, and lack of specialised and adequate training for personnel in the medical, forensic, policing and judicial fields, and the persistence of discrimination and gender stereotypes.

Adolescence is the transitional period between childhood and adulthood. Adolescence typically occurs between the ages of 10 and 19 years. Adolescents undergo physical, emotional, and cognitive development in this phase of life and a search for identity and independence.

The experience of adolescence can vary significantly across cultures and individual contexts. The age range, emphasis on physical changes, and expectations of teenagers can differ depending on cultural contexts.

An ally is a person who works to end a form of oppression that gives them privilege(s). Allies listen to and are guided by communities and individuals affected by oppression. Forms of oppression include ableism, ageism, audism, classism, biphobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, and others.

Being an ally in the fight against GBVF starts with knowledge and following through with intentional action. It means putting a voice to the fight, standing in solidarity with survivors, and educating your family and friends about this topic to create a society of zero tolerance towards gender-based violence.

Catcalling, also called street harassment, is a severe and aggressive act of ‘power’ and objectification that feeds into rape culture. People of all genders can initiate it, but it is typically done by men towards women.

Catcalling can involve flashing, leering, whistling, demands, calling someone ‘names’ or persistent requests for your name, number or other information regarding yourself. Some examples of catcalling are:

‘You look sexy today.’
‘Why won’t you give me your number sweety.’
‘Babe can I get a smile from you.’
‘Are you too good for me B****?’

Child abduction is the unlawful and unauthorised removal or retention of a child from the custody of their parents or legal guardians.

Child abduction can be committed by parents or other family members; by people known but not related to the victim, such as neighbours, friends and acquaintances; and by strangers.

Child abuse is any act or failure to act that endangers or impairs a child’s physical or emotional health and development. Child abuse can happen in any environment, and child abusers come from all walks of life.

There are five general types of child abuse:

  • Physical abuse: all forms of physical violence. This includes smacking/spanking a child.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse: Someone regularly berates the child, acts in a hostile manner or intentionally scares the child.
  • Physical neglect: the child does not receive the care and nurturing they need.
  • Emotional or psychological neglect: continuous lack of positive attention for the child. Ignoring the child’s need for love and security. This also includes cases in which children are witnesses to violence between their parents or caregivers.
  • Child Sexual abuse: sexual contact which an adult forces upon a child. This includes molestation, penetration, child pornography and prostitution.

The term child-on-child sexual abuse (COCSA) is defined as sexual activity between children that occurs without consent, without equality (mentally, physically, or in age), or as a result of physical or emotional coercion.

While the trauma for the victim is the same as if an adult had perpetrated it, this type of abuse goes mostly unreported. There can be several reasons for this, including that the victim may not realise they are being abused or feel unable to tell a parent. Many children are subjected to silencing strategies which prevent them from being able to reveal the abuse.

In the case of COCSA, both children involved must get the proper support.

Child sexual abuse, also called child molestation, is a form of abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. This includes fondling, penetration, exploitation, pornography, exhibitionism, child prostitution, group sex, oral sex, or forced observation of sexual acts.

Coercion is a tactic perpetrators use to exert power and control over another person. This may include a person intimidating, tricking, forcing, or manipulating someone into engaging in sexual activity without the use of physical force.

Perpetrators may also use threats of violence, blackmail, drugs, and/or alcohol to coerce someone into sexual activity.

Compelled rape occurs when someone forces a third person to commit an act of sexual assault on another. Compelled rape and compelled self-sexual assault are both crimes.

Therefore, it is also a crime to force someone else to masturbate. Another example of compelled rape would be a robber who breaks into a house and forces the residents into having sex with each other. Both parties are treated as victims in this incident, and the robber is charged with compelled rape.

Consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent should be clearly and freely communicated.
According to the law, even if someone has indicated consent in some way, e.g., by saying ‘yes’ or by not resisting, there is no consent or permission granted for a sexual act if;

    • The victim is forced into an act of violence or the threat of violence to themselves, a loved one, or their property.
    • The victim is drunk, drugged, asleep, or unconscious. This means that if the victim has been drinking heavily or taking drugs, they can not consent to sex.
    • The victim is younger than 16 years old or mentally challenged. (Statutory Rape)
    • The victim is forced into consent by their boss or teacher or any other person in a position of authority, e.g., if the victim is led to think that refusing sex will affect their position at work or their learning intuition.
    • A professional or someone in authority has deceived a victim and made them believe that they must submit to a sexual act for their physical, emotional, or spiritual health.

It is important to remember that consent can be withdrawn at any moment. Continuing after consent has been withdrawn is considered sexual abuse.

Counselling is when two or more people are engaged in a helping relationship. One is the counsellor, who is trained, qualified, and most often licensed and certified as the ‘supporter’; the other(s) is the client/victim seeking help.

The purpose of the relationship is for the counsellor to support the client/victim in overcoming trauma and solving issues, concerns, or problems that arise.

Cyberstalking is the repeated use of electronic means (internet, email, social media, etc.) to harass, intimidate, or frighten another person.

Cyberstalking is characterised by persistent and repetitive behaviour, which is ongoing and not just a one-time event. This can involve sending unwanted messages, posting harmful content or sharing someone’s personal information or photos without their consent, hacking accounts, tracking someone’s locations, or even threats of violence. Cyberstalking can sometimes be part of or lead to real-world/offline stalking.

Date rape, also called acquaintance rape, describes the forcing or coercing of a victim into unwanted sexual activity by a friend, romantic suitor, or peer during or after voluntary social engagement. This occurs through violence, verbal pressure, misuse of authority, use of incapacitating substances, or threat of violence.

On many occasions, perpetrators use drugs to intoxicate the victim. The most common drugs used in date rapes include flunitrazepam (Rohypnol) and gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB).

A date rape drug is any drug and/or alcohol that incapacitates another person, making them vulnerable to sexual assault. Most commonly, a drug is slipped into a person’s drink (or food) without their knowledge so that they are less able to defend themselves against unwanted sexual contact and/or unable to remember what happened after they ingested the drug.

Rohypnol is a common sexual assault drug; it usually comes in tablet form and can easily be crushed and dissolved in liquids. Other common date rape drugs include GHB (Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid), Ketamine, and Benzodiazepines.

Dating abuse is a type of domestic abuse. In abusive relationships, the pattern of controlling and violent behaviour often worsens over time. It can take many forms, including physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation, and emotional, sexual, or economic abuse. It can affect people of any race, class, gender, ability, or sexual orientation.

Debriefing is a review and discussion of an incident or situation after it has happened, often to discuss experiences, encourage reflection and share insights.

Psychological debriefing involves various procedures, such as counselling, that are aimed at preventing psychological morbidity (i.e. anxiety and depression) and assisting with recovery after a traumatic event.

The term ‘domestic violence’ is used when there is a close relationship between the offender and the victim and relates to violent or aggressive behaviour within the home.

Domestic violence is committed by someone in the victim’s domestic circle, which includes partners and ex-partners, immediate family members, other relatives, and family friends.

The Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 defines domestic violence as;

  • Any form of abuse which includes physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, or economic harassment.
  • Property damage
  • Stalking
  • Entry into a person’s property without their consent.
  • Any other abusive or controlling behaviour that causes harm or may cause harm to a person’s health, safety, or well-being.

For more about domestic violence, read our blog article.

Emergency contraception refers to methods of contraception that can prevent pregnancy after sexual intercourse, including rape.

For example, the ‘morning-after-pill’ must be taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy. The ‘morning after pill’ in South Africa is freely available in public health facilities. The Morning After Pill can also be bought over the counter at pharmacies.

Although the ‘morning-after-pill’ helps prevent unplanned pregnancy, they do not reduce the risk of contracting STIs or HIV after unprotected sex.

Emotional abuse involves controlling another person by using emotions to criticise, embarrass, shame, blame, or otherwise manipulate them. While most common in dating, mental or emotional abuse can occur in any relationship, including among friends, family members, and colleagues.

The underlying goal of emotional abuse is to control the other person by discrediting, isolating, and silencing them. Signs of emotional abuse include yelling or swearing, name-calling or insults, mocking, threats and intimidation, ignoring or excluding, isolating, humiliating or denying the abuse, and blaming the victim.

Family violence is the intentional abuse among individuals where significant others are part of the family and/or are fulfilling the function of the family to gain power and control over the victim. It includes domestic violence, violence between parents and children, siblings, spouses and in-laws.

Examples include emotional abuse, financial abuse, preventing a spouse from access to food, water, shelter or clothing, forced abortion or beating of the wife by her mother-in-law.

Female genital mutilation (FGM ) is the non-surgical cutting of the external parts of the vagina to prevent sexual behaviour, elevate the social status of the woman or be carried out as a rite of passage into womanhood.

FGM has severe physical and psychological consequences even years after the practice. While there is no research on FGM in South Africa, doctors have reported encountering patients who show signs of FGM.

Feminism is the belief in and advocacy for the political, economic, personal and social equality of the sexes. It is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.

Feminism advocates for equal rights and opportunities for women, men, and LGBTQI+ individuals in all areas of life, including education, employment, politics, healthcare, and more.

Feminist movements campaign for women’s rights and interests, focusing on issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, equal pay, and an end to violence against women. Feminism challenges traditional gender roles and stereotypes that disadvantage women and other marginalised individuals, as well as power structures that privilege men. Feminists also work to empower women to be able to make choices about their own lives (including over their bodies and reproduction) and to be able to participate in society fully.

Femininity, also called womanliness, is a set of attributes, behaviours, and roles that are traditionally associated with women and girls. Femininity is associated with females and thus culturally defined as not masculine.

It indicates the qualities and characteristics a female should have to be a “woman”. Such generalisations are based on beliefs rather than observations or facts. Different cultures have different ideas of what femininity entails. The characteristics associated with femininity also change over time.

Filicide is the deliberate killing of a child by their parent. Filicide happens under circumstances that are often different than those related to child homicide, including child abuse and neglect, abandonment of very young children, or infanticide (the killing of a child under one year old).

Filicide is one of the leading causes of death in children in the United States of America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Within South Africa, there is an increasing rate of filicide committed by both mothers and fathers.

Often, filicide committed by mothers (maternal filicide) is the result of mental health conditions or social, economic and psychological factors, including pity, psychotic disorder, child abuse, ‘protecting’ offspring before suicide, getting rid of unwanted children, or spousal revenge.

Paternal filicide can result from these same factors but is also often related to revenge filicide. Revenge filicide is when one parent kills their child/children to inflict hurt or retribution on the other parent. This can be a result of the offending parent believing that their spouse/partner/ex-spouse has caused them emotional and psychological pain and suffering and wants them to experience the same.

Financial abuse is a tactic used by abusers to exercise economic control over victims. It entails coercive influence over another person’s ability to acquire, make use of and maintain financial assets. It includes economic exploitation, where an abuser will deliberately destroy the victim’s credit record and financial resources. This can look like getting credit in the victim’s name, neglecting payment of bills in the victim’s name or reckless expenditure of jointly earned money. Coerced debt is where an abuser forces or pressures the victim into taking on financial obligations, such as loans or debts, against their will. Financial abusers may also control the victim’s access to money by taking away their salary, providing them with a minimal ‘allowance’, monitoring their purchases or denying them access to bank accounts.

Financial abuse often goes hand-in-hand with domestic abuse. However, financial abuse can occur in any relationship, including romantic relationships, parent-child relationships, friendships, and even work relationships. It’s important to remember that anyone can be a victim, regardless of gender, income, or social status.

Forced marriage is when one and/or both parties have not personally expressed their full and free consent to the union. This sometimes occurs through emotional or psychological pressure, threats, physical violence, or abduction.

Forced marriage is a human rights violation and a harmful practice that disproportionately affects women and girls globally.

Gang rape, also known as group rape, is forced sexual activity carried out by multiple perpetrators against a non-consenting victim.

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that often occurs in abusive relationships. The abuser makes a victim question their judgement, reality or doubt their sanity, to gain more power and control over the victim. Telling a victim that something never happened or that it occurred differently than how they remember is a covert form of gaslighting.

A few common sayings are:

  • “It didn’t happen that way.”
  • “I don’t think this person meant to hurt you.”
  • “You’re imagining things; that conversation never took place.”
  • “You’re being too sensitive; it wasn’t a big deal.”
  • “I never agreed to that; you’re making it up.”

These tactics are used to undermine confidence and control the victim’s perception of reality.

Gender discrimination is the unequal or harmful treatment of a group or individual based on gender.Gender discrimination includes unequal access to education, jobs, healthcare, and sexual harassment. Examples can include:

  • Disfavoring someone based on gender
  • Using crude and harmful language based on gender or gender expression or
  • Intimidating someone based on their gender

Gender equality means equal value and opportunities for everyone regardless of sex or gender. In other words, it is the concept that all people, regardless of sex or gender, should have equal rights, opportunities, and resources. It includes the eradication of all factors that disempower women and girls. Gender equality is a human right that is essential for sustainable development in our society. Some examples are:

  • Equal Pay: Both men and women should receive equal pay for doing the same work or work of equal value.
  • Education: Boys and girls should have equal access to education,.
  • Political Participation: Men and women should have an equal opportunity to participate in decision-making processes, whether it’s voting or holding public office.
  • Division of Household Labor: Responsibilities within the household should be shared equally between partners, regardless of their gender.
  • Freedom from Violence: Everyone should be protected from gender-based violence, whether it’s domestic abuse, sexual assault, or harassment.

Gender equity means ensuring fairness and justice for people of all genders by giving them equal opportunities, resources, and treatment. It’s about recognising and addressing the different needs and experiences of individuals based on their gender to achieve balance and inclusivity in all aspects of life.

Overall, gender equity aims to create a society where everyone, regardless of gender, has equal opportunities, rights, and resources to thrive and succeed. Some examples of gender equity include representation in leadership, access to education, parental leave policies, healthcare access and ending gender stereotypes.

There is often confusion between the terms ‘Gender Equality’ and ‘Gender Equity’. Gender equality is about treating everyone the same, while gender equity is about ensuring fairness by providing what each gender needs to have equal chances of success.

The Gender pay gap, also known as the gender wage gap, is the average difference in pay between men and women who are employed. In general, women are paid far less than men.

The gap exists even after factoring in average differences in education, seniority, work experience and the type of job. According to the UN, no country has been able to close the gender pay gap successfully. Closing the gap empowers women and promotes economic growth.

Gender roles are learned behaviours in a given society/community of how men and women should behave. People are socialised into gender roles from when they are little girls and boys through activities, tasks, and responsibilities that are perceived as male and female-appropriate.

Gender roles are affected by age, class, race, ethnicity, religion and the geographical, economic and political environment. For example, cooking, cleaning and childcare might be considered a woman’s role, while working and providing for the family might be considered a man’s role.

Gender roles are not determined by facts or abilities but by social and cultural beliefs. They are often based on patriarchal beliefs that put men ‘in charge’ of women and families. Changes in gender roles often occur in response to changing economic, natural or political circumstances, including development efforts.

Grooming is when someone builds a relationship, trust, and emotional connection with a child or an adult to manipulate, exploit and abuse them. People who are groomed can be sexually abused, exploited, or trafficked. Grooming can take place online or in person.

Anybody can be a groomer, regardless of age, gender, or race. While these tactics are often used against younger kids, teens and vulnerable adults are also at risk.

Abusers will often start to touch a victim in ways that appear harmless, such as hugging, wrestling, and tickling, and later escalate to increasingly more sexual contact, such as massages or showering together.

Some examples of grooming behaviours can be isolating the victim, providing special attention or gifts, emotional manipulation, normalising inappropriate behaviour, threats or blackmail.

Human trafficking is a serious crime and human rights violation where people are exploited through force, fraud, or coercion for various purposes, including forced labour, sexual exploitation, and domestic servitude. Traffickers often manipulate or deceive victims, making it difficult for them to escape.

Examples of Human Trafficking are:

  • Forced Labor: Victims are made to work under threat or harm in factories, farms, or construction sites, often without pay.
  • Sex Trafficking: Individuals are coerced or deceived into prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation.
  • Organ Trafficking: Vulnerable individuals, often children, are kidnapped or coerced into selling their organs for transplant operations. These operations can occur illegally, with victims facing serious health risks and exploitation.
  • Domestic Servitude: People are trapped in private homes, working as maids or nannies under abusive conditions and unable to leave.

Trafficking can occur in any country and affects millions of people worldwide, regardless of age, gender, or background.

South Africa is considered a source, transit, and destination country for trafficking in persons. Victims are often trafficked internally from rural to urban areas, as well as internationally, to countries such as Thailand, the Netherlands, and the UK.

If you want to report a case of human trafficking, please contact A21, a global anti-human trafficking organisation with operations in various countries, including South Africa. Contact A21 on 0800 222 777

An “incel” is a term that stands for “involuntary celibate”. It refers to a person, typically a man, who is unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite wanting one and who often holds negative views towards themselves, women, and society due to their perceived lack of success in dating or relationships. Incels are closely linked to misogyny, rape culture, sexism, toxic masculinity, extreme ideology and inciting violence against women. 

Incest is sexual activity between family members or close relatives (blood relations), e.g. a father and daughter or a brother and sister. With or without consent, incest is a crime.

A common justification for prohibiting incest is avoiding inbreeding. Studies have confirmed an increase in genetic disorders due to inbreeding, such as blindness, hearing loss, neonatal diabetes, limb malformations, disorders of sex development, schizophrenia, and several others.

The concept of ‘intersectionality’ has been defined as “intersectional oppression that arises out of the combination of various oppressions which produce something unique and distinct from any one form of discrimination standing alone….”

Intersectionality is linked to identity. A person’s identity includes their age, race, sexuality, ability, gender, etc. Intersectionality recognises the unique experiences faced by people based on the combination of identity categories they fall under.

An intersectional approach considers an individual’s historical, social, cultural and political context relative to their identity. In this way, an intersectional approach allows for a holistic solution to societal injustices.

Black American feminist, Kimberle Crenshaw, coined intersectionality. To add more understanding to the implications of intersectionality, she made an example of a traffic intersection. Imagine an intersection with traffic flowing in all four directions. Intersectionality on a black woman is like getting run into by at least one car coming from each of the directions. One of them can be patriarchy, sexism, poverty and racism.

Intimate partner violence (IPV), also called domestic violence, is a pattern of abusive behaviour in an intimate or romantic relationship. It causes physical, sexual, or psychological harm and includes acts of physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse, and controlling behaviours.

For more about domestic violence, read our blog article.

Love bombing is a manipulation tactic when someone overwhelms another with extreme displays of affection, adoration or gifts to gain control over or influence them. Signs of love bombing are:

  • Someone gives you excessive compliments.
  • Someone always wants to spend time with you.
  • Someone buys you expensive gifts all the time.
  • Someone guilt trips you for having boundaries.
  • Someone is texting, emailing, and calling too many times a day.
  • Someone is asking you to spend time with them rather than with friends.
  • Someone is mirroring all of your interests.

Marital rape, also called ‘spousal rape’, describes sexual acts with one’s spouse without the spouse’s consent. This is whether the couple is married by civil, customary or religious law.

Masculinities are those behaviours, languages, attributes and roles that are associated with men and boys in specific social, cultural and organisational settings.

It indicates qualities and characteristics that a male should have to be a “man”. These are not a fixed set of characteristics that are determined by observations or facts, but rather behaviours and traits that are shaped by cultural norms, beliefs, expectations, and traditions. The concept of masculinity differs across cultures and changes over time. Globally, there are many definitions of what a man ‘should be’.

Misogynoir combines ‘misogyny’ and ‘noir’. The term misogynoir refers to the racist, strong dislike of black women. Feminist Moya Bailey coined the term ‘misogynoir’ in recognition of the unique hate and sexism that is experienced by black women. Often depicted in visual and popular culture.

Negging is verbal and/or emotional abuse and a type of manipulation that involves lowering a person’s self-esteem. Negging is deployed by people who want to belittle, undermine, and control the people around them, intending to make the person overly desire and depend on the negger’s approval for self-esteem. Over time, negging can be highly destructive and dangerous to the person on the receiving end.

Patriarchy is a system of society or government in which men hold power and women are largely excluded from it. In this system, women are excluded from full political and economic participation. Patriarchal relations structure the private and public spheres, with men dominating domestic and public life.

According to the law, penetration can be any act that causes penetration to any extent. This includes:

  • The genital organs of one person pass into or through the genital organs, anus, or mouth of another person.
  • Any other part of the body of one person or any object passing into or through the genital organs of another person.
  • The legal definition also includes instances where an animal is involved in the penetrative act.

A perpetrator is a person who carries out a harmful, illegal, or immoral act. Other terms used in administrative, legal, and social settings might include rapist, defendant, accused, abuser, offender, respondent, or, less commonly, stalker, harasser, etc. Survivors have the right to use the language they feel most comfortable with.

Rape is the unlawful penetration of a victim’s body with any portion of the perpetrator’s body or with a foreign object. Rape is one of the many crimes that fall under the umbrella of sexual assault.

Some rape victims often think, “Was I raped?”. Rape happens any time sexual intercourse takes place without consent. Many circumstances can indicate a lack of consent, including

  • An inability to give consent due to age
  • A failure to provide consent due to diminished capacity (e.g. disability)
  • A failure to give consent due to intoxication (e.g. using drugs or alcohol)

If a person has not consented to sex, it is still considered rape even if the victim did not say “No” out loud. If a weapon is used to coerce someone into having sex, even if they do not explicitly say “no”, it is still rape.

Sometimes, victims are too concerned about their safety to say “no.” This is still considered rape. Victims might also shut down or ‘leave their bodies’ during rape, making them unable to say “no” or to fight back. This is a very normal response to rape and does not mean that the victim consented.

For more on this specific topic, please read our blog article.

Rape culture is a set of deeply entrenched societal attitudes and beliefs that normalise sexual violence and diminish its seriousness. It is demonstrated through media, language, and policy, promoting sexual objectification and coercion, lack of agency over one’s body, and dismissal of feminine-presenting or gender-nonconforming individuals as not ‘fully human’.

Rape culture is ubiquitous in representing violence as ‘sexy’, ‘alluring’ and ‘hot’. These ideas pervade everything from the magazines we read, the movies we watch and the music we love to the language we use to talk about sex and the laws that govern bodies and behaviour. Rape culture relies on other systems of oppression to perpetuate victim blaming and gender inequity, including hegemonic masculinity and patriarchy.

Source: Harvard University Office of sexual assault prevention & response

Revenge porn is a type of digital abuse in which nude or sexually explicit photos or videos are shared without the consent of those pictured. Revenge porn is closely related to sexual abuse, and it is illegal in South Africa.

An example of revenge porn is that a current or previous partner may share explicit images as “revenge” or threaten to distribute them as a type of blackmail.

Since 2020, revenge porn is illegal in South Africa, as President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Films and Publications Amendment Bill into law. The new law addresses hate speech, child pornography, and revenge porn. The bill states that “any person who knowingly distributes private sexual photographs and films in any medium including through the internet, without the prior consent of the individual or individuals and where the individual or individuals in the photographs or films is identified or identifiable in the said photographs and films, shall be guilty of an offence and liable upon conviction”. The penalty for this offence may include a fine up to R150,000 or imprisonment for up to two years or both a fine and imprisonment. Where the individual is identified or identifiable in the photographs and films, this penalty increases to a ZAR 300,000 fine and/or imprisonment not exceeding four years.

Sexual assault is an act in which one intentionally sexually touches another person without that person’s consent or coerces/forces a person to engage in a sexual act against their will. It also includes any sexualised behaviour that makes a person feel uncomfortable, intimidated, threatened or frightened.

Sexual assault can be, and often is, committed by people familiar to the victim. This includes family members or close friends. Sexual assault encompasses rape, fondling, stalking and other crimes.

Sexual battery refers to nonconsensual sexual contact or touching of another’s intimate parts (clothed or unclothed) against the victim’s will. Sexual battery is a form of sexual assault.

Sexual coercion is a tactic used by perpetrators to intimidate, trick, pressure, threaten or force someone to have sex with them without physical force.

Coercion can make you think you owe sex to someone or have to submit to them. It might occur with someone who has power over you, like a teacher, landlord, or boss.

Sexual exploitation is defined as an actual or attempted abuse of someone’s position of vulnerability. This person depends on someone for survival, food rations, school, books, transport or other services, differential power or trust to obtain sexual favours, including but not only by offering money or other social, economic or political advantages. It includes human trafficking and prostitution.

Child sexual exploitation is the act of coercing, luring or engaging a child under the age of 18 into a sexual action and involvement in the sex trade or pornography, with or without the child’s consent, in exchange for money, drugs, shelter, food, protection or other necessities. Child sexual exploitation of an individual under 18 is defined and interpreted as child abuse.

Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature. It includes a range of actions, from inappropriate sexual remarks to physical advances and sexual abuse or assault.

Harassment can occur in many professional and social settings, such as workplaces, homes, schools, universities, churches, etc. Harassers and victims may be of any gender. Sexual harassment is illegal.

Sexual penetration is the act of entering through sexual intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, anal intercourse, or any other intrusion, however slight, of any part of a person’s body or any object into the genital or anal openings of another person’s body. Oral sex is considered to be sexual penetration as well.

Sexual penetration is set out in the Sexual Offences Amendment Act in South Africa.

Sex trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which individuals are forced to perform commercial sex acts through the use of violence, manipulation, coercion, threats, or false promises.

Minors under the age of 18 engaging in commercial sex are considered to be victims of human trafficking, regardless of the use of force, fraud, or coercion.

Sex traffickers frequently target victims and then use violence, threats, lies, false promises, or other forms of control and manipulation to keep victims involved in the sex industry for their profit.

Sex trafficking exists within diverse and unique sets of venues and businesses, including fake massage businesses, escort services, residential brothels, in public on city streets and truck stops, strip clubs, hostess clubs, hotels and motels, and elsewhere.

Aside from commercial sex, victims in South Africa are forced into labour, agriculture, criminal activities, domestic services, and mining.


Sextortion is a form of blackmail that occurs when someone seeks to extort sexual favours from another, usually in exchange for something valuable, such as money, a job, or protection, or so that the perpetrator doesn’t reveal sensitive information or sexual material involving the victim.

Sextortion is often perpetrated by people in positions of power who have it within their authority to grant or withhold certain things. Examples of sextortion include

  • Government officials and police officers who demand sexual favours in exchange for licences or other documents.
  • Teachers or professors who promise better grades to students if they will have sex with them.
  • Employers or those in management positions who require sexual favours as a condition for progressing employees into better positions or granting bonuses.
  • Current or previous romantic partners or those with access to sexual material such as explicit images – perpetrators will threaten to share sensitive information or photos publicly. This may be to extort money or sexual favours from the victim.

For more on this specific topic, please read our blog article.

Sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on sex or gender, particularly against women and girls.

Sexism can be a belief that one sex is superior to or more valuable than another and promotes behaviour, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on gender.

Sexual harassment at work is a verbal or physical act with a sexual nature, performed in recruitment or at the workplace by a boss, manager, employee, client or customer of a working unit, that is unwelcomed by the person receiving it and has caused the person to feel violated, insulted, and being in an unbearable hostile environment.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) survey from 2019 found that approximately 30% of women in South Africa had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. The study also revealed that many incidents of sexual harassment went unreported due to fear of retaliation or lack of confidence in the justice system.

Sexual and physical harassment seriously violates a person’s rights and can cause significant physical, emotional, and psychological harm. Victims may experience significant emotional distress, fear, anxiety, decreased work performance, and negative impacts on their mental health.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also called ‘Sexually transmitted diseases’ (STDs), are infections passed from one person to another through sexual contact. The contact is usually vaginal, oral, or anal. However, STIs can sometimes be spread through other intimate physical contact.

The most common STIs are Syphilis, Genital herpes, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Hepatitis.

Statutory rape is the crime of sex with a child between the ages of 12 and 16. Even when both parties have agreed to the sexual act, it is still considered rape because the minor is too young to consent to have sex or sexual contact legally.

A child of 12 or younger is considered too young to be able to give consent at all, and the rapist or paedophile will automatically be prosecuted.

If both parties involved in the sexual act are over the age of 12 but under the age of 16 and both consented, it is still a crime in the eyes of the law, but the authorities may decide not to prosecute.

A person can only legally consent to sex from the age of 16 onwards.

For more on this specific topic, please read our blog article.

Stalking is the crime of illegally following and watching someone over some time. This continued harassment is done against the expressed wishes of the individual and causes them emotional distress. Stalking can take place in person and online.

Some of the behaviour patterns commonly used by stalkers include following or tracking a victim and sending unwanted letters, cards, e-mails, or texts. Cyberstalking, another kind of stalking behaviour, is where online communications are used to stalk or harass the victim.

The term ‘survivor’ describes someone who has experienced interpersonal violence. This term can be preferred to ‘victim’ as it reflects the reality that many individuals who experience abuse cope and move on with personal strength and resourcefulness.

Technology-assisted violence is committed, facilitated, and aggravated through the use of modern technologies, like social media and email. It includes but is not limited to harassment and cyberstalking, luring, trafficking, non-consensual distribution of intimate images, non-consensual pornography via software applications (i.e. using an AI-enabled program to change the face of a person in a pornographic video recording), doxing (i.e. searching for and publishing private or identifying information about an individual on the internet with malicious intent), and mobbing (i.e. targeted campaign against an individual by a concerted group of perpetrators).

See also: Cyber Stalking / Online Harassment

Blaming the victim is a phenomenon in which survivors of crimes or tragedies are held accountable or blamed for what happened to them.

Victim blaming allows people to believe that such events could never happen to them. Blaming the victim mainly occurs in rape and sexual assault cases, where the victim of the crime is often accused of inviting the attack due to her clothing or behaviour.

Examples of victim-blaming comments include:

  • “You must have known that was going to happen.”
  • “Why were you out at night?”
  • “She must have provoked him.”
  • “Why didn’t you say something earlier?”
  • ””You shouldn’t have been drinking.””