Single mum with her defiled toddler.
Pastor sodomised these three brothers

By Esther Onyegbula

What does the single mother of a four-year-old living in Ago Palace Way; the family of a 16-year-old teenager, who was turned into a sex slave by her aunt’s philanthropist husband in Maryland, or the family of three male teenager siblings, raped by a gay paedophile-pastor in Ajegunle, all in Lagos, possibly have in common?

All three, like thousands of other survivors and their families around Nigeria, have suffered varying degrees of stigmatisation trauma resulting from being victims of sexual violence. For months, these survivors and their families had to battle to raise money for a new apartment in another community where they are unknown. Or outright relocation to a new environment so they can pick up pieces of what is left of their lives and, at least, have a fresh start in life.

Read Also: Man, 49, rapes neighbour’s daughter to death in Kano

For the Nwamaka family, their decision to flee the community that once held five-year worth of beautiful memories began after their four-year-old toddler was defiled in school by her class teacher. After the discovery their lives took a downward trend instantly.

This is a piece about how stigmatisation has not only become weaponised to silence survivors and their relatives in communities but, the double jeopardy survivors and their families face for daring to speak out and seek redress against sexual violence.

Although there is no comprehensive current data on defilement, it is estimated that one in four girls and one in 10 boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthday in Nigeria, and only 2% of girls and 4% of boys receive any help. However, the data submitted through the Child Protection Information Management Systems (CPIMS), from the Child Protection Unit of the Ministry of Youth and Social Development, Lagos State, about 2,154 child abuse cases were reported in Lagos state in 2020, and sexual defilement tops the record with 1005 cases in 2021.

Unfortunately, while recently updating the press on its achievement in the last three months, the data for defilement, rape, and sexual-related issues were omitted by the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, CP Abidioun Alabi.

No doubt, the alarming data on sexual abuse is intertwined with stigmatisation. The double jeopardy survivors and their families face for daring to speak out and seek redress against sexual violence often result in trauma, depression and suicidal tendencies.

In June 2020, the bill seeking to end the stigmatisation of victims of rape passed its second reading in the Nigerian Senate. When passed, the legislation provides for prosecution and punishment of any person or group of persons who stigmatise victims of rape. Unfortunately, since 2020 when it passed its second reading, nothing has been heard about the bill again. Stigmatisation of survivors of sexual abuse and their family members is an infringement on their rights, privacy, self-preservation and dignity.

Stigmatisation for single mother of toddler defiled by class teacher

Mrs Nwamaka, the mother of a four-year-old toddler whose teacher inserted her fingers and pencil into her vagina and anus, in her school located at Wahuwa Street, Community Road, Ago Palace Way, Lagos, recounted how she was threatened and stigmatised in her community. She said: “I discovered my daughter had been defiled when l was bathing her.  She couldn’t bend down. When I asked her, she said it was her class teacher.

“My ordeal started as soon as l reported to the police at Ago Palace Divisional Police Station and the teacher was arrested. Relatives of the teacher stormed my house, threatening my family and I. Since then, our lives have been in danger all because I want justice for my 4-year-old daughter.”

Explaining how the ugly development had disrupted their lives, Mrs Nwamaka revealed that “I had to withdraw my daughters (the victim and her sister) from the school where the incident happened, while their mates were writing third term examination. After paying school fees, my kids did not write promotion exams in addition to all the pains I am going through.”

The sobbing mother continued: “The trauma and pains I am going through and the shame and stigma on my daughter in our area is much. God in heaven will see me through this case. Sometimes, I have serious headaches because I cry myself to bed because of the stigmatisation. I just needed money to move out of this environment because this incident is killing me softly.”

As stigmatisation muscle the Nwamaka’s into submission, the single mother said: “I got tired of all this trouble and pains. I didn’t have money anymore to move up and down, including the strength to fight for justice for my daughter without funds.

“At the Gender Unit of State Police Command, Ikeja, Lagos, they asked me to provide a vehicle for them to go for investigation. I didn’t have any funds again to move police up and down for investigation and they are collecting bribes up and down. I got exhausted. God in heaven will judge them all. I used all the money I have to take care of my child to run up and down over this case. It is my daughter today, next time it might be anyone’s kid. The country is so corrupt with bribery.”

Case of three siblings sodomised by pastor 

The three siblings, who were sodomised by a pastor at Ajeromi area of Ajegunle, is quite similar to that of the Nwamaka’s family, but a bit complicated because they were sodomised for months. And the discovery threw their entire family into a shock. They are yet to recover from it.

According to the mother of the three survivors, “Hell was let loose the moment I reported the case of rape to Area B Police Station of how a popular pastor raped three of my teenage sons. Before his arrest, the Pastor had announced during service that my children and I laid false allegations against him. Within a twinkle of an eye, we became the enemy of the Church.

“Fellow church members accused us of wanting to destroy an innocent man of God. We became a laughing stock and objects of mockery in the community. Our landlord’s children would use the issue to taunt them. Their age mates stopped associating with them for fear of being introduced to gays. It was a very traumatic experience for us. It still is. In the community, people treated us like outcasts. We would have left the community, but because of lack of funds we are still trapped where we live, with the stigma following us everywhere she lamented.”

Arrest of pastor

Although the pastor was arrested, arraigned and remanded in Kirikiri Correctional Facility on April 7, the three survivors and their relatives are still grappling with the stigma despite undergoing therapy at Women at Risk International Foundation, (WARIF).

The family’s travails started after the Pastor warmed his way into the hearts of the family, gaining their trust unknown to them that he had ulterior motives.

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Recounting how it all began, the mother of the survivors said: “After service one evening, the pastor said he wanted to counsel one of my sons because he had a vision about him. After he spoke with him, my son spoke highly of him, cut his dreadlocks and stopped wearing earrings. My husband and I were quite impressed with the development not knowing that he had ulterior motives and his show of concern towards our children was a bait to get close and gain our trust.

“After about a week, he requested that my eldest son come live with him. We obliged his request and our son began to live with him. We felt we have seen a helper, but our joy was short-lived, as about six months later my son began to grow lean and look very sickly.

Victim turns into shadow of self

“Each time I saw him in Church, he was a shadow of himself. At this time, pastor had begun to complain bitterly about my son’s attitude. Whenever I tried to speak with my son to find out what was happening to him, he was very distant and you could see fear in his eyes, yet he refused to open up.

“Later, the pastor stopped my son from coming to church to assist him and started getting close to two of my younger children, asking them to run errands for him. He began to complain that he was tired of my son that was living with him and that he wants one of the younger ones. So I begged him to allow my son to be coming to church.

“I wasn’t comfortable with everything that was happening, more so with my son’s deteriorating health.  I suspected something was wrong but my son refused to open up to me or any member of the family. He began to withdraw, kept more to himself and stopped associating with his siblings, friends and church members.

“After service one day, I noticed my son had a big injury in his mouth; he had to wear a nose mask to cover it so people won’t see it. When I asked him what happened, he said he fell and hurt himself. That night, I couldn’t sleep, my spirit was troubled. When complaints became too much, my husband and I felt it was better our son came back, but we didn’t want any issues with the pastor.

“So my husband called the pastor, saying that he wanted to see and advise our son because of the numerous complaints.  At about 4p.m. one Wednesday, my husband and son came to the hospital where I worked. My son had lost so much weight and looked pale like someone who had anaemia. His shorts were falling off his waist, and he wasn’t wearing boxers. At 4p.m. he had not taken his bath.

“I quickly took him to the doctor. The doctor prescribed some drugs and asked him to run some tests. While we were still in the hospital, the pastor came and asked my son to be a good boy and not expose himself. On Friday, I took him back to the hospital to run the test. Already, I pleaded with one of the hospital matrons to help counsel him to know why he had become a shadow of himself and so withdrawn.

Confessions galore

“While the matron was counselling him in her office, my son began to weep profusely, trembling with fear, saying he would die if he opened up. She encouraged him to speak out, that nothing was going to happen to him. When he eventually did, hell was let loose as he recounted the gory details of how the pastor sexually assaulted him.

“In the middle of the night, I woke my husband and children up and asked my son to repeat what he told the matron at the hospital. He started crying all over again, as he revealed how pastor raped him through his anus for the over 14 months he lived with him. We all began to cry. He said the rape started the very day he started living with him. The pastor said he wants to make him strong like him, that he should submit his anus to him, and when he refused, he forced himself on him and that he bled so much afterwards.

“The rape continued every day, and night. If he refused, he would be beaten mercilessly. The revelations were too much to swallow, as his two younger siblings opened up, confessing that the pastor had also raped them in Church several times. And he takes them to hotels. After raping the two younger ones, he would ask them to perform the act on themselves.

Effects of incident

“Since then, I have been shattered. I almost ran mad. Every day, I blame myself for all that happened to my three sons. The entire experience affected me terribly. My mind was shattered, overnight I lost weight, and I got very depressed. Every member of my family was traumatised, even the other two who were not sexually assaulted. Each time I remember the incident, I get depressed again. I wake up at midnight traumatised.

“As at the time the incident happened, my son who lived with him was 17. He raped him for a year and four months before we found out in March this year. My other sons were 16 and 14 years old, respectively, at the time. He started raping them from June 2021 till March 2022. He still raped one of them the day we discovered.”

Psychologist speak

Dr. Pamela, a certified and licensed clinical psychologist, who is providing therapy for the 16-year-old victim raped for over a year by her aunt’s husband in Maryland area of Lagos said: “I am not a legal practitioner; I am talking about psychological and mental health issues.

“The victim is traumatized. I won’t say what traumatised her, but I know she’s traumatized. Apart from that, from my assessment, the two children and wife of the perpetrator are also traumatised by what he had done. As I speak, the children that I spoke to don’t want to come back here (Nigeria), and they don’t want anything to do with us. As I said ‘us’ I’m talking about us adults Nigerians, because they don’t know who to trust.

“I am talking about minors who are traumatized; his biological children, and the wife’s niece, (the victim) is old enough to be his daughter. She is also traumatised.  I am doing therapy sessions for people who on a normal day have no business being traumatised. They were living their lives until this incident happened. They would read these things in future and it can never go away.”

Mental health therapist’s verdict

Speaking in an exclusive interview on how stigma affects the mental health of victims of sexual abuse and their families, Joy Iseki, a professional mental health therapist and author of Healing Pathways, notes that a person who has been violated goes through a lot of mental health trauma.

Iseki said:“As they feel pain, they feel abused, and then the society compounds their pain by making them feel more guilt and shame, and disgraced. By stigmatising victims and their families, we are increasing that feeling of shame that they already feel. We are even increasing the tendency for them to commit suicide and then we are even increasing the tendency for them to isolate themselves more.

“It is not a helpful way to deal with such activities, because society somehow blames victims. They indirectly promote stigmatisation of those who are violated. The perpetrators do it more; they believe that they are less likely to be blamed so they do it more. The shame is passed unto the violated who’s supposed to be protected by law, and that affects their sense of ‘self’. So, they feel really bad, even sometimes to the point of committing suicide.”

Way forward

On the remedy, she said: “I think that society should do more; we should take the guilt away from the victim and the shame to the violator, which is the perpetrator. The person who did it should be shamed and stigmatised. We should, instead, have no reason whatsoever to blame the victim. The violator is at fault 100%. Even if they were in a particular place, it doesn’t give anybody the right to violate another human being sexually. So, we should take back the blame to the violators.”

Explaining further, Iseki added that “when we stigmatise victims of sexual violence, we are in a way telling them that they were the cause of their problem. Since women are most likely to be victims of social violence, I am going to be specific on gender. The male dominance, the idea that a man feels superior to a woman like a woman is a slave to him or that he has control over a lady’s body, is often, in my opinion, one of the major reasons for sexual violence — whether rape, molestation or whatever it is.

“It’s not like the people who do these things don’t have alternatives for sexual satisfaction. They do it most times because of control; they want to usurp that control over the other person. And then blaming the victim for this act is like the destruction of personhood, because, first of all, they are already feeling ashamed of what happened to them and society now blames and ridicules them because of what happened to them.

“This is one of the reasons it is so difficult to stop rape, especially in a very highly patriarchal system like Nigeria. And one of the reasons why it’s so shameful to even report when you’ve been sexually violated is that the police here make a joke of it. Like ‘You no enjoy am?’ (Didn’t you enjoy the act?); the creepy conversation around somebody that had been sexually violated. They don’t believe that you didn’t enjoy it; it is crazy,” she added.

Speaking on the bill seeking to end the stigmatisation of victims of rape, which was abandoned after it passed the second reading in the Nigerian Senate, legal practitioner and Executive Director, Stop the Abuse Foundation, Oluwatoyin Ndidi Taiwo-Ojo, said “the non-passage of this bill into law has affected and hindered the fight against the epidemic of rape culture and stigmatisation. The right thing to do is to protect victims who come out to speak.”

According to Taiwo-Ojo, “rape is one of the few crimes that is hardly reported because of its stigmatisation and discrimination of victims who have been sexually violated. The bill titled ‘An Act to Prohibit the Stigmatisation of Victims of Rape and Insurgency’ was sponsored by Senator Musa Sani in 2019. That bill was to encourage victims of rape to come to court and testify and they will be protected.

“One of the things that have impeded the war against rape and other sexual violence is the act of discrimination and stigmatisation. A lot of people believe that if a survivor reveals what has happened to them, they will be seen as weakling if he is a man, or loose in the case of a woman.

People don’t want to understand that anyone can be raped; we have seen babies, toddlers and the aged get raped. Rape is not age specific; therefore the more we cover up this crime, because of stigmatisation and discrimination, the more the crime thrives. Perpetrators of sexual-based violence hide under the blanket of stigmatisation to carry out these nefarious acts,” she added.

It is obvious that while the law, lawmakers and other stakeholders drag their feet, the number of victims and survivors will continue to grow. Their fate is, meanwhile, in the hands of conscientious individuals and non-governmental bodies. And, maybe, a little prayer for the thousands of Nwakama’s, single mother and her toddler, and the 16-year-old sex slave scattered across the country, living with stigma weaponised by a society that is living in denial.         

This story has been made possible by African Women in Media (AWIM) an international non-governmental organisation committed to positively impacting the way media functions for women through capacity building and compelling reports about Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) and Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV).

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