Narrating Rape: An Ethnographic Case-Study of Non-Consensual Sexual Debut in Tanzania


This article explores the issue of (female) sexual consent in a non-western context by examining narratives of the non-consensual sexual debut in Tanzania within the institutional and cultural tolerance for intimate violence, and the role of the state and media in condoning “proper” gender roles. None of the young women interviewed during a year of ethnographic fieldwork on a college campus were willing to identify this activity as “rape,” though they frequently detailed the ways that aspirations for “respectability” created conditions of vulnerability to ongoing exploitative sexual relationships with older men in positions of authority whom they once trusted. In the socio-sexual premarital landscape of school girls, sex is never given away for free, but may be dispensed with reasonable expectation of return. In an effort to contextualize sexual intimacy and avoid careless use of labels like “prostitution,” feminist public health researchers began to frame sexual encounters in transactional terms. Although not entirely unproblematic, the less stigmatizing terminology reveals more nuanced intimate economies among men and women which include structurally and culturally-derived elements of deprivation, agency, and instrumentality. This article pays careful attention to the narrative of one young women who describes a socio-sexual premarital landscape which almost universally positions male partners as culturally-empowered to proceed with aggressive, even violent, advances toward young women they wish to have sex with, “date,” or marry. Within this context, this article then teases out emerging discourses about structural conditions that reinforce violence.


Sociology and Anthropology

Document Type





Adolescent, cultural issues, gender issues, intimate partner violence, school violence, sexual assault

Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma