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By Shelby Dolch, IAWJ Program Intern, Spring 2023
On February 22, 2023, the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ), in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme’s Judicial Integrity Network in ASEAN (JIN ASEAN), hosted a webinar titled “Sextortion: The Impact on Judging and Courts.” This partnership arises out of the organizations’ shared commitment to gender issues and their individual work on those issues within the judicial context. In 2012, the IAWJ published a Sextortion Toolkit to raise awareness and provide resources, information, and guidance about sextortion.
Nancy Hendry, Senior Advisor to IAWJ, moderated the conversation among the three panelists: Shyamala Gomez, Meissy Sabardiah, and Astriyani Achmad. Following an introduction by Sarah McCoubrey, the UNDP Access to Justice Consultant, Hendry gave a brief history of the IAWJ’s work to conceptualize and combat “sextortion.” The IAWJ coined the term in 2008 to describe a pattern of abuse of power in exchange for sex. Naming this pervasive phenomenon has been key to making sextortion part of the international anti-corruption discourse, gathering data about it, and taking steps to address it. Hendry emphasized the importance of using clear and consistent terminology around sextortion to enable further awareness in fighting this form of corruption.
Panelist conversations began with Shyamala Gomez, Executive Director and Founder of the Centre for Equality and Justice in Sri Lanka. The Centre has recently been working to document cases of sextortion (or “sexual bribery”) in certain districts of Sri Lanka. Her work with the Centre focuses on how sexual exploitation cases move through and are responded to within the judicial system. She noted, “the judiciary plays [an important role] in creating precedent and a body of jurisprudence on sexual bribery… and to bring sexual bribery under an anti-corruption legal framework.” She explained that this could be the inclusion of sexual bribery within national anti-bribery laws.
Component Manager at the USAID Integritas/Kemitraan, Meissy Sabardiah conducts research across provinces in Indonesia from an anti-corruption perspective – focusing on sexual exploitation. Her organization’s research is being used to help the Indonesian government in drafting conflict of interest guidelines, which address sexual exploitation and corruption. They have also developed sexual exploitation prevention models for universities. Sabardiah observed that the judiciary faces similar challenges in addressing sexual exploitation. She explained how the hierarchal structures within the judicial system can foster abuse and emphasized the importance of training judicial actors in understanding and preventing sexual exploitation.
Astriyani Achmad, Coordinator of the Judicial Reform Team Office at the Supreme Court of Indonesia, was the final panelist to speak. Achmad first explained that maintaining the dignity of the Supreme Court and the rule of law requires preventing corruption in the judiciary. She noted that judges and other officials should reflect the global values expected of the judiciary, including maintaining ethical obligations. Sextortion is a form of corruption that the Judicial Reform Team is particularly concerned with preventing in Indonesia.
The panel emphasized the importance of understanding and raising awareness about sextortion. The panelists recognized that sextortion is a form of corruption that causes significant harm in the ASEAN region, but it has not yet been adequately addressed. Each panelist discussed their efforts to raise awareness about the problem through various perspectives.
As sextortion is still a relatively new concept, it is particularly important to raise awareness for the judiciary, both because they may be presented with cases that involve sextortion and it may occur within the courthouse and the judiciary. Providing tools and support to the judiciary will help to equip officials to recognize, respond to, and prevent sextortion.