What is gender-based violence?

Gender-based violence (GBV) involves acts of violence committed against women, men, boys or girls, as a result of social norms about roles and behaviour expected of each gender. It often occurs within relationships. Although men and boys are also subjected to abuse and violence, women and girls are more often affected owing to power imbalances and the low social status that accorded to them by society. These factors often result in discrimination and in their being denied opportunities in various spheres of life.

Groups that are particularly vulnerable include:

  • women and girls,
  • children,
  • older people,
  • people living with disabilities, and
  • lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual (LGBTQIA+) people.

What forms can gender-based violence take?

Gender-based violence can take many forms, including:

  • sexual harassment;
  • rape and/or sexual violence;
  • stalking  (deliberately and repeatedly following, watching and/or harassing of another person);
  • physical, emotional and economic abuse; and
  • child abuse.

Sexual violence is broadly defined as any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a person’s sexuality, using force, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting. It includes intimate-partner violence, sexual assault, forced prostitution, exploitation, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, infanticide, and neglect.

Coercion is a central element of sexual violence and may involve varying degrees of force. Apart from physical force, it may involve psychological intimidation, blackmail or other threats – for instance, the threat of physical harm, of being dismissed from a job, or of being failed in a class.

The South African Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007 provides a broad and expansive definition of the term ‘sexual assault’ to include all non-consensual sexual activity from fondling to penetration, and includes attempts at penetration to any extent whatsoever by the genital organs of one person into the anus, mouth or genital organs of another person, or by any object, including any part of the body of an animal or person, into the anus, mouth or genital organs of another person.

Sexual abuse is defined as ‘any conduct that abuses, humiliates, degrades or otherwise violates the sexual integrity of the complainant’. The term also covers any sexually stimulating behaviour by any adult towards a child victim who is younger than the age of consent, which can be more specifically defined as statutory rape or child sexual abuse.

Physical abuse is defined as any act or threatened act intended to cause feelings of physical pain, injury, or other physical suffering or bodily harm towards a another person. Children and women are the most affected by this kind of violence.

Emotional, verbal and psychological abuse are any patterns of degrading or humiliating conduct towards a another, including repeated insults, ridicule or name calling; repeated threats to cause emotional pain; or the repeated exhibition of obsessive possessiveness or jealousy, such that it constitutes a serious invasion of privacy, liberty, integrity or security.

Economic abuse is the unreasonable deprivation of economic or financial resources to which a person is entitled under law, or which the complainant requires to pay for basic household necessities, mortgage bond repayments or payment of rent in respect of a shared residence. It also covers the unreasonable disposal of household effects or other property.


Published by Buyi Nkonyane

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