Police records are replete with statistics and sometimes names of armed robbers, car snatchers and murderers. But, they are largely silent on rape cases because the victims are afraid of stigmatisation, writes Assistant Editor (News) OLUKOREDE YISHAU.
It is not an act of love. So, it usually does not take too long. No foreplay. No kisses. No petting or necking. Just plain violent sex in dark corners, which leaves sorrow, tears and at times blood in its trail. Neither the victims, nor the ‘victors’ are bold enough to narrate the experience without watching their back.
Welcome to the world of rapists and their victims. In the last two weeks, there has been anger in the country and beyond over a 10-minute video on the internet, where a girl was raped by five men in a students hostel believed to be somewhere in Abia State.
The Executive Director of a women’s rights group called Project Alert, Josephine Effah-Chukwuma, said: “The perpetrators go further to record it and circulate it. It shows for me that they’re daring society to take action on it. It shows that there’s a high level of impunity.”
The video does not reveal the faces of the men, neither does it clearly reveal the face of the victim, who was mentioning the first names of her assailants, who laughed at her plea to be freed or killed.
It is common to see women and men come out to identify themselves as Persons Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). Many have openly admitted being cancer survivors. These two set of people have faced or are facing debilitating health conditions. Still, they have found the courage to break the silence and say they would not allow stigma to make them die in silence.
But this stigma, which PLWHA and cancer survivors have overcome, experts said, has continued to make rape victims, which is not a health challenge, live in silence, preferring instead to reveal their secret to their wet pillows. There are also instances where victims have committed suicide as a way of escaping from stigma.
According to police statistics on a website called Nigeria Police Watch, only 1952 rape cases were recorded in 2009. However, an Amnesty International report said the figure is believed to “be sporadic, piecemeal and inconsistent” in a nation of 150 million people. Sadly, another Amnesty report, entitled ‘Rape – the Silent Weapon’, accused policemen and other security forces of also being guilty of raping girls and women.
This was corroborated last year by the Open Society Justice Initiative, which accused the police of committing rape, particularly of sex workers.
Effah-Chukwuma blames the refusal of victims to report the abuse on the society. She said: “Why should I come out and speak of my victimisation when I’m going to receive secondary victimisation? The whole society blames (the victim).”
Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission Chidi Odinkalu, who said most rapes in Nigeria go unreported, toed the same line as Effah-Chukwuma. He said the government has failed to establish structures that would encourage victims to boldly come out.
He said: “We’ve not provided a caring and thoughtful enough institutional frameworks to enable victims of rape to come forward.”
For the Executive Director of the Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, government has been lacklustre about the matter.
She said: “There is still a lot of hush-hush around it in Nigeria. That’s why the problem is as bad as it is. But all that’s happened in the past three months shows that rape and sexual violence is a major issue.
“Nothing has been put into action. Our laws are still not clear. The woman who wants to report rape does not have the confidence in the justice system in Nigeria. The police are not accountable to the people. There is a lot of impunity on the issue of rape and sexual violence in Nigeria. The Nigerian government has failed to protect women. We need to hold it accountable. There is a need for immediate steps to create laws and institutions that protect women.”
She said the country could learn from reporting mechanisms and laws pioneered by Liberia.
President of the activist network, Women Arise, Joe Okei-Odumakin, , said rape is on the increase because perpetrators have no faces. She said: “Impunity is on the rise because of our inability to bring the perpetrators to book. Rape and sexual violence have become a regular occurrence, a norm in Nigeria. Women don’t think they will be believed. So, they won’t openly give their side of the story.”
One other factor, which has contributed to rape, said the founder of Media Concern Initiative for Women and Children (MediaCon) Princess Olufemi-Kayode, is family intervention, which she describes as a huge setback. According to her, many families still have the wrong impression that the girl child would not be able to marry when she becomes older if her status is public knowledge. “Family name and honour supersede the needs of the child victim,” she said.
But no matter the failure of the society to protect victims, the case of Oba Bukola Ali, who is on trial for the rape of a youth corps member, shows what breaking the silence can achieve. The corps member had, through a letter to the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), revealed how the Alowa of Ilowa in Obokun Local Government area of Osun State took advantage of her.
The 23-year-old identified as Helen Opara said: “I was raped by the Oba Bukola Ali of Ilowa on Friday, March 25. On my way from my place of primary assignment, the Oba gave me a ride and told me that he wanted me to be a computer facilitator for the schools in the community”. She said the oba implored her to accompany him to Osogbo where he wanted to do a follow up work on the computer programme. “The Oba said I should not worry. He said he would bring me back home and eventually we arrived at his residence in Osogbo where he entertained me.
“It was getting late and I wanted to go home. Suddenly, he started caressing me and I got up, begging him to allow me to go home. The monarch turned down my pleas.’’
After this, the Oba locked the door, stripped her naked, soaked her clothes in water and committed the rape for which a Magistrate Court is trying him. He has been remanded at the Ilesa Prisons and attempts by his lawyer to get him out of the prisons on the ground that he is diabetic failed.
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