By CHIOMA OBINNA
The increasing wave of sexual assault in Nigeria is raising concern. Reports show increase in child sexual abuse/molestation, rape and other forms of sexual violence. The seeming increase may not be unconnected with increased public awareness about sexual assault as an important health problem.
Stakeholders say the country may have an epidemic of sexual violence on its hands even though there are no reliable national statistics on rape and other sexual offences in Nigeria, which hampers an effective national response. The need for hospital based management protocol in the form of treatment, care and support for the victims becomes paramount.
Last week, stakeholders comprising the Police, Civil Society Organisations, care givers, counsellors and lawyers gathered in Lagos at the instance of Mirabel Sexual Assault Centre to evaluate rescue activities, assess and build greater partnership with all the agencies working on child protection in Lagos, to have more coordinated approach against the scourge for better results.
Coinciding with the 1st anniversary of the Centre, the event was also to work out how to sustain activities of the Centre as the funding agency withdraws after two years.
301 victims in one year
Managing Partner of the Centre, Mrs Itoro Eze-Anaba said in just one year, the Centre, has attended to 301 victims of rape and other sexual assault cases in Lagos. Victims of all ages were received, but minors topped the list. She said some of the victims’ ordeal was pathetic, regretting that most of the perpetrators were either family members or friends.
Nine boys raped by other boys were referred to the Centre. Shocking cases involved a-two-year old baby, a 70-year-old grandmother, and a baby conceived from a rape incident.
Eze-Anaba was regretful of the high level of impunity. “Some of our clients revealed that perpetrators boast that justice will not catch up with them. People are getting away with it everyday. Nobody is being punished. There is no deterrent. It is being trivialised.
An old man rapes a child and the case is reported at the police station, suddenly, the traditional rulers begin to beg for the case to be buried.
There is stigmatisation and also for the fact that there are no readily available support services where the victims can report to, therefore, they keep quiet. Based on that, the perpetrator goes to the next target.” Prevalence among boys is also growing but it is more difficult to talk about it.
It is easier to say a girl has been raped but if it happens to a boy, he may not talk about. That is the mentality.
“In one year, one of the highlights of it all is that we have been able to pinpoint to the fact that minors under age of 18 are majority of the victims.
This means that there could be problem bringing up minors in Lagos. Another revelation is that rape is not done by strangers because over 80 percent of the cases involved people they know. It contradicts the myth that it is because of what you wear or the unfamiliar. The Centre has documented credible information that is verifiable.
“Also, we have found out that boys and men are being raped. Rape is not limited to females only. Anybody could be raped. The youngest was about two years old while the oldest is 70. The Centre identified areas in Lagos that are at high risk of recording rape and other sexual assault.
“Number one is space. Where we are presently occupying at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital is very small. We are calling on government to give us a bigger space so that we can render more effective services to the people in need. Funding is crucial. We need to sustain the programme by getting more funds. Role of the Police cannot be overemphasised.
There are three Police Stations we are currently working with. They have been fantastic, but there are others not as good as them. They make financial demands from victims which further traumatises them. Also, schools need to give more information and education in checking the ugly trend. Victims should not be blamed because there is no justification for rape.”
A counsellor at the Centre, Mrs. Valentina Peter-Nkwo said rape victims cut across all boundaries. “Though most of the victims are minors but there are also adults who find it difficult to get justice because it is believed that the perpetrator could be her boyfriend. You will see the victim blaming herself, the family, the community and the places she goes to for help are all blaming her. Then she decides to keep quiet.
“We have seen different cases, including cases of fathers abusing their own children. There is need for more awareness. Once it is addressed, the victim’s hope is rekindled. Parents need to educate their children properly. It should not be only against strangers because about 90 percent of the act is committed by people known to the victims. At certain age, parents should educate their girls about their body and sex organs. We often say when a man touches you, you get pregnant, no, tell them if a man has sex with them. Teach your children to be confident of themselves because perpetrators are afraid of such children.
Peter-Nkwo said Nigeria could do better in the area of penalty and adjudication of justice, lamenting that justice gets too long to be delivered. “The victims’ families get tired along the line and may back out. It will help a lot if justice for victim is expedited.”
Director, Office of the Public Defender, Lagos State Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Omotola Rotimi, said continuous awareness is the key to curbing the escalating incidence of rape. She advised that cases that are taken to Police Station should not be settled out of court and that when the perpetrator is convicted and reported, it will serve as deterrent while parents found to be grossly negligent of their children should be punished in accordance with law.
Also speaking, Divisional Police Officer, Adeniyi Adeleye Station, Victoria Island, Monday Agbonika, said the Nigeria Police Force recently initiated a Family Support Unit to handle all cases of domestic and gender violence.
He explained rape occurs whenever there is carnal knowledge without the consent of either partner and that the crime is punishable with up to life imprisonment, saying late reporting prevents the Police from obtaining useful evidence for persecution.
“Apart from conviction, our partnership Mirabel Centre and others would help the victim go through proper psycho-social counseling to enable recovery from the trauma and readjust for a healthier future,” he said.