Research Article
General Science
Sociology

Prevalence and factors associated with sexual violence among female students of Hawassa University in Ethiopia

Endalew Gemechu Sendo1, Meselech Meleku2

Abstract

Background: Sexual harassment has posed a tremendous challenge to African women both in the workplace and educational setting, and this problem has impacted women's self-esteem as well as their academic, social, and psychological wellbeing. One in five college women are victims of acquaintance rape during their academic career and less than 5% of college women who are victims of sexual assault report their victimization. However, there is limited data on sexual violence in the context of higher education in Ethiopia particularly in the study setting. This study, therefore, determined the prevalence and its associated factors among female students of Hawassa University in Ethiopia.

Methods: Institution-based cross-sectional descriptive study was conducted from April to June 2013. A multistage sampling technique was used. A total of 336 female students registered as 2nd year and above were involved in the study. Data was collected using anonymous self-administered structured questionnaire.

Results: A total of 336 female students took part in the study. Majority of the study participants (N = 298; 88.7%) were in the age range of 20–34 years. The mean age and standard deviation of the respondents were 21.3 ± 1.7 years. Regarding the marital status of the respondents, 307 (91.4%) of them were single. We found that, while 14.3% reported having experienced completed rape since being admitted to the university, 3% had the experience in the past years.

Conclusions: This study showed a high prevalence of sexual violence against female students of Hawassa University in Ethiopia. Interventions are, therefore, required by university authorities and other stakeholders, to create a safe learning environment for female students through primary prevention of sexual violence and rehabilitation programs for the victims.

Keywords:sexual violence, female college students, Hawassa University, Ethiopia

Author and Article Information

1) School of Nursing and Midwifery, College of Health Science, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

2) School of Nursing and Midwifery, College of Health Science, Hawassa University, Hawassa, Ethiopia

RecievedSep 19 2014 AcceptedMar 5 2015 PublishedApr 8 2015

CitationSendo EG, Meleku M (2015) Prevalence and factors associated with sexual violence among female students of Hawassa University in Ethiopia. Science Postprint 1(2): e00047. 10.14340/spp.2015.04A0002.

Copyright©2014 The Authors. Science Postprint published by General Healthcare Inc. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.1 Japan (CC BY-NC-ND 2.1 JP) License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.

FundingNo funds obtained from any company except small research grants for data collectors from Hawassa University Research office (acknowledged).

Competing interest: The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethics statementThe ethical clearance was obtained from the institutional review board of Hawassa University. Written informed consent was obtained from the study participants before they were enrolled in the study.

Donation messageStretch your hands to fund young African researchers to help them generate scientific evidences for the global readers.

Corresponding authorEndalew Gemechu Sendo

AddressSchool of Nursing and Midwifery, College of Health Science, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, P.O.Box 1176, Ethiopia.

E-mail endalewaau2012@gmail.com

Peer reviewersJude U Ohaeri1 and Reviewer B
1 Head, Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus.
University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, Enugu State, Nigeria

Introduction

According to a United Nations Declaration, violence against women includes any act of gender based violence that results in physical, sexual, psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats or such acts, as coercion or durable deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life 1.

Gender-based violence (GBV) was first recognized as a problem in institutional settings when feminist activists in the 1970s were trying to address the unwanted sexual attention faced by women in the workplace. Up until the mid-1990s there was a paucity of research on school-related gender-based violence in developing countries 2. Evidence to the contrary was made most painfully obvious in July 1991, when nineteen schoolgirls died and 71 others were raped at the hands of male schoolmates in a Kenyan Catholic secondary school. Attention to gender-based violence in schools increased on the African continent after this incidence 3.

Sexual harassment has posed a challenge to African women both in the workplace and educational setting, and this problem has impacted women's self-esteem as well as their academic, social, and psychological wellbeing 2, 3. One in five college women are victims of acquaintance rape during their academic career and less than 5% of college women who are victims of sexual assault report their victimization 4.

Sexual harassment has been challenge at all levels of education and across all academic fields in Africa. Rossetti 5 indicated that in Botswana 68% of the sexual harassment which has been experienced by girls in the secondary schools happened in their junior year, 18% in senior years and 14% in primary schools years. Leach, Machakanja, and Mandoga 6 found that in a school in Zimbabwe 47% of girls experienced sexual harassment from male teachers and students. Leach et al. 7 also found that 27% of girls in junior secondary schools in Ghana have experienced forced sex and over 50% have also been sexually harassed.

Sexual assault is a major form of sexual violence affecting women. It includes, rape, attempted rape, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. Sexual violence and coercion compromise a significant component of overall violence against women although evidence remains limited, due to almost universal stigma 8. Two of the most common forms of violence against women are abuse by intimate male partners and coerced sex, whether it takes place in childhood, adolescence or adulthood.

Sexual coercion exists along a continuum, from forcible rape to non-physical forms of pressure that compel girls and women to engage in sex against their will 8, 9.

Rape or forced sex mostly perpetuated by individuals known to the victim seen as intimate partners, male family members, acquaintances and individuals in position of authority. Evidences from developing countries showed diverse results on the different forms of gender based violence. In multi country WHO study 9, it was reported that prevalence of physical or/and sexual violence ranged from 5% (Japan), through 61% (Peru) to 71% (Ethiopia).

Sexual violence is also a significant public health issue, with both mental and physical health consequences 10. There is increased recognition of the links between coercive sex and adverse reproductive health outcomes including; unintended pregnancy, non-use of contraception, unsafe abortion, gynecological morbidity and HIV/AIDS. Sexual violence can adversely affect the physical and mental health of survivors 11. Sexual violence in schools can, therefore, endanger the health benefits that are assumed to derive from education in terms of reduced fertility and HIV/AIDS rates 11, 12.

Rossetti 5, who wrote on gender inequalities in the education sectors of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, found evidence in existing literature that sexuality and sexual harassment in school were significant obstacles to female participation in education, and called for more research on these topics. Terefe and Mengistu 12 investigating violence in Ethiopian schools, found girls to be the major victims of violence, resulting in low female enrolment rates and high female drop-out rates in secondary schools.

In some Ethiopian public universities, studies had been conducted on GBV including harassment of female college students. However, published information regarding sexual violence particularly completed rape since being admitted in the college is limited. This study, therefore, determined the prevalence and associated factors among female students of Hawassa University in Ethiopia.

Methods

Study setting

Hawassa University (HU) is 275 km away from Addis Ababa to the South of Ethiopia. It was established at the center of Hawassa City in April 2000. Since 1976, the different colleges of HU had been outfitted starting with the College of Agriculture. Today, HU is a comprehensive university engaged in the provision of all-round education, research, training, and community service through its diversified areas of academic programs.

The university offers more than 60 fields of study in undergraduate and 43 fields of study in postgraduate programs, as well as 4 PhD programs in different fields. HU is comprised of eight colleges including College of Technology, College of Social science and Humanities, College of Law and Governance, College of Agriculture, College of Business and Economics, College of Health science, College of Natural and Computational science, and, Wondo Genet College of Forestry and Natural resources. Currently, the university has an undergraduate student population of 22,000 consisting of 18,203 males (82.7%) and 3797 females (17.3%). Most of the students come from the rural areas of Ethiopia.

Study design, sample size and sampling technique

Institution-based cross-sectional descriptive study was conducted from April to June 2013. The study participants were all regular undergraduate female students of Hawassa University who registered for the academic year of 2013 in four colleges. A total of 336 female students registered as 2nd year and above were involved in the study. The study excluded all newly registered students that came from preparatory programs, and students who attended the university for less than a year.

A sample size of 336 students was obtained using a single population proportion formula, n = (Z2α/2 x p (1 − p))/d2. Where: n = minimum sample size, Zα/2 = Z value at 95% CI (1.96), p = estimated prevalence rate in previous study is 45.5% (0.455), d = margin of error tolerated is 5% (0.05). The study considered 45.5% prevalence of sexual violence obtained from a previous study among college female students in Mekele, Northern Ethiopia in March 2007 at 95% certainty and maximum discrepancy of ± 3% between the sample and the underlining population. A multistage sampling technique was used. In the first stage, four colleges were selected by a onetime vote from the existing eight in Hawassa University. In the second stage, one department was selected from each of the four colleges using simple random sampling. In the third stage, a proportionate number of female students were allocated to the respective departments. In the fourth stage, each of these departments was stratified by year of study; whereby a number of female students were proportionately redistributed to each section. Finally, every second student from a sample frame was systematically selected from each class and approached to take part in the study.

Measurement

The dependent variable in this study was limited to “sexual violence” (it included completed rape since being admitted to the university). Rape is a form of sexual violence defined as physically forced otherwise coerced penetration of the vulva or anus using penis. A respondent is considered to have experienced completed rape if she has ever being physically forced to have sex with someone other than a husband to obtain money, grades or others benefits. Negative psychological feeling in the present study included fear/anxiety, blaming, self-hate and suicidal ideation as reported by rape victims. The independent variables incorporated socio-demographic characteristics (including age, marital status and religion), childhood residence, on/off campus, faculties/year of study, and substance use.

Data Collection

Data was collected by six trained 4th year midwifery female students using a pretested anonymous self-administered structured questionnaire (for English translated questionnaire, see Appendix 1). The data collectors were trained for one day on how to ask the questionnaires. The questionnaire was adopted from reviewed literatures [11–13]. The questionnaire consists of two parts which included: socio-demographic characteristics (age, gender, religion, marital status, dormitory on/off, faculty/year of study, and childhood residence), the magnitude of rape cases, the mechanism used by the perpetrators, and consequences of rape (pregnancy, genital ulcer/vaginal discharge, HIV infection, school dropout and psychological disorders etc). The questionnaire was translated into Amharic (local language) by a linguistic professional. Matching was made on the exact fitness of the two versions.

Data quality control

Measures were taken to ensure the quality of collected data. The questionnaire was pretested among students of a department that was not sampled for the study and necessary changes were then made.

The purpose of data collection and the importance of the study as well as the significance of true information were also highlighted in order to maximize the response rate and to generate reliable data.

The data collectors were trained on filling out the questionnaires correctly to enhance accuracy and validity. There was close supervision of the data collectors by the principal investigators. The completed questionnaires were verified by the researchers every day and missing data was checked again prior to analysis for completeness and accuracy.

Data Analysis

Data was entered and analyzed by SPSS version 20. Categorical variables were presented as frequencies and percentages. Both bivariate and multivariate techniques were applied. Chi-square test was used to test an association between sexual violence and socio-demographic variables. A p-value of less than 0.05 was considered as statistically significant. The variables were also examined in the multivariate analysis (Binary logistic regression) in order to identify the significant predictors of sexual violence after controlling for other variables. Odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals were also computed.

Ethical consideration

The ethical clearance was obtained from the institutional review board of Hawassa University. Written informed consent was obtained from the study participants before they were enrolled in the study. Consent form was written in the local language stating the study's objectives, nature of participant's involvement, and confidentiality of the data (for English translated consent sheet, see Appendix 2). Students were requested to read the consent form carefully. They were given clear options regarding voluntary participation. None of the approached students refused to participate in the study. Confidentiality of information was ensured by removing personal identifiers from the completed questionnaires.

Operational definitions and terms used in this study

Sexual violence: For the purpose of this study we defined “sexual violence” as unwanted or non-consensual sexual act through force, threat or intimidation.

Sexual experience: Practiced penetrative penile vaginal sex at least once.

Rape or forced sex: is a form of sexual violence defined as physically forced otherwise coerced penetration of the vulva or anus using penis.

Khat: Khat (Catha edulis) is an ever-green plant that is extensively cultivated in the highlands of Ethiopia.

Substance use: Use of at least any one of the following substances; alcohol, Khat, Shisha, Hashish or drugs that are assumed to affect level of thinking and increase risk of involving in sexual violence.

Results

Socio-demographic characteristics

Table 1 depicts the socio-demographic characteristics of the respondents. A total of 336 female students took part in the study. Of them 129 (38.4%), 159 (47.3%) and 48 (14.3%) were 2nd year, 3rd year and 4th year students, respectively. Majority of the study participants 298 (88.7%) were in the age range of 20–34 years. The mean age and standard deviation of the respondents were 21.3 (± 1.7) years.

Table 1 Socio-demographic characteristics of the respondents, Hawassa University, June 2013

Majority 246 (73.3%) of them were Christians and 73.2% of the respondents reported that they grew up in rural areas. Regarding the marital status of the respondents, 307 (91.4%) of them were single. Concerning current living condition of the respondents, 324 (96.4%) of them were living on campus while 12 (3.6%) were living off campus, with their parents or rented. Among the study population 139 (41.4%) were from Engineering, 88 (26.2%) from Agriculture, 51 (15.2%) from Health, 33 (9.8%) from Social science, 19 (5.7%) from Education, and 6 (1.8%) from Natural science, respectively.

Sexual Violence

As depicted in Table 2, of the total respondents, 144 (42.9%) of them reported that they had sexual experience. In the present study, we found that, while 14.3% reported having experienced completed rape since being admitted to the university, 3% had the experience in the past years. Of the total 48 raped cases, 33 (68.7%) of the victims reported that they were raped more than once since being admitted to the university while 37 (77%) of them were raped once in the last one year. As regards to the mechanisms used by the rapists, the respondents reported that different techniques were used by the perpetrators in intimidating them. Among the mechanisms, 23 (48%) making them drunk, and 13 (27%) using authority (ex. teacher) were commonest.

Table 2 (a) The mechanism used by the perpetrators and consequences of rape among respondents in Hawassa University, June 2013

Items with an asterisk allow multiple responses.

Table 2 (b) The mechanism used by the perpetrators and consequences of rape among respondents in Hawassa University, June 2013

Items with an asterisk allow multiple responses.
1 Ever experienced psychological problems includes experiences of psychological disorders including, fear/anxiety, blaming, self-hate and suicidal ideation.

When taking into account individuals (perpetrators) who committed sexual violence against schoolgirls, boyfriends made up of 35.4% of the group, followed by strangers (27.1%), schoolboys (20.8%), and teachers (12.5%). The majority of violence occurred at a hotel (21 cases; 43.7%), followed by at the perpetrator's home (12 cases; 25.0%), at home of both victim and perpetrator (7 cases: 14.6%), and in the dormitory (3 cases; 6.3%).

In addition to their own history of rape, the respondents were asked if they knew other girls who were raped and more than a quarter of them knew other victims. Most of the rape cases (56.3%) were not reported to their family or to the concerned legal bodies. Different reasons were listed for not telling about the incident to their family or reporting to legal body among which the commonest reasons were ”legal body not helpful” (40.7%) followed by “fear of parents” (25.9%).

Of the total victims of rape, 23.5% of them became pregnant, 20.6% had too much bleeding, 17.7% experienced genital ulcer/vaginal discharge, and 8.8% acquired HIV infection. Concerning psychological consequences, seventy five percent of the victims reported to have negative feelings (fear/anxiety, blaming, self-hate and suicidal ideation) about themselves.

Factors associated with completed rape

Table 3 depicts predictors of sexual violence among female Hawassa university students. On bivariate analysis, sexual violence was significantly associated with having a boyfriend, substance and childhood residence. Students who reported to have a boyfriend were found to be five times at a higher risk of experiencing completed rape since being admitted to the university than those who didn’t have a boyfriend (AOR = 5.07, 95% CI: 1.59–7.12).

Likewise, students with rural childhood residence were four times (AOR = 4.17, 95% CI: 1.53–8.36) more likely to experience completed rape in the university than those with urban residence.

Table 3 Predictors of sexual violence among female Hawassa university students, June 2013

1 COR = Crude odds ratio
2 AOR = Adjusted odds ratio
3 Substance use: Use of Alcohol, Khat, etc
*: P <0.05 **: P <0.001

The victims reported that they had consumed alcohol and khat at the time of rape, which was found to be significant (AOR = 3.96, 95% CI: 1.89–8.33). However, those students in the health faculty had less risk of experiencing of sexual violence compared to students from non-health faculty of engineering and agriculture sciences (AOR = 0.23, 95% CI: 0.15–9.42).

Discussion

The study revealed that sexual violence among female students in Hawassa University was a common experience. Among a sample of 336 female students who participated in the study, the majority (42.9%) were sexually active. Of those who initiated sexual activity, 14.3% started sexual activity forcefully or as a result of rape since being admitted to the university. This result indicates that the prevalence of rape as a cause of sexual initiation is almost similar to a study 13 on sexual violence from America (15%), which was reported by college female students. However, our finding is lower than a study from Nigeria 14, which reported a quarter of study respondents (22.2%) have been sexually abused since joining the university. In Asia, a study conducted in Hong Kong 15 and Goa, India 16 reported higher figures (25% and 33%), respectively. This might be explained by the difference in study setting and socio cultural contexts between the study populations.

Boyfriends who were schoolboys and teachers were found to be participating in sexual violence against girls in our study. Comparing students between who had a boyfriend and who did not have, the number of students who had experienced complete rape in their college days was five times larger in girls who had a boyfriend. (AOR = 5.07, 95% CI: 1.59–7.12). This study also showed that most victims knew the perpetrators. This finding is congruent with some studies on violence against girls in schools. For instance, studies in Zimbabwe 17, Ghana 18 and Malawi 19 reported older male students and teachers as perpetrators of sexual violence. This was also in line with other studies 20 conducted at national level in Peru, Mexico, Guatemala City, and USA, which showed that attackers were mostly known to the victims. A study on GBV in Sierra Leone 21 showed that 27% of students reported that their teachers and lecturers were the perpetrators. In a study conducted in Yaoundé, Cameroon, 30% of the GBV were perpetrated by classmates or other school friends of the victims and about 8% by teachers, family friends, neighbors, and strangers 22.

In most societies, men have greater access to resources and power than women. Women’s lack of economic resources, subjects them to be vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation. According to some evidences, sexual assault against young women also comes from men on whom they depended for their support and protection 23. Similarly, in some Sub-Saharan African countries including Ethiopia, it has been observed that young school girls, who came from lower income families, are tempted into sexual liaisons by gifts and other promises from school boys, teachers and others 24. The finding in our present study was in line with the above mentioned literatures. In our study, teachers, schoolboys and strangers were found to be participating in sexual violence against girls. It was reported that 29.9% of the sexually active female students had begun sexual activity with strangers for the exchange of gifts or money in our study. This indicated that economic problems also exert huge pressures on students making them violent or submissive in the face of social challenges.

Amongst forty eight raped cases, 33 (68.7%) and 37 (77%) of the victims said they were raped more than once since being admitted to the university and in the last one year, respectively. Furthermore, a quarter of the respondents reported that they knew a girl who was raped. While raping the victims, the perpetrators used different mechanisms. The major techniques included, 48% making them drunk, and 27% using authority (for example, a teacher). This finding agreed with many other studies 25, 26.

When sexual violence is allowed to prevail in schools it constitutes a potentially significant barrier to good educational outcomes. For instance, victims of sexual violence have often been found to change school or stop attending due to fear of continued abuse, particularly when perpetrators are allowed to stay on. In a study on the impact of gendered school experiences on retention and achievements in Botswana and Ghana, Dunne et al. 27 found that gender-based violence, such as sexual intimidation, verbal abuse and physical assault, contributed significantly to the irregular attendance and underachievement of girls. The survey conducted in Botswana further found that 11% of the girls in the sample were seriously considering dropping out of school because of continuous harassment by educators. Hence, school-related gender-based violence represents a serious obstacle to learning causing not only physical harm but also severe psychological and educational adverse consequences.

The consequences of sexual violence against young women are more overwhelming because they are linked, directly or indirectly, with the major reproductive health issues of unwanted teenagers’ pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, unsafe abortions and other adverse pregnancy outcomes 28.

Violence limits women’s ability to protect themselves from HIV, and women living with HIV or AIDS are often the targets of abuse and stigma. Women are already 2 to 4 times more likely than men to become infected with HIV during intercourse, with forced sex or rape increasing this risk by limiting condom use and causing physical injuries 29. In our present study, eight of the rape victims had an unwanted pregnancy; six suffered too much bleeding while three acquired HIV/AIDS.

The findings of this study should be interpreted in the light of a number of limitations. First, the study was conducted in a single tertiary institution in Sothern part of Ethiopia. Similar institutions in the Southern part of the country might share some of its characteristics but they were by no means homogeneous and so there is the need to exercise caution in generalizing our findings to all universities in Ethiopia.

Secondly, the result of this study depended on self-report of a sensitive topic—sexual violence. As a result, there might be influence of social desirability bias. However, measures were taken to reduce this bias by granting confidentiality, maintaining privacy and explaining the purpose of the study to participants. Consent to participate was obtained from all respondents. Interviews were conducted in complete privacy by highly trained and no information from the survey was disclosed to respondents’ family members. Completed questionnaires were kept in secure facilities, and interview schedules were coded with participants’ study identification; no personal identifiers were included. Respondents were instructed not to write their names on the questionnaire to ensure anonymity and confidentiality.

The questionnaires used in the study were not previously translated. Therefore their psychometric properties are unknown; memory bias can also occur, resulting in less reliable reports; the cross-sectional design also needs caution when refers to cause-consequence relationship.

There are three major types of School-related Gender-based Violence (SRGBV): sexual, physical, and psychological. Sexual violence is the most commonly identified form of SRGBV, and it involves violence or abuse by an adult- any form of forced or unwanted sexual activity where there is no consent, consent is not possible, or power and/or intimidation is used to coerce a sexual act 29-31. Sexual violence in this study is, however, limited to completed rape since being admitted to the university. Sexual violence can also be perpetrated verbally, through sexually explicit language or any repetitive, unwanted sexual attention such as teasing or taunting about dress or personal appearance. The findings of this study thus may mainly be applied to similar population in the study area in Ethiopia.

It is clear that for education to be the instrument for freedom and development, increased attention must be sought to the problem of school-related gender-based violence and to the role of educators in shaping the gender climate in higher education institutions. To be able to create effective legislation that acknowledges and addresses the problem of GBV, and how female students of higher education institutions experience it within the country, it is imperative to carry out such reliable research.

Hence, it is hoped that this study will help the process of advocacy on various GBV concerns and subsequently, create the evidence necessary to facilitate the process of legislative advocacy so that greater prevention mechanisms within the respective university can be put in place. It is only with an institutional acknowledgement of gender-based violence as a problem that appropriate preventative measures, such as the drafting of a school anti-harassment policy can be made.

Conclusions

This study revealed a high prevalence of sexual violence against female students of Hawassa University, Ethiopia. Interventions are, therefore, required by university authorities and other stakeholders, to create a safe learning environment for female students through primary prevention of sexual violence and rehabilitation programs for the victims. The university should set anti-harassment policy that prohibits all forms of sexual harassment and put it in visible place so that all students and teachers know what is expected of everyone.

Author Contributions

Conceived and designed the work: Sendo EG

Acquired the data: Meleku M

Analyzed and/or interpreted the data: Sendo EG

Drafted the work: Sendo EG

Revised and approved the work: Sendo EG, Meleku M

Acknowledgments

We are very grateful to Hawassa University for the approval of the ethical clearance and for its financial support. The authors would like to thank the study participants who took their time to participate in this survey.

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  31. Amusa M, Moawad N (July 29 2006) Benin bans harassment; U.S. ignores workers' abuse. Women's eNews. Available from: http://womensenews.org/story/cheers-and-jeers/060729/benin-bans-harassment-us-ignores-workers-abuse. (cited on May 5, 2013)

Appendix1

Appendix2

Evaluation
  • General
  • Innovation
  • Advancement
  • Industry