The high incidence of rape, defilement and other forms of sexual violence in Nigeria has been a source of concern in recent times.
For 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.
Statistics reveal that rape is the most under-reported crime globally; only a third of incidences of sexual assault are reported while just 1 in 5 survivors of rape report the incident to the Police. Experts argue that sexual violence can cause serious sociological and emotional problems, and may be responsible to reluctance by victims’ reluctance to disclose.
Rape, for instance, is under-reported because of the fear of public shame, ridicule and stigmatisation, but that may be changing, going by recent developments in Nigeria.
On Sunday June 30, 2019, a coalition of gender advocates besieged the Lagos and Abuja branches of the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly, COZA, Church to protest an allegation of rape against a senior pastor of the church by Mrs. Busola Dakolo in a video that was trending on social media.
At the Lagos branch of the COZA, the coalition presented a petition signed by 200 groups and individuals urging COZA Trustees to take action regarding the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against the accused. Spokesperson for the Coalition, Dr. Princess Olufemi Kayode, in a chat with Vanguard Live disclosed the motive for protest among other expectations.
Olufemi-Kayode, who is CEO/Founder, Media Concern Initiative, and an expert on sexual violence, opined that accusations of sexual violence like rape by women and girls should not be taken lightly. She emphasized that the protest was essentially about all forms of sexual violence in Nigeria including rape and child sexual abuse. Excerpts:
What is sexual violence?
Sexual violence is basically any sexual act or an attempt to have a sexual act or unwanted sexual attention of touching it covers up everything within the space of such an activity that is not wanted or called for or asked for.
But the World Health Organisation, WHO, defines sexual violence as any sexual act or an attempt to obtain a sexual act or unwanted sexual commitment or advances or act of traffic or otherwise, directed against a persons sexuality using coercion by any person regardless of relationship to the victim(s) in any setting, but not limited to home and work. It is any unwanted sexual attention, also taken by force through coercion and that is why it is more like a crime of power.
Child sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violate the laws or social taboos of a society.
Forms of sexual violence
A lot falls under sexual violence. You can talk about child sexual violence which has incest, child rape, rape and gang rape, trafficking for sexual purposes. There is date rape and conflict rape, it happens during war. We have what we call female genital mutilation, FGM; not allowing women have access to contraceptives (family planning), especially the married ones who have no choice in determining how many children they want to have. Sexual violence is wide.
When you talk about sexual abuse you are talking about children
Sexual harassment is basically unwarranted sexual attention which also connotes the issue of exchange—I give you this and you give me that. Or somebody just grabs you in a manner you do not like. Such happens a lot in the market place or you could be walking down the street and someone touches you inappropriately and there was no cause for it.
Even in the office space, your boss could say to you—if you don’t do this you won’t get that. It also comes in comments and groupings. Some can be actually dangerous because if somebody is after you, talks to you dirty and touches you and you don’t want it, it could be hazardous for you.
Some people have found themselves in a situation where they are helpless. There is what we call fight or flee response. You are too shocked to say anything. It seems as if you are there but you are not there. Physically you are there but you are too shocked to flee.
Seeking legal redress
Yes. Already, we have thrown up issues of workplace having issues of sexual misconduct. It is happening and some companies have started putting that into their policies. So it is something we needs to look at nationally. As much as we have the laws, there are policies that need to be enacted within the workplace, the educational sector and even in the public place where a lot of this sexual harassment is coming up because you just can’t be working and somebody just touches you.
Sexual violence against women
Sexual violence covers everybody. We are having reports that affect the boy child and girl child. Men are also raped. I have handled cases of men who were raped. Anybody can come out to say I have been violated.
Why more women are protesting
Worldwide there are more reports from women than from men. But we are beginning to have more male reports than in the past. Men are also beginning to open up to say something happened to them as a child or they just faced attempted rape. Men are supposed to be stronger, it is like men don’t cry. They don’t want to say that as a man somebody actually raped you. It is a societal thing. But it is possible to be raped as a man.
What really is rape?
Technically, rape is obtaining forceful sexual intercourse. Based on the law now, it could be actually with a male organ or even an object. It could be through the vagina or anus. Whichever way it is something taken forcefully and that is actually where the challenge is when you talk about rape.
People expect that a rape victim should look tattered, beaten up, hair scattered and clothes torn because of the word—force. But force is not so much about the physical aspect of it but it is about taking that act without consent.
I did not consent to do this with you. You did what you wanted to do by yourself. I was just an object not really consented to it. That is where the issue of consent comes in. Defilement is basically sexual intercourse with a child. Rape involves an adult that did not give consent. There is manipulation and coercion. There are different forms of getting people to do what they would not do ordinarily. We should face those doing these things and say they are doing something wrong.
Proving rape cases
Rape is one of the most difficult things to prove across the world. There is gang rape but we are talking about the rape involving two people. We were just two in the room, no third party. I am the one saying you raped me and when you were caught, you can say you did not rape me. You may even come up to say I agreed that we should have this together. That would be your word against mine.
To prove rape, it used to be through medical report. I think it is still medical report but we are working to make sure it goes beyond medical report because even the people who work in area of sexual violence who are experts in forensic medical examinations will tell you that there are times in most case you can’t even find anything that shows that there was rape.
It’s particularly difficult to prove rape for females and even for males. Except that particular area is completely damaged, it is quite difficult. The healing in that area is very fast. So proving it should go beyond medical report, it should not be the only thing we should depend on. It is about Investigation. Investigation of sexual crimes is different and that is why we are saying that we need a specially trained police force for violent crimes because it will help them understand.
Handling Gender Based Violence
Yes, the police handle crime generally but if you look at gender based violence, it is not the same thing with murder or other forms of assault. If you look at the dynamics of issues around rape, how do you deal with responses of victims?
A victim can come and say something now and the next moment says something else. Sometimes they are incoherent. If you don’t understand where they are coming from you will have difficulty in dealing with them or proving it.
As individuals we react differently to issues but because there are researchers who have studied the variety of survivors who can say these are some of the things they do. So when they start talking, such person can understand where they are coming from, and how it has affected them. An attempted rape victim can have psychiatric problems while somebody that is gang raped may not have psychiatric issue or anything. So it is dynamic and as individuals we respond to issues differently.
It’s also because of our histories. Our histories are different so also our exposures and world view are different from one another. So understanding the basis, we need expertise in the area of sexual violence.
We are talking about forensic examination of sexual violence scenes. Don’t forget that only sexual violence that is reported immediately can be proved from the views of those involved. There are specific ways you talk to people there. Mostly investigation here ends up in: I call your name, you come to the police station and write your statement, go for medical examination and then papers are filed. But it goes beyond all that.
To talk about the charges, there are sexual crimes that you will not get to charge the person on that assault. Look at the video that is ongoing for instance; there are a lot of things that can be picked from that video. She’s dragged out. Where are you taking me to? There was no warrant of arrest. You took a child to a place and you held the child down there.
You forcibly held the child there. There are different things the law has. You see a 30-count charge abroad, if you escape one, you will meet the second, you escape the second one, you will meet the third one. The charges are interlinked.
A typical case
I remember a case we have, two little girls aged 2 and one year old. They can’t talk very well but the Landlord was physically penetrating them. The one-year-old would be on the floor playing, after a while, the Landlord used his left hand fingers to push the diapers to one side and then insert. Physically, she goes blank.
Meanwhile, the case has been reported to the police, the accused person has gone to the police for monitoring. The monitoring call invited all of us and we got the Office of the Public Defender, OPD, involved. When we got there, they could not find any evidence.
The policeman now turned to the small girl and asked her: “Do you know this man?” She said: “Yes. Oga Landlord” (Mr Landlord). “What happened to you?” The child pulled her dress up separated her legs and said he put his hands here.
This is a two-year-old. But that case couldn’t be handled because medical examination was not showing anything any more in the two girls. But in the one-year-old, it confirmed behaviour that somebody had introduced her to that activity.
But the two-year-old was able to stand up to speak. There are so many cases that have not been able to get to the court even though there is evidence. So the essence is that proving sexual violence proving in court is very difficult.
Busola Dakolo’s video
Like every other Nigerian, I woke up to that video shared by Busola Dakolo about her rape experience and it was a shock. But one thing I want people to realise is the fact that the protest was not intended to attack the Church.
It is the person that something happened to that can really describe it. She is not a child, I am trained to work with children, she has been able to express graphically what happened to her. All over the world where there are systems in place to respond to this issue, sexual violence is one of the most under-reported crimes. We cannot fault what she has said. I can seat as a victim advocate and tell you that I believe her. We can give support to people who come to complain. We try to do something that can help you move on with your life and if there is avenue to seek redress we also help you take advantage of it.
I have handled over 20,000 cases, but not all have gone to court, not because it did not happen but because there is no legal stand. Based on the laws, there is a time line, we have to follow the law. She said it happened in Ilorin, so Kwara law will have to determine if there is a case to be called. But on my seat as an advocate I stand with her. I’m also a survivor, so where we are coming from is different. You are a hearer. I’m a victim advocate, so I’m going to address that matter as a victim advocate. I’m also an activist, and what activists do is to act.
Majority of people that joined the protest were more of Christians. There was certainly no intention to destroy the church with that protest or stop people from worshipping, it was essentially to make a statement. The goal was for the leadership of the Church to be awakened that they are not exempted from accountability and authority.
We demanded four things with that protest. We called on COZA Trustees and Executive Council and leaders to act. First demand was that Biodun Fatoyinbo should step down, so that we can separate the issue from the church and face him as an individual.
Second, there should be instituted an in-house investigation with no partiality or favours. The Church should set up a panel to listen to the grievances within and not just wave it off. Third demand, listen to people who have something to say and make sure that the platform does not stigmatise them and that survivors may continue their worship without re-traumatisation. Fourth is to uphold the virtues of Christ in all truth.
Our acting has gone beyond Busola. It is for every other woman or child out there that has been violated. So when you see blood boiling there is a reason for that. We will do the best we can. We have several NGOs in the coalition. There has to be zero tolerance for violence against women and children.
Role of dressing in rape incidence
What dress could a 9-year-old wear that would cause her to be sexually violated? What of the women wearing Hijab that are raped, do they also entice men? It is still a myth about the connection of rape and the dress you are wearing. To date, the moment a rape is reported and a woman is involved, people tend to attribute it to indecent dressing. We need to get it right that sexual violence has nothing to do with what you are wearing. All the cases I have handled, I have not seen one that the woman was violated as a result of the way the woman was dressed.
It is better for rape or any sexual violation not to happen. We have seen the mess up already. There is serious mess up. I still carry the scars of sexual abuse, and it is not easy on a survivor. Some survivors don’t even know that certain things happening to them in life have to do with the sexual abuse they suffered earlier as children. There is emotional trauma brought on by the experience. Some abused children become abusers themselves.
Coming out about rape
I am also a survivor. The first time I talked about my experience was 2003. When I came out publicly, I was not prepared to say it, people asked whether it had happened to me and I said yes. My own happened when I was a child and I kept facing multiple abuses.
The day you decide to tell your story is your choice. You can see all over the world people that open up, it didn’t happen to them today, it happened long ago, they just needed to have courage to talk about it.
A child would say “I cannot tell my mother.” The ones that summon courage are not believed by family members. Some people are afraid of future stigmatization. I use to tell them that rape doesn’t mean your future is ruined.
Nigerian laws on sexual violence
There are many cases that don’t get to court. Sexual violence is difficult to prove. Most times the application and process of our laws come with different challenges. I think our Magistrates need more enlightenment to understand those issues because some think it cannot happen.
Investigation is an issue, today, if you go and report that somebody raped you, it is you that will bring money to the police officer for the vehicle that will go and pick the suspect.
Police has no vehicles to use, you are still the one that will bear the cost, it is not supposed to be so.
The process needs to be re-evaluated and it has to come from the National Assembly. The police don’t have equipment. You get to the police station and you have to buy statement paper and everything, so most people don’t want to come and report. Those that report need to bear the cost.
If you go to the police station you are spending the whole day. There are cases of mothers who when reporting the abuse of their children, lost their job. The process is not okay. Our police is federal so it is federal issue. Allocation needs to be made to protect citizens. Police is not equipped, and most of the officers are not trained in these issues.
For survivors of sexual violence
Sexual violence victims need to seek support and encourage each other to be strong. We need each other because there is a lot happening to you today as a result of the experiences from long ago. Look for trauma management counselors. Find a true counselor who is trained in trauma management. If you have been sexually molested or traumatized, you need therapy. You need help and tell the story whether you want to seek justice. For your life’s sake and mental health and to move on in life, you need to find therapy and support group.
Many groups are currently offering free counseling in this area. There are also online support systems, and victims only need to just tap into these resources. We share our stories and troubles and help each other.