Investigation

SEXUAL VIOLENCE: The silent, violent pandemic

The girl-child, it appears, has become an endangered species in this part of the world as the ugly incidence of child rape across the country is taking a dimension that gives concern to many. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, looks at this frightening malaise that many now describe as a sore point in the nation’s sociocultural history

Nigeria, in recent weeks, has been overwhelmed by anger and even rage against rising rape incidents as the cases seem endless with gory details too terrifying to recall. Little wonder the rape and eventual killing of Uwaila Vera Omozuwa in Benin City, on May 31, triggered a new consciousness about the crime among the Nigerian populace.

The 22-year-old 100 level microbiology undergraduate of the University of Benin was gang-raped and her life cut short in a brutal attack by suspected rapists at a local parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in Edo State. She had been a member of the choir for many years, according to a church official.

In the evening of the sad incident, a church security guard on routine check found Omozuwa, unconscious, lying half-naked, in a pool of blood, according to her family. Her older sister, Judith, said: “The church was her favourite place to be. That she was murdered where she always found peace is just devastating.” Omozuwa sought the quiet of her empty church as a place to study. Hours later, she was reportedly raped and killed in a manner that sparked outrage across the country. Her attack shocked and horrified Nigerians, who spontaneously demanded justice.

The avalanche of calls from rights groups, public figures and government officials demanding a thorough inquiry spurred the police into action. According to a member of the Association Against Child Sexual and Gender-Based Violence network in Edo State, Ufuoma Akpobi, Omozuwa had studied at the church for the past three years because there’s no public library in the area.

“She goes in the morning and comes back between 5.30 and 6pm.” In his reaction, the director for Am-nesty International in Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said the authorities in Nigeria have not done enough to combat sexual violence. “The horrific incident resonates because even in the spaces that women and girls should be safest from gender-based violence: the home, the schools and now places of worship, it is getting there.

The method the state has been using over the years clearly has not moved with the intensity required to deter rapists and potential rapists and to protect women and girls.” Sexual violence obviously is endemic in Africa’s most populous country. Sadly, data on the number of reported cases is very limited but a national survey on violence against children in Nigeria conducted in 2014, found that one in four women had experienced sexual violence in childhood, with approximately 70 per cent reporting more than one incident. Only five per cent sought help, and 3.5 per cent received any services.

Women and activists in Nigeria have in recent years demanded greater action against sexual violence. Yet, reported crimes come up against the systemic failings of Nigeria’s criminal justice system, which rarely prosecutes cases. Police have already been criticised for their response to Omozuwa’s murder. Evidence at the scene was not collected for days after the crime, said Akpobi.

This may be the reason why Priscilla Usiobaifo, who works to combat gender violence with the BraveHeart Initiative in Edo State, said it was common for police officers in Nigeria not to collect evidence or even visit crime scenes, undermining the chances of a successful prosecution. But, if Omozuwa’s case was awful, that of a seven-year-old girl, who was raped in June inside a Benue church, was simply unspeakable. The police command in Benue presented the suspected rapist, who allegedly dragged the seven-year-old child into a church hall and had carnal knowledge of her.

The Commissioner of Police, Mukaddas Garba, who presented the suspect in Makurdi, said that the case was reported on June 9. “On June 9, a case of rape was reported at Orokam Police Division that one of the suspects dragged a seven-year-old child into a church hall in Ogwurute area of Orokam and had carnal knowledge of her.

The victim is currently receiving treatment at General Hospital, Ijadoga, while the suspect, allegedly confessed to the crime,” he said. In Jigawa State, the state police Command also said 11 men, who allegedly serially raped a 12-year-old girl for two months, had been apprehended. They were said to have usually lured her with N30 or N50.

“She opened up that the 11 people have been having affairs with her since and they were giving her N30 or N50,” Jinjiri Abdu, the state Police Public Relations Officer, told The ICIR in an interview. Abdu noted that in Northern part of the country, the issue of rape is far beyond consent. According to him, having intercourse with a girl below age 14, even with her consent, is still considered rape. In Sokoto State, Hisbah said, 606 cases of rape were reported in 22 local governments of the state.

To check the trend, some individuals had also called for capital punishment or a life sentence for the crime. But, if what happens in the North is detestable, the South, sadly, has not fared better in this regard. A few weeks ago, another student identified simply as Barakat, was equally raped and stabbed to death in Ibadan. The Nation newspaper reported that the incident occurred on June 2, in the Akinyele area of Ibadan. According to SaharaReporters, Barakat was a student of the Institute of Agriculture, Research and Training, Ibadan. Her sister found her lifeless body behind their home.

Further examination revealed that she was raped before being murdered. “He forced me to pull off my pant-ies and licked my private part while he slept with my friend and defiled her too. He subsequently gave us N50 and threatened to kill us if we reported the matter.” This was the pathetic story of another seven-year-old girl, who was allegedly raped by a man identified only as Temitope at Koloba area of Ayobo in Ipaja, Lagos State. Temitope, who was later arrested by the police in Ipaja-Ayobo, had, before then defiled eight other children, who allegedly confessed that he had raped them within the neighbourhood.

The eight victims, whose ages range from eight to 15 years, were brought to the Lagos State Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation (WAPA), Ipaja-Ayobo Local Council Development Area (LCDA), to enable the state government to take over the case.

The news of the rape caused a stir at WAPA ministry as the members of staff rained curses on the rapist, who allegedly lured the children to his apartment where he defiled them. Tests conducted on the victims at the Ayobo-Ipaja Primary Health Centre, confirmed that the children had, indeed, been violated. A top official of WAPA, who confided in Saturday Telegraph, said it was not the first as, according to her, “the ministry had handled several rape cases of minors in recent past, though we had never recorded a case where a man serially raped eight children at a go. This is a new dimension.”

Suleiman, 45 and petty trader, has also been alleged to have had carnal knowledge of three minors, aged three, five and seven inside his shop at 7, Ifelodun Street, Shasha area of Lagos State. Two of the children are said to be from the same parents. Our reporter gathered that Suleiman usually enticed the kids into a kiosk with biscuits and sweets. According to the girls’ mother, Suleiman is a serial rapist and medical reports show that he also raped the girls in his shop. He was however, exposed when curious neighbours suspected strange movement of kids inside his kiosk. They moved in and allegedly caught the man on the act. As the children confessed, the neighbours raised the alarm, leading to his arrest by the Area ‘M’, Idimu Police Command. Sadly, these are not the only rape cases in Lagos State.

A 35-year-old man, whose name was given as Adeleke, in Ikotun, Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos, was alleged to have been sleeping with his two daughters, 10 and 12 years old, for the past two years. The two girls, who confessed in tears, said that their father had been involved in the act without the knowledge of their mother, who left them since last year. The older of the two daughters confirmed to this reporter that the barbaric act had been going on since she was 11, and when her younger sister was eight years old, and that it was her father who deflowered her. “Our father sleeps with us frequently. The first time he slept with me, I saw blood coming out of my private part and he used his singlet to clean me up,” she recalled. Sadly, these are just a few cases as many more are not reported. This recent wave of rapes and killing of women in Nigeria has led to a national outcry, with thousands signing a petition and using the hashtag #WeAreTired.

However, the growing cases of rape have been considered, in some quarters, as a consequence of parents’ neglect of their roles in raising their children. Many parents are believed to have abandoned their duties of imparting morality to their children and wards.

They are said to be so busy with their material pursuit that they do not know the kind of company their children keep. Some are even accused of closing their eyes and ears to whatever their children do or say. There are those who also attribute the rampant incidents of the criminal acts to the attitude of parents towards sex. According to these opinions, some parents no longer consider sex as sacred. Sex, they said, is supposed to be a secret act but some parents, particularly those living in very tight accommodation, make public show of the act even in the presence of their children. They however, cautioned that parents should know the right time and place to discuss sex or engage in the act in order not to corrupt their children’s minds, emphasizing that children copy more of what they see rather than what they hear. In many homes, including those of the elite across the nation, the sad tales are replicated as the girl-child often falls victim of debasement and de-humanisation as objects of sexual abuse by their mistresses’ husbands or children.

Even those who hawk wares on the streets also run the risk of being prey to those the late Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, once referred to as animals in human skin. In Nigeria, where a majority of cases of sexual violence go unreported, social media has brought the issue into the open. Unfortunately, a majority of cases of sexual violence, go unreported, due largely to fear on the part of the victim of being socially stigmatised or blamed. However, there have been torrents of reactions trailing this despicable act. For instance, the Force Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Police, Frank Mba, said: “The terrains in most places are densely populated. Majority of the inhabitants are people from the middle to the very low-income earners. And the possibilities of these crimes occurring in these areas are higher. The reasons are obvious. “The nature of the buildings in those areas makes it easier for people to intermingle and experience has shown that most of the perpetrators are people who know the victims. They are usually people they see around.

They are people, who ordinarily are known to the young girls. So, there is this confidence that the girls have when the perpetrators say come. A number of these girls get pregnant and drop out of school. Some are forced to get into marriages, thereby miss out on education.” But, gender activists have argued that the reason the menace of rape has not been effectively curtailed over the years is not the absence of relevant laws to bring culprits to book but the weakness in implementation. In Nigeria, there are at least five legal provisions, which provide access to justice for rape victims. There is the Criminal Code, applicable in all the Southern states; the Penal Code, applicable in all the Northern states and the Criminal Laws of Lagos – applicable only in Lagos State. There is equally the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, (VAPP) applicable only in the FCT and the Child Rights Act applicable in the states that have domesticated it.

Under the Penal Code, rape is also when a man has sexual intercourse with a woman against her will, without her consent, or with incorrectly obtained consent. Further under this law, sex with a girl under 14 years of age or who is of unsound mind is rape, irrespective of whether there is consent. However, the Penal Code states that sexual intercourse by a man with his wife, even if forced, is not rape. A senator, Sandy Onor, who is pushing for stricter legislation against the crime, said any approach must be holistic and effective. “The change has to be holistic. It has to be a total campaign,” he said in a recent interview. “It involves the girl-child, the boy-child and the man. The society needs to be properly educated.” He added: “Globalisation has a way of toning down morality. But as Africans, we need to operate by our own ethos and laws. A typical African girl should dress properly. There should be propriety in dressing. We should not globalise to the extent of aping what is clearly offensive to all. You can’t be showing parts of your body that are not supposed to be shown. However, that is not enough reason for any boy, or man to rape a woman. Our boys must be taught to show a sense of responsibility. They must hold to the tenets of who a gentleman should be.” In her reaction, Founder, Movement Against Domestic Violence, Edoamaowo Udeme, said Nigerian authorities are not doing enough to curb the crime.

“We are not doing enough to tackle the issues of rape in the country; that explains why victims keep quiet instead of speaking out. “The painful part is that women are blamed even by the so-called law enforcement agencies as if it is their fault, the resultant and psychological effect drives some to suicidal tendencies. Some rape victims lose their womb or their source of sexual pleasure while some carry the burden wherever they go and refuse to speak up,” she said. The odds are stacked against the girlchild, president, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Ruoda Tyoden, said. “The problem we have is right from the police desk where the complaint is made. Thank God today we have gender desks in all the police stations but more needs to be done,” she told AIT in an interview.

A 2016 report, “Violence Against Children in Nigeria,” by UNICEF revealed that four out of 10 girls experience sexual violence between the ages of six and 11, while it is one in every 10 for boys before they become adults. This is even as the Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, said that a total of 717 rape cases were recorded between January and May this year. Experts and concerned Nigerians also believe that rape has become a pandemic, necessitating governors in the country to recently declare a state of emergency on it. A Punch report, quoted psychologists as saying that the psychological pain caused by sexual violence runs deeper than people can fathom and that the pain is unending as victims are scarred for life.

Beyond rape, according to the report, victims and their family members live a life of trauma and are daily haunted by the bestial experiences. “They are subjected to detrimental mental torture, which experts said leads to depression, suicide ideation and deviant behaviours.

The invisible wounds from rape are far more devastating and far harder to repair.” Another psychologist, counsellor and therapist, Bukola Lameed, also quoted by the Punch, explained that, regardless of age or gender, the impact of rape goes far beyond any physical injuries. Lameed said: “The trauma of rape or sexual assault can be shattering, leaving victims feeling scared, ashamed and alone. If not properly handled, in the case of a minor or teenager, it could further push the victim into trauma.

“They become withdrawn, resort to bedwetting, thumb-sucking, aggression, cluelessness, drug addiction, bold mindset to venture into prostitution, depression, followed by suicidal thoughts. Some become lesbians because they detest the opposite sex.” Also, a clinical psychologist and personality assessor, Lagos State University, Prof. Kayode Taiwo, according to the Punch, said that victims can only find closure if they come to terms with it as one of life’s challenges.

While a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, Maymunah Kadiri, also quoted by the Punch, said it’s a long road to traverse for victims. She said rape equates to losing something too precious, hence, victims go through stages of grief to heal. She added: “To get closure, a rape victim will have to first go through shock or denial stage, then anger, bargaining, depression or full clinical depression. Acceptance is the last stage. They must go through counselling and mental evaluation.”

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