23 August 2012

Nigeria: Rape Cases in the East Should Raise Concerns Beyond the Region


Frequent reports of rape in the eastern region should worry everyone. A disturbing aspect of these is that elderly women in their 70s and 80s that are the principal targets, although women have also fallen victims. A nongovernmental organisation of women from the South East recently drew public attention to the mass rape of elderly women by young men in the Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State. According to the group, 30 of such incidents were reported in one month. The women's group documented cases of a 5-year old raped by a 45-year old man; and of an 8-year old victim who has been physically disabled as a result.

This is a horrible trend that law enforcement and the society at large need to put a stop to. Although it appears to be more widespread in the east, the crime is by no means confined there; it is a nationwide problem. It is indeed disturbing that in the last one year, almost no day passes without reports of teenagers raping women old enough to be their grandmothers, apparently for ritual purposes. This repulsive depravity should not be allowed room in the society. It is also cruelty that must not take root in any civilized community.

The authorities must take steps to effectively address the problem. Rape cases have unfortunately become common partly because aspects of the justice system that deal with them are a problem too. While the police that are empowered to enforce laws and protect citizens are themselves regularly accused of rape, suspects rarely get the punishment they deserve in courts. Law enforcement agencies must change their nonchalant attitude towards rape crimes if the situation is to change. Security personnel found to commit rape should be weeded out of the system after being punished. Unless perpetrators are brought to book and appropriately punished to serve as deterrent, this heinous crime will persist. No matter the status of the culprit, they should be made to suffer the consequences of their crime. Rather than merely paying fines, which many can easily afford, or spending a few months in jail, amounting to a slap on the wrist, offenders deserve stiffer penalties powerful enough to send the right messages, one to the perpetrators that their action cannot be condoned, and another to the victims and potential victims that rights and safety are being safeguarded. The statute books should be reviewed for this reason to demonstrate the seriousness in addressing this crime. To facilitate the justice process, forensic equipments should be made available to the relevant security agencies to facilitate the determination of the occurrence of rape.

Activities of NGOs, like one involved in the eastern cases, are vital in addressing the problem. Unfortunately the crime of thrives because victims are often scared of stigmatization to report attacks on them. Such attitudes do not help matters if this problem is to be tackled. Sensitisation to end this culture of silence is therefore imperative. Victims should be encouraged to speak out. Those who have been thus violated not only require justice but medical attention and even compensation to enable them deal with the consequences. What they need to enable them recover psychologically is awareness by the public of the gravity of the crime and the trauma that the victims go through. Keeping mute about such criminal actions due to fear of being stigmatized only further emboldens those who perpetrate the act.

The cooperation of the general public especially religious and community leaders is also required to stamp out this evil practice, especially in the eastern part or the country where it is prevalent.

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