BY SOLA OGUNDIPE
OVER the years, several incidents of rape, and other forms of sexual assault/abuse have not been investigated or pursued to logical conclusion either because the victims, who are usually girls and young women (single or married) failed to report the incident, or even if they reported, the culprit/culprits were not apprehended and prosecuted.
While experts note that sexual violence can cause serious sociological and emotional problems, the worry about the rising incidence of sexual abuse. “Victims are more often than not, reluctant to disclose the incidence of sexual abuse due to fear, threat, or coercion. Rape is nearly always under-reported because of the fear of public shame, ridicule and stigmatisation, said an expert in sexual abuse.”
But all that may be changing, as the Mirabel Sexual Assault Referral Centre, SARC, goes into operation. It is located at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, Ikeja, and operated by Partnership for Justice, funded through a grant from the DFID-funded Justice for All programme in cooperation with the Lagos State Ministry of Health.
The setting up a sexual assault referral centre called the Mirabel Centre to provide timely professional services to survivors of rape and sexual assault in a caring and compassionate manner while respecting their rights to make choices., provides assistance (medical and counselling) to victims of sexual assault across Lagos State.
Executive Director/Managing partner, Partnership for Justice, Mrs. Itoro Eze- Anaba, disclosed that since it opened its doors to the public in July 2013, the Centre has witnessed unprecedented influx of clients. “The Centre has so far assisted 125 clients at an average of 25 per month.
A rundown of cases handled in first five months of operation, revealed a total of 86 victims of rape reported for care, support and counselling.
Eze-Anaba said during the first month of operation in July, there were 23 clients; 25 in August; 33 in September, 19 in October and 25 in November.
Further, she revealed that 11 of the rape incidents were cases of statutory rape, 29 were assault; four, battery and one defilement. Within the period in question, 40 of the victims were aged 10 or less , 17 were under the age of six, while 44 were aged between 11 and 15. Precisely 78 of the 84 victims aged below 15 were assaulted by somebody known to them. In a statement, Eze-Anaba affirmed that 86 of the victims were brought to the SARC by the Police.
“The Police now have somewhere they can take victims for provision of assistance to as well as to carry out a forensic examination that is admissible in court without having to make any payments to the medical practitioners.”
Noting that 81 of the victims were referred afterwards to Social welfare or NGOs that can provide additional support, she said the Centre is providing a much needed service to victims of sexual assault.
“Statistics such as these and those from other sources clearly show there is a huge problem with sexual assault in Lagos State and greater effort is needed from government and other agencies to address the problem.
Urging men to know that they cannot use women and girls for sexual gratification in the absence of their consent, or treat them violently, with impunity, she declared that it is not enough just to deal with the consequences. “Much more effort needs to be made to prevent sexual assault in the first place,” she observed.
Described as the “hope of the common man,” there are plans to set up a place such as the Mirabelle Centre in Abuja for victims of rape and sexual violence. “It is absolutely essential. from the police, the medical report is taken by our staff to the relevant police station.