Sexual violence is any act which violates the autonomy and bodily integrity of women and children under the international criminal law including but not limited to; rape, sexual assault, grievous bodily harm, mutilation of female reproductive organs among others. It can also be seen as a form of violence against women (and men, who can also be sexually harassed) and as discriminatory treatment.

Legal definition of some types of sexual violence

  1. Rape:  is defined as having unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman or girl, without her consent, or with her consent, if the consent is obtained by force or by means of threats or intimidation of any kind or by fear of bodily harm, or by means of false representations as to the nature of the act, or in the case of a married woman, by impersonating her husband, commits the felony termed rape.[1] Once a person is convicted the Punishment for Rape is death.  Attempt to commit rape calls for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. [2]
  2. Defilement: The Ugandan Penal Code Act was amended define defilement as having sexual intercourse with a person under 18 years of age. This means that the current law punishes the defilement of both girls and boys. Such person on conviction is liable to life imprisonment.  The law provides for the offense of aggravated defilement, which makes one on conviction by the High Court liable to suffer death. The circumstances for aggravated defilement are:-
  3. Where the person defiled is below the age of 14 years
  4. Where the offender is infected with HIV
  5. Where the offender is a parent or guardian or a person in authority over, the victim
  6. Where the victim of the offence is a person with disability; or
  7. Where the offender is a serial one.

Under the law a person charged with aggravated defilement is obliged to undergo a medical examination as to determine their HIV status.

The law on defilement further provides for payment of compensation to victims of defilement in addition to any sentence imposed on the offender. It provides for the offense of child-to-child sex, where the offender is a child under 12 years; and when committed by a male child and a female child upon each other when each is not below 12 years, each of the offenders shall be dealt with as required by the Children Act.

Gravity of the sexual violence state in Uganda

Sexual and gender-based violence offenses are the most common and prevalent offenses committed in Uganda. [3]Through 2005-2014, rape fluctuated substantially; it tended to decrease ending at 2.9 cases per 100,000 population.[i]

Worryingly, the Police Crime report for 2015 indicates that at least 1,419 cases of rape were reported countrywide. This rose to 1,572 in 2016, dropped to 1,335 in 2017, and rose to 1,580 cases in 2018.[ii]

1 in 3 women are victims or survivors of sexual violence, 1 in 6 men are survivors/victims of Rape and Assault.

The above statistics are appalling and shocking, what aren’t we doing well? Has the law failed in some way or it’s the community that is not doing enough?

Why the increase in sexual offenses in Uganda?

Clearly it is not the absence of the Law that has caused failure to eliminate sexual violence in our society because the different actors under the referral pathway like police, Ministry of Health, Parliament, religious sector, the media, Health and Human rights organizations like CEHURD are the leading institutions in fighting this vice. But it is still an uphill climb,

Some of the possible reasons include;

  • The increased drug abuse among the young population
  • The delay in the Justice system for rape victims to get justice
  • Victims of rape, especially the corporate type, rarely report cases of rape to police due to stigma
  • Unemployment, leading to criminal minds
  • Media’s constant display of explicit content leading to moral decay

Who is mostly at the risk of sexual violence?

Women and girls experience sexual violence at high rates while men/boys experience it at a low rate. Attacks can happen from anywhere, by anyone at any time. Places like refugee camps, homes, schools, offices, isolated spaces are some of the breeding grounds for rape.

What next after rape?

It is true that there is a gap or little knowledge on what the victims of rape are supposed to do immediately after the unfortunate incident. The public needs to know that comprehensive sexual assault services are available at all levels of the public health care system, from local health centers and clinics to national referral hospitals.

The first step is to report the assault/ incident at the nearest police station. After the complaint has been lodged at the Police Station and a statement recorded, the victim is subjected to a medical examination to ascertain the authenticity of the rape, assault and gravity of the incident to inform the nature of the case and evidence to support the case.  Before a victim lodges a compliant at a Police Station and undergoes a medical examination, they are advised to avoid activities that could potentially damage evidence such as bathing, showering, using the restroom, changing clothes, combing hair, and cleaning up the area.

Rape survivors are most often in a compromised and highly vulnerable position when they seek for help. Attendants ought to recognize the vulnerability of these clients and ensure that treatment does not cause further trauma or secondary victimization. The treatment should be sensitively given, with confidentiality and informed consent.

Rape / sexual assault victims are advised undergo Medical Examination. DNA evidence from the crime scene should be collected from the crime scene, but it can also be collected from the body of the victim, clothes, and other personal belongings. In most cases, DNA evidence needs to be collected within 72 hours from the occurrence of the incident.

Effects of The Rape Trauma

Rape and Sexual Assault cases may come and go, but they leave  grave, life-long effects on victims., Their psychological health and physical well-being are usually adversely affected; some of these effects include; sexually transmitted infections (diseases), depression, low self-esteem, mental illness, suicidal thoughts, insecurity, poor performance, isolation, pregnancy, post traumatic disorder etc.

Way forward

  • Having more relevant and updated policies will ensure safety for all. As seen in Section 123 of the Penal code Act of 1954, only girls and women are considered to be victims, but time has shown that men and boys are also at risk.
  • Justice delayed is Justice denied, assailants should be brought to book as soon as possible and uncalled for delays in the Justice system should be eliminated.
  • Rehabilitation centers for Rape and Sexual Assault victims should be publicized more to support survivors emotionally and mentally
  • Men should be involved at ground level because they are extremely important in breaking the rape culture.
  • Government should step up mobilization, sensitization and education. Follow up referral pathways, investigate every single case reported quickly and effectively.

[1] Section 123 of the Penal code Act.

[2] Section 125 of the Penal Code Act,

[3] The presiding High Court Judge, Justice Gadenya Paul Wolimbwa, much attention is drawn towards Sexual Gender Based Violence cases such as defilement, rape and domestic violence, because they constitute 62 percent of the cases in the High Court of Uganda.[3]


[i] https://knoema.com/atlas/Uganda/Rape-rate

[ii] https://www.monitor.co.ug/Magazines/PeoplePower/Do-we-have-rape-crisis-country/689844-5415522-13yl07n/index.html

By Jacqueline Twemanye and Nakalembe Judith -CEHURD.

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