Sexual corruption is a scourge, to varying degrees, in almost every country–from immigration officials demanding sex for green cards, to U.N. soldiers using their power to force themselves on refugees or the local population they are supposed to be protecting, to police officers who demand sex in exchange for not arresting someone. The International Association of Women Judges has been trying to bring attention to this “sextortion” problem, with some limited success: Transparency International (TI) describes sextortion as a form of corruption, and last September’s International Anti-Corruption Conference devoted a high-profile session to discussing this issue.
Yet despite this increasing recognition that this sort of sexual corruption is indeed corruption–the abuse of public power for private gain–the major international indexes used to measure corruption, such as TI’s corruption perception index (CPI) (and the underlying studies used to generate the CPI), focus overwhelmingly on material corruption–principally monetary bribery and embezzlement–not the abuse of public power to extort sexual favors from victims. This is a problem: As we have seen over and over again (both in the corruption context, and in other contexts such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)), for better or worse, national-level country ratings drive action. Right now, a country that wishes to improve its global standing on corruption currently has little incentive to tackle sexual corruption. And there is no separate, easy-to-understand metric that calls attention to how well (or poorly) countries are doing, relative to one another, in addressing that problem.
It is time for that to change. It is time to create a Global Sexual Corruption Index.
There are several ways that this could be done. The most basic and least expensive version would involve identifying similar types of NGOs in different countries that work on issues related to women’s empowerment, and ask their representatives to fill out a short questionnaire about the frequency with which they perceive sexual corruption (in their own country and, perhaps, in neighboring countries) in a variety of settings–including interactions with police officers, teachers, judges, and other officials–as well as how effective they perceive the government to be in acknowledging and tackling the problem.
Of course, just like the CPI, a Global Sexual Corruption Index of this sort would measure the perception of the problem, rather than the sheer number of incidents. This procedure does elicit methodological concerns (see here for critiques in the context of the current CPI). Yet it would be a useful first step. A more ambitious approach, which would require more resources, would be to conduct interviews in many countries, somewhat along the lines of TI’s Global Corruption Barometer–which, it is perhaps worth noting, currently asks respondents about whether they’ve paid a (monetary) bribe, but not about whether they’ve been the victims of attempts by public officials to use their authority to extort sex. Of course, in conducting interviews about a subject as sensitive as sexual corruption, there are concerns about accuracy, and also about differing degrees of privacy surrounding sexual assault in different cultures. That said, indices like the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report show that it’s possible to use interviews to gather data about sensitive topics implicating the interplay of sexual assault and power. And, much as existing surveys on monetary bribery try to improve accuracy by avoiding more evocative terminology (for example, by asking about “gifts or informal payments” rather than “bribes”), and sometimes asking about “people/firms like yours” rather than “you/your firm,” a sexual corruption barometer survey could avoid terms like “corruption” or “rape,” and could ask about whether (or how often) respondents believe that officials of different types attempt use their power to receive sex from those subject to their authority.
Measuring sexual corruption would not end it, just as monetary corruption has not withered in the face of the CPI. However, learning where it is worse and where countries have made significant progress in fighting it could accomplish several objectives:
- Best Practices. By discovering which countries have relatively low levels of sexual corruption compared to their level of development (and potentially to their level of monetary corruption), we can discover where to look for best practices in fighting this scourge, whether the solutions are legal, educational, organizational, or some combination.
- Put a Focus on Improving. Measuring sexual corruption in a transparent way could cause countries to prioritize fighting it, either because they realize it is a significant problem or out of a desire to look good to the international community. Similarly, knowing where the problem is worst could focus NGO and aid resources on stamping out the scourge where they could have the most impact.
- Take Action Against the Worst Offenders. Much of the reason that the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report is considered effective is that the worst performing countries face trade sanctions and economic harm if they are not taking significant steps to rein in trafficking. Attaching economic consequences for the worst countries for sexual corruption could make a lot of countries take notice in a hurry.
A Global Sexual Corruption Index would require resources, but it is feasible and would make a significant contribution to furthering the fight against this pernicious form of corruption. Such an index could be supported by a government (along the lines of the U.S. Trafficking in Persons report), or by an NGO that cares about these issues, such as the International Association of Women Judges or through a grant from an organization like the Global Fund for Women. There are many details to work out, and the project will take some effort, but it is high time to get started.