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Community perceptions of rape and child sexual abuse: a qualitative study in rural Tanzania

Muzdalifat Abeid12*, Projestine Muganyizi12, Pia Olsson1, Elisabeth Darj13 and Pia Axemo1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Women’s and Children’s Health, International Maternal and Child Health (IMCH), Uppsala University, Uppsala SE-75185, Sweden

2 Department of Obstetrics/Gynecology, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS), Dar es Salaam, P.O. Box 65117, Tanzania

3 Department of Public Health and General Practices, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, P.O. Box 8905, Trondheim, Norway

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BMC International Health and Human Rights 2014, 14:23  doi:10.1186/1472-698X-14-23

Published: 18 August 2014



Rape of women and children is recognized as a health and human rights issue in Tanzania and internationally. Exploration of the prevailing perceptions in rural areas is needed in order to expand the understanding of sexual violence in the diversity of Tanzania’s contexts. The aim of this study therefore was to explore and understand perceptions of rape of women and children at the community level in a rural district in Tanzania with the added objective of exploring those perceptions that may contribute to perpetuating and/or hindering the disclosure of rape incidences.


A qualitative design was employed using focus group discussions with male and female community members including religious leaders, professionals, and other community members. The discussions centered on causes of rape, survivors of rape, help-seeking and reporting, and gathered suggestions on measures for improvement. Six focus group discussions (four of single gender and two of mixed gender) were conducted. The focus group discussions were recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed using manifest qualitative content analysis.


The participants perceived rape of women and children to be a frequent and hidden phenomenon. A number of factors were singled out as contributing to rape, such as erosion of social norms, globalization, poverty, vulnerability of children, alcohol/drug abuse and poor parental care. Participants perceived the need for educating the community to raise their knowledge of sexual violence and its consequences, and their roles as preventive agents.


In this rural context, social norms reinforce sexual violence against women and children, and hinder them from seeking help from support services. Addressing the identified challenges may promote help-seeking behavior and improve care of survivors of sexual violence, while changes in social and cultural norms are needed for the prevention of sexual violence.

Child sexual abuse; Community perceptions; Focus group discussions; Rape; Rural; Sexual violence; Tanzania