Rape: Breaking the culture of silence
By Josephine Agbonkhese
18-year-old girl raped by five men in Kaduna (April 27)
39-year-old man rapes 7-year-old girl in Abia State (May 19, 2020)
22-year-old Uwaila Omozuwa raped, killed in Benin City (May 27, 2020)
11 arrested for raping 12-year-old girl in Jigawa (May 30, 2020)
18-year-old Barakat Bello raped to death in Ibadan (June 1, 2020)
Father rapes 7-month-old daughter in Makurdi (June 1, 2020)
25-year-old rapes 70-year-old woman in Ogun (June 2, 2020)
The statistics are inundating. Yet, the above account for only a handful of the sexual assault cases that have managed to make it to the media since April.
Every other day, it now appears, someone somewhere across the country is being raped, raped and killed, or left to die of sexual assault, either physically or mentally. From sacred places of worship to homes which should be the safest of all havens, the pervasiveness of the rape epidemic amid the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to spark outrage in the country. But could the lockdown be responsible for this spate of assault?
“Rape is not necessarily on the increase,” says Josephine Effah-Chukwuma, Executive Director, Project Alert on Violence Against Women. “What we are seeing now is the explosion of information on cases as they happen due to the social media.”
According to her, Nigeria has, in actual fact, had a sexual violence epidemic, especially rape and gang rape of children, over the last five years.
“Since 2014/2015, as an activist and a consultant on the Justice for All (J4A) project of the British Council, we started seeing a lot of cases of child sexual abuse. Also, the police reported it as the third highest crime reported to them, after robbery and kidnapping.
Also, Mirabel Centre, the first Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Nigeria, based at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, documented same. This made us to release a report titled “A Silent Epidemic: Sexual Violence in Nigeria” in 2017,”
Although no national data exists, the Lagos State Domestic & Sexual Violence Response Team, DSVRT, recently reported that in 2019 alone, it secured over 90 convictions for different sexual assault cases.
If the recent cases have brought to the fore anything, it is that for ages, rapists have stuck to their ways because several factors have shielded majority from the wrath of the law.
Though the penalty for rape- life imprisonment cannot be said to be inadequate, unfortunately, it has not served as a deterrent for several reasons.
Top on the list include; impunity, victim-shaming which prevents most victims from speaking up, exorbitant cost of securing arrest and prosecution, bureaucracy and unwillingness on the parts of relevant social institutions to encourage victims to fight on.
Since the start of the recent rape epidemic for example, reports of older cases have continued to flood the media almost on a daily basis, corroborating claims that most rape cases either go unreported, or are dropped in the course of investigation.
“One of such is the case of a three-year-old boy anally assaulted by a 19-year-old man in Igharra, a community in Edo State, which occurred in 2017,” Priscilla Usiobaifo, Founder/Executive Director, BraveHeart Initiative (BHI) told Vanguard Allure.
The family of the victim, according to her, suddenly decided to drop charges even though all evidence needed for conviction was in place. They had succumbed to series of appeal from the family of the suspect, creamed with the payment of a ransom.
For many other rape cases, the burden of the evidence, proves to be one reason suspects go unpunished and remain perpetually unrepentant.
“In order to get a conviction, you have to be able to prove that there was a rape; which means when you are raped, you need to get to the hospital on time for medical evidence. Unfortunately, hospitals which should have been able to help are poorly strengthened. Hence, we’ve had cases where survivors who go to hospitals end up being shamed and traumatised by the workers there,” Buky Williams, Executive Director, Education As Vaccine, an Abuja-based sexual violence nonprofit, told Vanguard Allure.
“We also have issues where, if you go to the police, you will be required to pay a processing fee, pay for printing paper, pay for fuel for them to go pick up the perpetrator and visit the crime scene, etc. A lot of families cannot afford that. So, if a civil society organisation does not get involved, often, they eventually drop the case,” Williams added.
On the way forward, Effa-Chukwuma said boys must be taught to practice self-control, since in most cases, they are the culprits.
“The issue should not only be about how girls can protect themselves, but also, that boys should practice self control and desist from abusing women and girls as that is criminal and the long hands of the law will grab them. While girls and women like men and boys try to protect themselves from falling victims of any crime, including sexual crimes, there is the need to also tell “criminals” to stop their criminal activities or else, they will be made to pay for it.”
For Usiobaifo whose organisation has prosecuted 15 rape cases and got 14 convictions, “Government must urgently begin to fund criminal investigations carried out by the Police, and also institutionalise gender trainings.
The Ministry of Justice must review enforcement of existing laws and ensure that Sexual Offenders get sentences commensurate with their offences. State Ministries of Health should ensure that all health facilities provide ‘free’ medical services to survivors of sexual assault.
“Comprehensive sexuality education for children and young people must also be put in place. Lastly, families must re-orientate and socialise their children about gender equality and mutual respect. Patriarchal norms must be abolished and communities’ system strengthened to educate boys on human rights.”
Williams, on her part, said one-stop sexual assault referral centres such as the Mirabel Center must be established in all parts of the country, so that victims get all necessary interventions needed for treatment and prosecution as quickly as they should, without being shamed or traumatised at any point by ill-informed professionals.
That way, more sexual assault cases will be promptly reported, prosecuted successfully, and rape will become a defeated trend.