Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi: Woman On A Mission
Words By – Jemi Ekunkunbor
Lawyer and public Administrator, Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi is the pioneer Executive Secretary of the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency.
She drafted and facilitated the ratification of two landmark executive bills- Sex Offenders Register and Mandated Reporting Policy, as well as, the Safeguarding of Child Protection Programme. With appropriate laws in place and recorded cases of domestic violence getting up to140, and sexual violence 5 cases per month, she has her job cut out for her-to ensure a coordinated response to sexual and gender-based violence in Lagos State.
As the agency rounds off celebration of the Domestic and Sexual Violence month, Mrs Vivour-Adeniyi x-rays the issue at hand, the effect of the COVID-19 on families and the efforts by government to combat this menace in order to ensure security and well being of Lagos residents.
What was it like pioneering Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Agency?
We started as The Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team established in 2014. The response team has now metamorphosed into an agency.
How has it been?
It has been remarkable and personally, very fulfilling. If you look at where we are coming from in terms of the personnel, services available to survivors, funding, etc, there has been a clear increase. Our influence has increased, our capacity to give support to survivor has also doubled. We are able to provide 24/7 response through our toll-free lines and because we have increased the capacity of our staff, we can conduct after- hours rescue missions. Things are working and we are gradually breaking the culture of silence.
Lagos State seems really interested in gender issues. Was it a campaign promise?
These are issues that were brought up during politicking, the issue of the girl child, safety of the vulnerable etc. So, responding to domestic and sexual violence sits very squarely on Mr Governor’s key agenda especially, that of good governance. We are not surprised that this level of political will is being demonstrated in responding to domestic and sexual violence in Lagos State.
During the lockdown, there was an upsurge in domestic and sexual violence. How did your office respond to it and can you put a figure to it?
We recorded 35% increase in domestic and sexual violence in the peak period, the two weeks of total lockdown we were getting an average of 16 cases daily coming through our hot line. In April 2020, we recorded 304 cases. Before then, we were recording 180-200 cases. At that time, we didn’t even have the toll free lines.
Because there was a total lockdown, they couldn’t come into the office but cases were being reported; people needed to be rescued, we had to place people in shelters, we had to report cases and get restraining order against abusive partners. We had to strengthen our relationship with the court, the Police and the NGOs that give these services.
What factors trigger domestic violence?
From the research we conducted, we found out that patriarchy is at the heart of domestic and gender-based violence; the idea that a gender is superior to the other, the idea that there are sex roles and gender roles and when there is a resistance, it is a reason for friction. Our upbringing, socialization, culture, our religious beliefs are attributable to the commission or non commission of domestic violence.
At least 70% of alleged abusers of domestic violence are victims of intimate partner abuse. They saw it when they were growing up, when their parents had issues and resorted to using feasts instead of communicating. They did not receive psycho social support. They were brought up in an environment that normalised violence. Now as adults, they are having issues with their spouse because they don’t know any better.
From your experience, were couples open to counselling bearing in mind the issue of patriachy?
We must be mindful of what society we are in. Seeking help for ordinary headache is a challenge not to talk of mental health issues. Where an alleged abuser comes to the office, police station or court, and admits to anger management issues, at that point, it is very easy. We have clinical psychologists and psychiatrists that we can refer such a person to. But a good number of alleged abusers are in denial. You cannot give service to somebody who is saying, I am not an abuser. If you look at our data, we had over 400 cases that went for counseling between September 2021 and June 2022. The psychologists were able to assist them because they were exposed to therapy.
Do they come back with testimonies?
Yes. There is nobody that is born an abuser. It is a learned behaviour that can be unlearned.
How true is it that poor economic factor encourages domestic violence?
Yes, economic factor may trigger domestic violence but it is not a reason. We have seen the very affluent, the middle class, we have seen the very wealthy experience domestic violence.
So the rich also cry?
Indeed, they do. We have seen that domestic violence is not a respecter of social status. Anybody can be a victim of domestic violence.
Because of the economy, there is a lot of strain, there is a lot of stress and of course, he goes home and tries to release that stress in form of violence. But, I tread with caution in that line of thought because we will be unknowingly, giving excuses for their actions.
From your work on sexual violence especially defilement, why do people do what they do? Is it true as some believe that it could be for ritual purposes?
As an agency, we also wanted to know why people commit the offense. So, in 2016, we partnered with the Nigerian Prison Service as they were referred to then, and we were able to engage 140 sex convicts serving term.
Our findings where quite remarkable: 80.5% of them said they we’re abused and exposed to unhealthy sexual relationships by age 6. And because that trauma was not addressed, they carried it for a long time until they started looking for those in that age bracket to have sexual intercourse with.
We have cases of a seven year old fondling a three year old in school. In that case, it is not about crucifying that seven year old child, who might be either a boy or a girl. It is about finding out what went wrong, and who abused or exposed that child to such a behaviour.
That, has completely altered the way we address our program. So, for the male folk, we do not address them from the position of preparators, but addressing them as victims.
How does this work affect you as a person?
There is something called vicarious trauma that people like us that are in this field are exposed to. We have psychologists and psychiatrists, who debrief our staff. Personally, I have learned to be a bit clinical. I don’t get too attached to cases. I do my work professionally and when I feel the need to speak with a psychologist, I do so.
Can you spell out specific crimes and the punishment prescribed by the law?
For sexual violence in Lagos we have different punishments. For Defilement (section 137 of the criminal law), it is life imprisonment.
For rape, it carries life imprisonment also. (Section 260 of the criminal law).
For sexual assault and penetration ( section 261), it is life imprisonment.
That section is not limited to normal sexual intercourse. If I insert an object inside any opening of the body and it is done in a sexual nature, it is sexual assault and penetration.
If you attempt to commit but was unsuccessful, it is 14 years imprisonment.
Sexual assaults, like touching somebody sexually without the person’s consent, is three years imprisonment. You have to be careful with boundaries. Sexual harassment also carries three years jail term.
Then unlawful sexual activity, carries five years imprisonment.
So, we have the laws, we just need to ensure that cases are reported formally, and go through the administration of criminal justice process.
What then hold victims back, is it the court, the police or stigma?
Stigma is a problem. So, we have designated police stations referred to as family support unit, with trained police officers where these cases can be reported. We have them spread across seven divisions. Adeniji Adele, Isokoko, Ilupeju, Badagry, Epe, Festac, Alakuko, Ajah, Amukoko.
In the case of rape where you have to establish evidence, time is of essence. How easy is it traveling from your location to one of these designated police station?
That is why we say, if it is a case of sexual violence, and you go to a police station that is not a designated police station, the least that police station can do, is to immediately refer you for medicals because our priority at that moment is not to catch the suspect, it is to make sure that the survivor is okay, receives medical and physiological support.
In sexual violence, there is what you call the golden hour period. It is typically, three days after the assault because there are medications that must be administered to prevent contraction of HIV, STI, and pregnancy.
When you talk about the court, Lagos State is the first to have the specialised domestic and sexual violence court. We have four of them at the moment. They sit at the High Court level. They sit back to back to reduce long adjournments and they are friendly to survivors.
For the Police, aside from upgrading certain divisions to Family Support Unit, we are partnering with the police, because the police is the first responder. If the interface with the first responder is not a good one, chances that you are discouraged is there and that is when you hear things like, “I have left it to God”. This happens because the process was daunting.
I want to use the opportunity to inform Lagosians of the fact that we have a trustfund to take care of investigation. That is why we are saying people should please go to designated Police stations, because at those Police stations, they are not going to ask for any money.
What are your plans going forward?
A lot of people are in abusive relationships not because they are enjoying the violence, but because they don’t know that they can report.
So, we are going around engaging all our critical stakeholders so that we saturate the metropolis with these information. We need to demystify these issues so that it is no longer a taboo to say that this person was sexually abused. The shame should be on the perpetrator. Instead of saying Ada was raped, you say, Ade raped Ada; you put the spotlight on Ade and shield the survivor. That way, you encourage other survivors to speak up.
When you are not working, how do you like to relax?
I am a loner, I love my company, I love my me time. I am very fortunate to be married to someone who understands me and is very supportive. And family too.
When you do this work, you will be grateful for little mercies, things you ordinarily take for granted, the freedom to speak and be heard.
Has this made you over protective of the girl child?
Everybody actually. When we started, I used to be a bit paranoid, when I go out and see couples, I am like, is this person experiencing abuse?
If I am at a function for children and they start playing music with adult content, I will go to the DJ and tell him to please, change the song because I know the impact the lyrics will have on them when they start singing it.