Sex tapes are part of pervasive levels of violence against women

Tuesday February 10 2015

By Sylvia Tamale

A critical spotlight needs to be shone onto the current disgusting trend of releasing the ‘sex-tapes’ of female celebrities in this country. A video depicting intimate relations is recorded either for private consumption or covertly for unscrupulous purposes and subsequently uploaded onto WhatsApp, Facebook or other social media. The victims are always women, and it is clear that women in particular have fallen prey to this heinous development for various reasons.
The first is that the devaluation of women’s bodies is commonplace in male-dominated societies such as Uganda. It is an effective way of keeping women subordinate, and fails to recognise their existence as anything other than sex objects. Such videos project women as primarily available for men’s sexual fantasies.
In short, women are reduced to sexual body parts and antics for the viewing pleasure of men. It is a deliberate strategy to push women’s brains and talents into the background and to trivialise them by focusing only on their sexuality. Unfortunately, the portrayal of naked women in the mass media is a multi-million shillings business, more so when the person is a so-called celebrity.
Secondly, what has become an obsessive public interest in women’s sexuality serves a clear political agenda. When we emphasise the female body as erotic and degenerate, and as an instrument threatening to pollute social morality as is done in these sex tapes, we create fertile ground for social control. Such actions also give fuel to moral panics, which help in distracting the disgruntled public from the inefficiencies in our systems of governance.
Power is at the centre of such representations. Releasing the sex tapes of female celebrities is one way of bringing them down or “putting them in their place” as second class citizens. The message being broadcast is: “You think you’re as good as a man but actually you’re only good for sex.”
To add insult to injury, law enforcement officers then turn around and further harass the victims of this atrocious crime (such as musician Desire Luzinda and Sanyu Mweruka) through police interrogations and threats of prosecution. Instead of pursuing the perpetrators responsible for uploading the videos, the State turns around and targets the vulnerable victims.
This targeting has its roots in the Anti-Pornography Act, which saw vigilante groups publically undress women perceived to have contravened the law. The current trend has further proved that the ambiguity in that law explicitly targets and injures the rights of women. It is thus linked to the much wider and pervasive levels of violence directed against women, which must be stopped.
Ms Tamale is a professor of Law, Makerere University.