‘We Were Violated and Forced to Keep Quiet’

By Ojoma Akor

In recent years there has been increased incidences of sexual violence against women and girls, particularly rape and child sexual abuse, in Nigeria.  The attacks occur in the streets, in schools and in the work place, and with the raging insurgency in the North East of the country, incidences of rape and forced abductions have heightened but what is most worrying is the denial of justice to these victims.

“I was gang-raped when I was 13 by seven men somewhere in Lagos when I was in secondary school. I know people would ask whether the story is true. Yes, it is really. Mind you I was 13 from a Muslim home and with my long Hijab because I know some people would ask, ‘what was she wearing when it happened. I pretend as if it never happened, but moving on wasn’t so easy with the stigma,” narrated Habiba (not full name) to this report.
She and her family reported the matter to the police, but she was denied access to justice and the perpetrators didn’t get punished because of the challenges that came her way.
According to her, “I never got any form of justice against the perpetrators because I didn’t even know who they were. I have attempted suicide several times. Life can’t possibly be any worse. Today, physically I’ve made a full recovery, but emotionally, when I hear about rape or child molestation I get really depressed.”
She accused the police of denying her justice, adding that “trust the Nigerian police, the first thing they asked when we reported was ‘wetin you sef wear? what where you wearing?’ With that questions they were asking as if it was my fault, we just gave up the case.”
The incident happened 20 years ago and she watched with dismay today as many more women and girls in the country still face the pain of sexual violence and denial of justice.
“I thought it would have been over by now but they are still where they used to be . It happened 20 years ago and yet they haven’t changed. It is just sad. I have a rape case I am dealing with now, the police are my main problem,” she said.
In the case of 18-year-old Christy, another rape victim,she was raped by the son of a family friend but she and her parents were advised by relatives not to report to the police and not to go to court because it would publicize the rape and she would become a victim of stigmatisation as well, hampering her chances of marriage.
“I  was told not to allow myself  be pointed at by people as the girl that was raped because even when people know you are innocent or a victim, hardly would any man want to marry you or allow their relative marry you.”
The 2013 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) indicates that violence against women is a common practice in Nigeria. According to the survey “seven percent of Nigerian women age 15-49 have ever experienced sexual violence of which three percent have experienced sexual violence in the past 12 months. Women who are divorced, separated, or widowed are more likely to have ever experienced sexual violence (15%) than women who have never been married  (8%) or are currently married (7%). Experience of sexual violence varies by zone, from 16% in North East Zone to 2% in North West Zone.”
The survey showed that women who are employed but not paid in cash are most likely to have experienced sexual violence (17%), while unemployed women are least likely (6%). Women with no education are less likely to have experienced sexual violence (5%) than women who have been to school (8-10%).
The NDHS also showsthat in the majority of cases, sexual violence is perpetrated by individuals with close personal relations to the woman, either their current husband or partner, former husband or partner, or current or former boyfriend. Women who have never been married report that the main perpetrators of sexual violence are strangers.
Head of Legal Unit Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative, (WRAPA) Barrister James Oluwashegun  said an average of 80 to 100 women come to WRAPA office each year to lodge complaints of sexual violence both at home and also in office places.
Statistics from the Mirabel centre, a sexual violence referral centre in Lagos shows that as of last week, 515 clients had received treatment from the centre. Majority of who were minors, between the ages of 11 and 15.
Investigations by this reporter reveal that  laws on sexual violence and the justice system, internal displacement, the evidence act and standard of prove, way and manner cases are handled by law enforcement officers, the stigmatization of victims of sexual violence in our society and the culture of silence, cost of prosecution,  stipulations for medical reports from doctors from government hospitals,interference by relatives or members of religious organizations, culpability of schools and other organizations.
In the case of Mairo, a student of a polytechnic in one of the states in the north-west zone of the country, she was constantly harassed by one of her lecturers who told her she must sleep with him to pass his course. She refused to yield. She later sat for her examinations.
However, when the results were published, she saw ‘absent’ in the lecturer’s course. After taking steps to prove from her examination card and the attendance list that she did write the exam,the school came up with the verdict of missing script. She believed the lecturer threw away her script and manipulated the school authorities and the whole investigation process because of connivance from some of the people concerned. All her attempts to get the school authorities to link it to the lecturer met a brick wall.She had to rewrite the paper another year.
Veronica is an undergraduate student of a university. In her case the lecturergrabbed her in his office and attempted to rape her.  She succeeded in escaping from him and immediately reported him to the security unit and her department. However, she began to be bullied from the next day by her school mates and other people who branded her a liar.
She didn’t have the confidence to follow up the case with the police because she was told the man didn’t rape her as there was no prove of penetration. No efforts were made to investigate further about her clothes or the body contact.   She wrote the lecturer’s course and failed for two consecutive years, and she would have continued failing and never graduated if not that the lecturer got a job with another school.
Deputy Director and Head of the Focal Areas Unit, National Human Rights Commission, Barrister Aver Gavar, explained that in a case handled by the commission in the Federal Capital Territory(FCT), a six year old girl was defiled by a neighbour.
She saidthere appeared to be acompromise on the part of law enforcement officers in the area of charging, because, when the case was taken to court,even though there were eye witnesses, a lesser offence of assault was read out to the accused person,and usually whoever pleads guilty to an offence and asks for mitigation is entitled to mitigation or lessened punishment having said yes to the offence.
Gavar said the penalty given to the man was reduced to a finebecause  the charge was wrong
“The judge had no knowledge of  what happened along the way. He worked with what was brought before him. This brought the parents of the victim to the commission. The commission enlightened the judge and called for a review and right now the accused person is facing prosecution for rape which is the offence and not assault,” she said.
In the case of another five year old girl,she was raped by someone in the neighbourhood while her father travelled. Her mother immediately reported the matter to the police and the culprit was arrested. But when the child’s father  returned from his journey  and was told what happened in his absence he was very mad at his wife for reporting the matter to the police .
He promptly divorced her and sent her packing from his house saying she has brought dis-honour to the family by making the issue public and it might affect the future of the child. The family didn’t continue the case at the police station and the perpetrator just walked free.
Narrating her own story, Celestina, an unemployed secondary school certificate holder was raped by a man who promised to help her get a job.  He asked her to meet him in his hotel room for a note to the head of the organization that will  give her a job only for him to lock the door  immediately she entered and rape her. She rushed home, promptly took her bath, washed the clothes she wore and then went to report  to a policeman she knows. However, he told her she may not get the redress she seeks because she has disposed the evidence.
Mrs Arigbeon her part constantly suffers sexual violence from her spouse. He does not believe that she has any right to refuse him whenever he wants to sleep with her. Whenever she is tired or sick and pleads with him, he violently rapes her and proceeds to dehumanize her by flogging her, stripping her naked infront of people in the compound and pouring water on her. All her efforts to access justice has failed so far because our current laws does not recognize that a man can rape his wife. So she can only charge him for assault and battery and not marital rape.
A source who does not want to be named said her organisation has handled several cases of sexual violence but always faces challenges helping the victims involving incest, “ In cases where fathers defile their daughters, their relatives , the clergy and members of their congregation always come to mount pressure on us to discontinue the case , they often  say the man is possessed or afflicted by the devil, and they will pray for him or take him for ‘deliverance’ or that they will handle it at family level. When we refuse they mount pressure on the victims and their families and the prosecution process is frustrated,” she said.
Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development , HajiyaZainabMaina in her address during the launch of the Report on the analysis of domestic  violence module of the National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) 2008 and the inauguration of UN Secretary General’s Network of Men Leaders to end Violence Against Women (VAW) said , “ there is no passing day we do not have reports in the print media, radio and television on  one form of gender based violence or the other especially rape, however there is paucity of data , as only a fraction of the actual number of cases are reported. Most victims are unwilling to report the violence against them because of shame and social stigma, which has led to the very few cases being brought to courts in Nigeria for justice.”
Speaking on the impediments to women and girls accessing justice in Nigeria,  MrsItoroEze-Anaba , Managing Partner at Partnership for Justice said it can be looked at from three different perspectives.
She said on the side of the survivor of rape, he or she is faced with self -blame or guilt and is ashamed of what happened. “As a result, the survivor will not speak out about the incident or seek professional help. Further is the issue of stigmatization, where the community or immediate family members blame the victim and mount pressure on the victim to drop the case.”
Eze-Anaba said from the perspective of the alleged perpetrator is the threat to the victim and his/her loved ones and this is more fundamental when the survivor is a minor and she is brainwashed into believing that if she informs anyone, her parents or loved ones will die.
She said the perpetrator also blackmails the victim and members of the family. “Where the victim reports to the police and the police for whatever reason decides not to prosecute and sets the perpetrator free,the wrong signal is sent that it is ok to rape. This leads to a high level of impunity o cases of sexual assault and rape,” she added.
A third perspective according to her is that government institutions charged with the responsibility for arrest, prosecution and care for the survivor do not have capacity to carry out its responsibility.
She said the police do not have the capacity to investigate cases of rape and the officers are not trained on how to deal with survivors. In many cases, the police depend on the victim to provide evidence of rape and where this is not possible, the suspect is set free. The police also encourage the parties to settle out of court thereby preventing prosecution of such cases.
She said the courts only accept medical reports from government hospitals and victims are usually reluctant to go through the unpleasant experience of getting a medical report from the government hospital. The long period of time wasted to see a doctor and the lack of specialized care and treatment in government hospitals prevent victims from seeking help in government hospitals.
“The long judicial process is also not victim friendly. Five years is a long time for many victims to go through the court system and the language of the court at times is not friendly. This undue delay leads to memory loss and apathy on the part of the parties and the witnesses,” said Eze-Anaba.
Speaking in agreement withEze-Anaba, Deputy Director and Head of the Focal Areas Unit, National Human Rights Commission, Barrister Aver Gavar, said most of our women are culturally inhibited so they lack the confidence to go forward and lodge their complaints
She said  the law enforcement system is not familiar with justice in this kind of cases and sometimes when the case comes up the police might just advise the person to go and handle it at the domestic level or reconcile, this and other factors makes the victim or her parents or guardian to just give up.
“The justice system is also not favourable to the victim of sexual violence.For instance, in a given case of rape so many steps will be taken, it will involve talking to a police officer, a doctor and many people along the way so the victim is repeating this story over and over and the story itself is very traumatizing . Sometimes when she reports, her dressing seems to be the issue. ‘Was she dressed in such a way that the rapist was attracted to her?’ ,‘at the domestic level has she been flirting with this uncle?’, in the first place she is met with suspicion, most of the times.”Gavar explained.
She said on the legal perspective, the standard of prove of rape is very high and involves physical evidence, substances of evidence that cannot survive even a day and this case is going to be finally heard in another month or twomaking it humiliating for the victim.
National President of the International Federation of Women lawyers, Mrs HauwaShekarau said the two major impediments to women’s access to justice is the culture of silence and the cost ofaccessing justice.
She said once a victim is bold enough to break the culture of silence she  begins to run helter-skelter to look for money to give to the  police so that they can go and arrest the perpetrator
“Today in our country when people go to the police station one way that the police use to extort money from the citizens is to either ask for money, for file, biro,or paper and of course if you go and report a case, beforethe police even step out of their station to go and visit the site where the crime took place or investigate , they will say you need to pay for their transportation.
“ So if you are a victim, which one do you want to deal with? Is it to deal with the pain, shame and trauma of having been raped or to deal with the fact that they have to look for money to provide for law enforcement agents so that their matters can be investigated and the culprits brought to book? We need to do a lot more  sothat thesebarriers are completed removed, ” she said.
Shekarausaid the VAPP Bill will address a lot of problems and also has provision that recognizes marital rape.
Explaining the laws on sexual violence in the country, Executive  Director,Women Advocates’ Research and Documentation Center (WARDC)Dr.AbiolaAkiyode-Afolabisaidvictimsof sexual violence face laws that are inadequate and out-dated.
“For example, the Penal Law, applicable in the North, defines rape in a way that limits recourse for women and girls who are raped by a foreign object or who were penetrated orally or anally.Underthe Criminal Code, charges of rape of a girl under 13 years old must be brought within two months of the rape.Differences in federal, state, Sharia and customary legal systems also undermine a woman’s ability to seek redress,” she said.
She said the Federal Constitution does not specifically prohibit rape, and the Northern Penal Code and the Southern Criminal Code set out different definitions of rape and different punishments, creating discrepancies within the country.The Criminal Code defines rape as “carnal knowledge” without consent, implying any type of penetration; thus, women in the South have greater protection than their Northern counterparts. Further, some laws make prosecution practically impossible: Sharia law requires a witness to the rape.”
Habiba,a survivior said Nigerian laws are not helping the rape victims at all. “Approximately from my research eight percent of reported rapes in Nigeria lead to a conviction. As a result, most rapists walk freely and the majority of rape survivors do not have access to legal justice to end this and more the Nigerian Senate should please pass the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Bill into law.”
FCT Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Anjuguri Manzahsaid the Nigerian police treats cases of sexual violence with all sense of seriousness  and  that is why gender desks were established in the police force  to address all cases of violence against women.
He said the police does not trivialise the issue of rape because the police has respect for the women folk.
He said from the police perspective,what makes victims of sexual violence not to access justice is the culture of silence.
Our investigations show that internal displacement does not only make women susceptible to sexual violence but it is also usually difficult for women to access justice when they are internally displaced and sexually violated.
Insurgency, flood and communal clashes have led to an increased number of  displacedfamilies in the last four years. Several women and girls have been abducted and used as sex slaves as a result of the insurgency in the north-east of the country particularly in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.
Most of such victims and their families are unwilling to speak on their experiences when they manage to escape or ever get justice  against the perpetrators.
Barrister Aver Gavar of the National Human Rights Commission said when she led an inter-agency visit to internally displaced camps in Makurdi , Benue State , during the farmers-herders clashes in the state , some girls sought audience with her and complained that some of them had been raped and others have faced sexual harassment from people who want to sleep with them before they can receive relief materials,and the state ministry of justice is already looking into the case
Speaking on the effects of sexual violence on victims,  and especially when denied Justice, Senior Registrar, Department of Psychiatry, National Hospital, Abuja , Dr UbongEtudoh said “sexual violence in the life of a female has very grave and grievous  psychological consequences which  could range from depression. By depression I mean low mood, low energy. She will have loss of interest in recreational/ pleasurable activities, spells, feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt feelings,and may eventuallywant to commit suicide because of the consequences of this violence.”
He said a victim can also have acute stress disorder which could lead to post traumatic stress disorder because people that have been sexually violated tend to have flash backs of the episodes,they tend to be fearful, hypersensitive, have tremors, nightmares, poor sleep , and all these can also affect the way they relate to the opposite sex as they have resentment for men and prevent them from getting married and having their own families.
He also said when a victim is denied justice, the psychological effects are not too different from the act of sexual violence itself.
He said they could also have the problem of adjustment disorder “that is they are not able to adjust to the fact that the society has left the perpetrator of this act to go free.”

Source: Sunday Trust

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