Dr. Uwemedimo Esiet, Director, Action Health Incorporation, speaks Ephraim Oseji on rape and how the world can control it.
There has been an increase in rape cases of recent. How can the issue be tackled?
Globally, during this COVID-19 pandemic, there have been more incidents of gender and sexual violence, including rape and sexual abuse, to the extent that the UN Secretary-General has called for a cease-fire. Nigeria is not excluded.
However, Nigeria has the VAPP Act but many states have not domesticated the Act and those who have domesticated it have not invested in the implementation.
Citizens have not taken up the challenge of mobilising against sexual and gender-based violence. And because there have been no citizens led actions, we are seeing a renewed strength. Social media has become a tool where people go to promote whatever they have done that is not right, which they make to look right.
There are lots of factors influencing rape and unless you address the factors, you cannot address the issue. We need all hands to be on deck. Who are those who influence societal behaviour, and how are we engaging with them? As far as Nigeria is concerned, almost all police stations have sexual violence desks. Every aspect of this crisis needs to be revisited. We must claim ownership as citizens of this country of our engagement with this process.
We need men who can stand up and speak against sexual and gender-based violence. We need the media, the clergy and every other person. This is not a business that relates to just women, so let us not continually blame victims. We must make our communities, roads and environment safe.
We need to address the issues of miscreants, boys who get money through illegal means (Yahoo Boys) and do not respect the dignity of the girl or woman but believe that every girl/woman is a commodity to be purchased, and that they are above the law. It is a failure of our societal system that is staring us in the face. The earlier we do something, the better.
You talked about factors. What are they?
Culturally, what value do we place on the lives of girls and women? Economically, how much do we invest in the lives of women and girls? Socially, how much do we propagate equity and equality irrespective of the sex? How do we socialise our boys who become men to respect women? Do we recognise that the rights of women are also human rights? Do we programme in a rights-based manner in our nation?
I know for instance that the clergy and the traditional institution have a lot of work to do in this regard. We want to hear clerics and traditional rulers denounce rape, sexual and gender-based violence. They need to sensitise their members and provide psycho-social support and other supporting environment for victims. You cannot reside where a woman is being beaten and you don’t call the police or force the house open to save the life of the woman.
There is a whole lot that we need to do. Any man worth his salt should not raise his voice, not to talk of raising his hand or fist against a woman. These are clear messages that we must let people know. We must not honour men who best or rape women, who violate the rights of women in any way. They must not be made to feel that they are the real men because they are not.
There are laws put in place to fight rape. Are they being properly implemented?
The provision of the law is a good step, but enforcement is weak. We need to invest in social and behavioural change. Evidence has proven that a person who was raised in a violent home is more likely going to be violent or live a violent life. A boy who grows up in a home where the father slaps the mother is likely going to internalise that behaviour as normal and will likely exhibit same in future.
This is why socialisation must start. We must engage those who are the custodians of culture to say this is not acceptable. I attended a memorial lecture some years back and I remember hearing Mrs Solanke Folake (SAN) saying something close to “The king should bow to no man but the king should bow to the law and God. After all, it is the law that made the king.” We must make sure that nobody is above the law in our society.
That way, people will respect the law. But a situation where people can buy justice makes it look like justice is selective. You can apply the instrument of justice against the poor but not against the rich. Mixed messages must be prevented.
Should stricter measures be taken to curb rape?
If you mean that we should have a Sex Offenders’ Register or do some of the progressive things other societies have done, whereby you cannot be within certain proximity of a woman, girl or child, then yes.
Rape is a criminal offence and, therefore, it is a matter of the state versus the rapist. I do know that the law does not permit plea bargain or out of court settlement for rape cases. And so if that is happening, it is a travesty of justice. That needs to be addressed through the criminal justice system at state and federal levels.
How best can a rape victim handle medical and the justice system?
We must not conflict the procedure. If there is an allegation of rape, your first point of call is not a hospital. You need to report at the police station and then they give you a form to take to a public hospital where you will be examined. So if there is a case of alleged rape and you take the victim to a private hospital, you have messed up that case.
We must educate ourselves on the procedure. No medical doctor can deny any patient treatment and definitely not anyone that has been sexually violated. If the hospital has a medical doctor that is qualified and registered, you can protest to the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria. There is the Hippocratic Oath that doctors signed up to and guides professional practice.
The Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria does orientation for graduating doctors before they are registered and they administer the oath. Doctors know that a patient cannot walk into their facility and denied access to treatment.
A lot of females are at high risk of being raped. How do we protect them?
The vulnerability of the female gender is high globally. Most rapists are known to the people who have been raped. So it is really not much of stranger rape. People are raped in marriages and in relationships. There are people who have canvassed that access to acquiring self-defense skills should be promoted for females and I concur.
We also need to be more vigilant and more conscientised. All the parametres of government that protect the safety and well-being of citizens should also be conscientised and sensitised.
Nigerians are very used to blaming rape victims. How do we correct this?
All those who blame victims are wrong and that is not acceptable. There is no justification for rape. A rapist is a criminal and it happens regardless of how the victim dressed. A rapist is not a mentally sound man. He needs mental and psychiatric evaluation, psychosocial evaluation and needs to be kept away for a long time from society. It is not a rational behavior and punishable by law. Let the law take its full course.
Rape victims must be fully supported by the society and government to receive treatment/rehabilitation, fulfil their potentials and contribute meaningfully to society. They must be protected by the law and receive justice.
How do we correct the dysfunction at the family level?
I feel we are all looking for whom to blame. In the 21st century world, you cannot deny people the right to work. They need to pay bills and live the quality life they want. This does not mean that society must pass the blame that they have failed. It takes a community to raise a child, so communities must take ownership for rearing children and for the socialisation process of all children, whether male or female, and ensure their protection and safety.
The rights and equality of a boy and girl-child are the same. We should stop making the boy-child feel he has the right to be a boy while the girl-child has no right to be a girl. The double standards that society and communities display have made us all to blame.
We have been behaving like the proverbial ostrich burying our heads in the sand. It is sad, unfortunate and painful that this is where we are. We have degenerated. Any society that cannot take care of the vulnerable people is a society that is accelerating its own death.
Our society must stand up and speak up. There should be no divide. From what is happening globally at this time, there is no divide. We all have common humanity. And we must all protect it. And this common humanity is represented in the dignity of each and every individual on planet earth.