The intersection of corruption and gender-based violence: Examining the gendered experiences of sextortion during migration to South Africa

Ashleigh Bicker Caarten, Loes van Heugten, Ortrun Merkle


Sextortion, a gendered form of corruption where sexual favours are the means of exchange, frequently occurs during migration. While the consequences of surviving sextortion are devastating, sextortion remains relatively understudied. Hence, this paper explores the experiences of sextortion of African migrants migrating to South Africa. Based on interviews with experts on migration, corruption, and gender in South Africa, this paper answers the research question: “What are the experiences of sextortion for African migrants migrating to South Africa and how are they gendered?”. The results confirm irregular, female migrants are most vulnerable to experiencing sextortion both during their journeys and in South Africa. This is alarming as there are various psychical, mental, and sexual health consequences like trauma, STIs, pregnancies, and stigmatisation. These consequences have both short- and long-term consequences and will continue to exist without adjusted policy frameworks, improved support systems for survivors, and a broader discussion on gender norms. (Afr J Reprod Health 2022; 26[6]:45-54).

Full Text:



Kuschminder K, de Bresser J and Siegel M. Irregular Migration Routes to Europe and Factors Influencing Migrants Destination Choices. Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek- En Documentatiecentrum. 2015.

David F, Bryant K, and Larsen JJ. Migrants and Their Vulnerability. IOM. 2019.

Davies A, Basten A and Frattini C. Migration: A Social Determinant of the Health of Migrants. IOM. 2006.

World Health Organisation (WHO). Migration and Health: Key Issues.

Spencer R, Essaid A, Usta J, Shukri S, El Gharaibeh Y, Abu Taleb H, Awwad N, Nsour H, United Nations Population Fund-Lebanon and Clark CJ. Gender Based Violence Against Women and Girls Displaced by the Syrian Conflict in South Lebanon and North Jordan: Scope of Violence and Health Correlates. 2015.

Camlin CS, Kwena ZA, Dworkin SL, Cohen CR and Bukusi EA. “She Mixes Her Business”: HIV Transmission and Acquisition Risks among Female Migrants in Western Kenya. 10`4. Social Science & Medicine. 102, 146–156.

Wirtz AL, Pham K, Glass N, Loochkartt S, Kidane T, Cuspoca D, Rubenstein LS, Singh S and Vu A. Gender-Based Violence in Conflict and Displacement: Qualitative Findings from Displaced Women in Colombia. 2014. Conflict and Health, 8(1),

International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ), Marval, O’Farrell and Maira, and Thomas Reuters Foundation. Combating Sextortion: A Comparative Study of Laws to Prosecute Corruption Involving Sexual Exploitation. 2015. 9a65ae2e0802

UNODC. Global Judicial Integrity Network Substantive Breakout Session Report. 2018.

Eldén A, Calvo D, Bjarnegård E, Lundgren S and Jonsson S. Sextortion: Corruption and gender-based violence. 2020. EBA Report 2020:06, The Expert Group for Aid Studies (EBA).

Merkle O, Reinold J and siegel MA Gender Perspective on Corruption Encountered during Forced and Irregular Migration. 2017. Anti-Corruption and Integrity Programme, German Corporation for International Co-Operation (GIZ).

Gouws A. Feminization of Migration. 2007

Ferrant G and Tuccio M. South–South Migration and Discrimination Against Women in Social

Institutions: A Two-way Relationship. 2015. World Development, 72, 240–254.


United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), ‘International Migrant Stock 2020’.

World Data Info, ‘Asylum Applications and Refugees in South Africa’.

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA). Population Division (2019). 2019.

Klotz A. Migration after Apartheid. Deracialising South African foreign policy. 2000. Third World Quarterly, 21(5), 831–847.

Otu MN. The Politics of Identity, Belonging and the Integration of African Professional Migrants in Post- Apartheid South Africa. 2016. Journal of Social Development in Africa, 31(1), 17–96.

Human Rights Watch (HRW). South Africa: Punish Xenophobic Violence: At Least 12 Dead, Thousands Displaced. 2019.

GAN Risk and Compliance Portal. South Africa Corruption Report. 2020.

Manyaka RK and Nkuna NW. The Phenomenon of Corruption in the South African Public Sector. 2014. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences.


Landau LB. Protection and Dignity in Johannesburg: Shortcomings of South Africa’s Urban Refugee. 2006. Policy. Journal of Refugee Studies, 19(3).

Enigbokan O, Edkins B, and Ogundele O. Relevance of Migration Theories in the Identification of Influencing Factors for Nigerian and Zimbabwean Migrants in South Africa. 21.

Gouws A. South Africa Is Notorious for Its High Levels of Gender-Based Violence. 2021. africa-is-notorious-for-its-high-levels-of-gender-based-violence-81ebad46-e4ec-4a86- b678-5e9bc8b22b02

Lyster R. The Death of Uyinene Mrwetyana and the Rise of South Africa’s “Am I Next?” Movement. 2019. The New Yorker. the-rise-of-south-africas-aminext-movement

Dlamini J. Gender-Based Violence, Twin Pandemic to COVID-19. 2020. Critical Sociology, 089692052097546.

Transparency International. What Is Corruption. 2021.

IAWJ. Stopping the Abuse of Power Though Sexual Exploitation: Naming, Shaming and Ending Sextortion. 2012. International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ).

Zembe Y, Townsend L, Thorson A and Ekstorm A. "Money Talks, Bullshit Walks” Interrogating Notions of Consumption and Survival Sex among Young Women Engaging in Transactional Sex in Post-Apartheid South Africa: A Qualitative Enquiry. 2013. Globalization and Health, 9(1), 28.

Stoebenau K, Heise L, Wamoyi J and Bobrova N. Revisiting the Understanding of “Transactional Sex” in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Review and Synthesis of the Literature. 2016. A review and synthesis of the literature. Social Science & Medicine, 168(186–197).

Chatterji M, London D and Anglewicz P. The Factors Influencing Transactional Sex Among Young Men and Women in 12 Sub-Saharan African Countries. 2005. Social Biology, 52, 56–72.

Wamoyi J, Ranganathan M, Kyegombe N and Stoebenau K. Improving the Measurement of Transactional Sex in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Critical Review. 2019 Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, 80(4), 367–374.

Dunkle KL, Jewkes R, Nduna M, Jama N, Levin J, Sikweyiya Y and Koss MP. Transactional Sex with Casual and Main Partners among Young South African Men in the Rural Eastern Cape: Prevalence, Predictors, and Associations with Gender- Based Violence. 2007. Social Science & Medicine, 65(6), 1235–1248.

Kirsch M, Averdijk M, Valdebenito S and Eisner M. Sex Trade Among Youth: A Global Review of the Prevalence, Contexts and Correlates of Transactional Sex Among the General Population of Youth. 2019. Adolescent Res Rev, 4, 115–134.

World Health Organisation (WHO). Sexual Violence: Chap

World Report on health and violence. World Health Organisation (WHO). pdf

Faigenblatt H. Breaking the Silence around Sextortion: The Links between Power, Sex and Corruption. 2020.

Transparency International.

Brigden N and Mainwaring C. Matryoshka Journeys: Im/Mobility During Migration. 2016. Geopolitics, 21(2), 407–434.

Merkle O, Reinold J and Siegel M. Corruption, Gender and Migration. 2018. Anti- Corruption & Integrity Forum. forum/academic-papers/Merkle.pdf

Huijsmans R. Becoming a Young Migrant or Stayer Seen through the Lens of “Householding: Households “in Flux” and the Intersection of Relations of Gender and Seniority. 2014. Geoforum, 51, 294-304.

Tshabalala X. Hyenas of the Limpopo: The Social Politics of Undocumented Movement across South Africa’s Border with Zimbabwe. 2017. Linköping University Electronic Press 729.

Moffett H. 'These Women, They Force Us to Rape Them': Rape as Narrative of Social Control in Post-Apartheid South Africa. 2006. Journal of Southern African Studies, 32(1), 129–144.

Viewfinder and GroundUp. Cops Who Rape Are Rarely Disciplined, Watchdog Data Reveals. Many Stay on the Job. 2021. rarely-disciplined-watchdog-data-reveals-many-stay-on-the-job-20210804

Du Plessis N. Women’s Experiences of Reporting Rape to the Police: A Qualitative Study (Master’s Thesis). 2007. Stellenbosch University. =pdf

Schockaert L, Venables E, Gil-Bazo MT, Barnwell G, Gerstenhaber R and Whitehouse K. Behind the Scenes of South Africa’s Asylum Procedure: A Qualitative Study on Long-term Asylum-Seekers from the Democratic Republic of Congo. 2020. Refugee Survey Quarterly, 39(1), 26–55.

Crush J and Tawodzera G. Medical Xenophobia and Zimbabwean Migrant Access to Public Health Services in South Africa. 2014. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 40(4).

Campbell R and Raja S. Secondary Victimization of Rape Victims: Insights from Mental Health Professionals Who Treat Survivors of Violence. 1999. Violence and Victims, 14(3).

Mgolozeli SE and Duma SE. They All Laughed and Asked Me If I Enjoyed Having Sex with Those Guys: Exploring Men’s Lived Experiences When Reporting Rape to Police in South Africa. 2020. PLOS ONE, 15(8), e0235044.


  • There are currently no refbacks.