Feminique

Ogwu: I feel immense satisfac tion getting justice for vic tims

Mrs. Esther Ogwu is the founder of Esther Child Rights Foundation, a nongovernmental organisation (NGO) located along the Abeokuta Expressway, Lagos State. She founded it 12 years ago and its mission is to fight against child sexual violence, physical abuse and domestic violence in Nigeria. During her chat with New Telegraph, Ogwu revealed that her passion for the vulnerable started when she was just a young girl. She said: “I was very young when I discovered that I derived immense satisfaction from fighting for the rights of vulnerable people around me.

Yes, I like being the voice for the voiceless. However, I must confess that I seriously detest cheating. It was due to my love for people that made me get involved in advocacy activities. I have a lot of goals set down and among those goals are to fight against rape and domestic violence. Although I have not achieved all my set goals because these injustices never stop, I will still keep on fighting to ensure these injustices get eradicated. I mean, I have made evident progress in my work, but there’s still a lot more that could be sought after and achieved. I feel immense satisfaction when I help victims to get justice.

I hope to do more for others out there.” Although Ogwu had handled several sexual offense cases, she preferred to share the one she termed, “worst case and the psychological effect it had on me” with us. She recalled: “In the earlier years of working as an activist, I had a case where a 22-year-old was gang raped by four men and they made use of a bottle.

It had a serious effect on me psychologically because then the case was something that you’d rarely see, but then I saw it and it was also a very brutal situation for the victim as well. I had a tough time and trauma thinking about the case. I would say that’s how it affected me, but regardless, we were able to get justice for the victim.” Ogwu opined that creating awareness and enlightenment campaigns on sex and gender based violence (SGBV) issues could help victims to speak out, thereby enabled justice for them. She added that there were many victims out there, who didn’t know they could get help.

She said: “People in high positions who have some amount of audience can use their status to spread the word. Awareness on rape and domestic violence should not be swept under the rug anymore. People should look out for others and try to help people in their respective situations. “SGBV is a silent epidemic that thrives in environments of secrecy and shame. Did you hear a joke that condones sexual harassment or a comment that downplays the impact of domestic violence? If so, speak up! Let your friends know that abuse is not a laughing matter. Also, if you have a friend, family member, co-worker or neighbour who is experiencing domestic or sexual violence, find a private moment, encourage and advise them to speak up, share resources with them and have them report their cases.

“There are also some cases where the victims have hostile parents or guardians, who always have bad effects on the victims, but at the end of the day, it’s not the child’s fault. We need to make them understand that acting hostile and being mean to a child who has just been sexually violated doesn’t help and only makes it worse.”

Ogwu explained that hostility towards children wasn’t tolerable in all situations. She also said that parents, guardians, religious and community leaders could help in raising awareness about sexual and domestic violence. This awareness, she maintained, could help in reduction of the level of SGBV in the country. She said: “Being assertive in these situations can be helpful. People should be conditioned to reporting cases which may seem absurd and not tolerable, that way there would be a lot more justice in the society and things would start to take a better turn.” According to Ogwu, her foundation had been getting medical support from the Mirabel Centre, located at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja.

She explained that Mirabel Centre helps in running medical examinations and checks on rape victims. She stated that these medical reports, which are provided by the centre, help the police in investigations. “Mirabel Centre also helps in medical assessment, treatment of injuries, prevention of pregnancies and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD), collection of forensic evidence, psychological evaluation, recommendation of crisis intervention and psychological supports. “Before beginning, the medical examiner used to ask the patient’s permission, because recounting the events often frightens or embarrasses the patient.

The examiner must be reassuring, empathetic, and non-judgmental and should not rush the patient. Privacy should be ensured. The examiner elicits specific details, including the type of injuries sustained, particularly to the mouth, breasts, vagina and rectum.

“Any bleeding from or abrasions on the patient or assailant, to help assess the risk of transmission of HIV and hepatitis, description of the attack, which orifices were penetrated, whether ejaculation occurred or a condom was used, assailant’s use of aggression, threats, weapons, and violent behaviour, description of the assailant could be helpful in investigation,” said Ogwu. Talking about how the government was contributing in the fight against rape and child abuse, Ogwu stated: “The government is trying, but it’s obviously not its best. It’s not what I expected. The government is trying, but there could be more opportunities given for proper justice The government just doesn’t constitute the executives and people at the top, looking at it from the low point perspective; the government still constitutes law enforcement agencies.

The police for instance, as much as they have reputable officers and offices, also have officers covering up rape cases and treating it as something that’s not meant to be handled with the utmost importance. Police do help, but they can do better.” She argued that while the government had contributed greatly to the creation and implementation of laws regarding child violence and abuse, and proper well-being of the victims, much work still needed to be done in the area of sensitisation of citizens on the realities and adverse effect of SGBV in the society. She noted: “The government in every way possible should ensure that the minds of the people are channel towards the punishment for violators and also the realities and adverse effect SGBV has on the family, and the society at large.

The government also needs to include SGBV as a fundamental topic in primary, secondary and even tertiary institutions. This will help young minds grow with the full knowledge of child abuse and its adverse effect on the society.” Ogwu said that lack of funds had been a major challenge faced by her foundation, but she had never allowed it to deter her from fighting for the vulnerable. She said: “There’s a limited amount of resources in the organisation. With more monetary resources in the organisation, there is the capacity for us to be extremely efficient because then we have the resources at our disposal, the organisation still works regardless but aids and funds will help to increase efficiency and effectiveness.” On a downside though, Ogwu said she does not think SGBV would become extinct in Nigeria.

“I’m not trying to be a pessimist, but I don’t think it can completely become extinct now, maybe in later generations, mostly if there are measures put in place to ensure proper conditioning of people, and how they react to such cases. It has evidently reduced and that’s something we’re proud of. The awareness being spread, prompt responses and proper handling of cases have helped to really reduce it. However, our goal is to ensure that it is reduced to the barest minimum or it becomes completely eradicated.”

 

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