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Sexual Harassment and the issue of consent

An opinion piece by Samantha Msipa – Johannesburg, South Africa

Since time immemorial, women have been subjected to systemic disadvantages caused by the patriarchal society. At the start of the 20th century, women fought for civil rights and equality. Over 20 years later, women are still fighting for equality and safer communities. Women are missing and daughters gone in an instant. Africa Matters believes that gender-based violence has no place in our communities. We advocate for a better society for women. This article is about intellectual activism and speaking out about sexual violence.

In this article, we will talk about the issue of consent in sexual relationships. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act states that consent means voluntary or unforced agreement. This means that for there to be consent, both parties must freely agree to the sexual activity about to take place. The keyword being ‘freely’. It is not consent when a person is forced to say yes or scared to say no.

Although consent does not have to be verbal, it is always best to verbally agree so that there are no misunderstandings. If you feel uncomfortable after having agreed to sexual activity, it is okay and within the law to withdraw that consent. If your partner proceeds with the activity after you have withdrawn consent, then it is an offence punishable in the eyes of the law. That is the beauty of the freedom of choice we all derive from the Constitution. Therefore, consent is always an ongoing thing and it is important that you and your partner have fully agreed to this.

Now that we understand what consent is, we can evaluate what is not consent. A person has not consented if their safety is threatened, or they have been deceived. There are many misconceptions about what is not consent. A common one being that a woman cannot be raped by her husband or boyfriend. The truth is that even if you have a sexual relationship or you are married, it is still sexual offence according to the law. Below is a table which rebuts some of these misconceptions.


  1. “No’’ means hard to get

  2. Rape can only be perpetrated by a stranger

  3. Only women can be raped

  4. Victims can easily leave if they really want to

  5. If my partner buys a gift, then he can force me to have sex



  1. No always means No

  2. A perpetrator is anyone who forces someone to have sexual relations with them including family members

  3. Anyone can be raped

  4. Many of these victims are prevented from leaving because of fear, shame, economic and many other reasons

  5. No gift equals consent. It is okay to refuse even after accepting a gift.

There are also various organisations which assist victims and survivors namely

  • POWA: This is a women’s rights organisation located in Johannesburg. They also offer counselling services.

  • Sonke Gender Justice: The organisation is committed to building an equal society and assist victims of sexual harassment and any form of abuse. They have a whistleblowing hotline where you can report and seek assistance.

Dear youth, it is up to us to be educated and stay informed about matters regarding gender-based violence. We need to understand what is about so that we can fight against it.


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