Meet Elin Bjarnegård at Uppsala University who studies sextortion in Tanzania.
In the beginning of 2022, the Swedish Research Council announced awarded grants within development research applied for in 2021. Out of 248 applications, 59 of them were successful in receiving grants distributed across various thematic areas and among several research organizations and Swedish universities.
To learn more about their successful research projects contributing to fulfil the 2030 Agenda, SweDev interviewed awarded researchers as part of SweDev’s article series.
Elin Bjarnegård, Associate Professor at the Department of Government at Uppsala University will together with Dolores Calvo and Åsa Eldén at Uppsala University, and Silje Lundgren at Linköping University, study sextortion – a form of sexual corruption – in Tanzania.
Q: Briefly describe your research project. Why do you think the Swedish Research Council picked your project to be funded?
A: The project investigates a form of sexual corruption called sextortion, which occurs when a person with entrusted authority abuses it to extort sexual favours in exchange for a service or benefit which is within their power to grant or withhold. “Sex for grades” is just one example of sextortion, where a teacher demands a sexual favour from a pupil in exchange for grades or exam results. Even though cases of sextortion are common around the world, they are often not recognized or dealt with because sextortion does not neatly fit the definition of neither corruption nor gender-based violence. This is why it is so important to shed light on the particular phenomenon of sextortion.
In this process, we follow the implementation of policy against sextortion in an organization working with folk development colleges in Tanzania. The combination of conceptual innovation and concrete policy impact is a strong aspect of this project.
One of the project participants, Åsa Eldén, used to work with gender equality at Sida. She was the one who realized that sextortion was an important topic in development cooperation that nevertheless seemed to fall between the lines of responsibility: it was neither perceived as corruption, nor as gender-based violence despite the fact that both competence areas are important for understanding and addressing it. When we put together our project group, we made sure we had competence both about gender and corruption as well as about gender-based violence.
Q: What made you interested in this topic?
We wrote a report about sextortion for the Expert Group for Aid Studies in 2020. Tanzania was one of two case studies in this report, and it turned out to be a fascinating case, for two reasons. First, sexual corruption is a known and often talked about phenomenon in Tanzania, and in contrast to many other countries, there are specific laws and policies about it. Second, Karibu Tanzania Organization, KTO, was inspired by our report and adapted our definition of sextortion to further their work against sexual harassment and sexual corruption in their folk development colleges throughout the country. It thus gave us a perfect opportunity to study the opportunities and challenges of implementing sextortion policy.
Q: Why are the research contributions you hope to make important?
A: First of all, it is important to raise awareness about the phenomenon of sexual corruption in general, and sextortion in particular. This is the only way in which we can also work towards efficiently addressing it. Right now, it is seen as a grey zone between corruption and gender-based violence, and we aim to shed light on that grey zone so that it becomes understandable and possible to investigate.
Second, recognizing sex as a potential currency and a corrupt exchange is crucial. It changes the way in which we view corruption, and who is a likely victim of corruption. It also puts the responsibility on the abuse of entrusted authority for personal gain. An office-holder or person with entrusted authority should never abuse this authority for personal gain, and even less exploit people dependent on his services for sexual services.
Q: SweDev aims to increase the interaction between development researchers and practitioners. How can practitioners working with sustainable development use the outcomes of your research?
A: Practitioners are already working with preliminary outcomes of our research on sextortion, such as our definition. It is clear that a definition is sorely needed in order to take action against sextortion.
As we proceed, we will also be able to give more concrete recommendations about where the hurdles and windows of opportunity may be in the implementation of policy against sextortion. We plan to create information material that also can be used for training on sextortion.