By Dilia Mazula

According to the World Health Organization sexual assault is a serious public health and human rights issue that affect one’s physical, emotional, sexual, and reproductive health, whether it occurs in the context of an intimate relationship, within a family, community, or during a conflict.

In joint commemoration of April as ‘Sexual Assault Awareness Month’ Future Media News interviewed human rights activist, Linda Baumann, who explained to us several reasons why most victims of sexual assault do not speak out.

Baumann said that sometimes sexual assault cases go unreported because victims may feel at greater risk if the perpetrator is a relative or staying in the same space as them, and that while people are aware that a police station is the immediate space for support, because they have seen, or experienced, cases having been reported but nothing coming of this, they choose to keep it themselves.

Even though Namibia has a strong legislative framework that prohibits all forms of sexual assault, Baumann said most victims still lack access to services that ensure their safety. “As much as there are services to be accessed by us as communities within the legal framework, we also know that these services are limited in terms of ensuring that they are decentralized and available to everyone,” she said.

Baumann called on the government to ensure that victims know they can report without fear because they are protected and have access to health care services, suggesting that they invest in the construction of homes to safeguard sexual assault survivors and victims from their perpetrators. This is important, she said, as currently “victims are sometimes forced to stay in the same space as the perpetrator”.

Baumann, explaining that most sexual assault offences against children are perpetrated by relatives, and most guardians refuse to believe that a member of their family could commit such a crime, insisted that “it is important for every individual who has a child in their care to not take the child’s words for granted, because kids do not speak for the sake of just speaking”. She added that children need to be protected until they grow and start living their own lives and can make decisions on their own.

Hinting at moves by the authorities to revise the Domestic Violence Act, which also includes a section on sexual assault, Baumann said that in most instances people also only take sexual assault seriously if it involves violence and traumatic experiences but that sexual assault can also involve harassment, fornication, and forcing ones’ body parts into the other.