opinionBy Ossai Ojigho
Unless we address the root causes of rape which lie in the way the society treats women and the gender inequalities in our system, it will not only continue, the next generation will inherit a legacy of rape and insecurity that would be on an unimaginable scale.A nine-year-old in Lagos was sexually molested by her grandfather for two years between 2010 and 2012; Father impregnates daughter and has the effrontery to state that although he had an incestuous relationship with the girl, he was not responsible for her pregnancy. Uncle caught raping his niece. 15 year old girl raped multiple times, first by a stranger then by a police officer while she was in police custody. A 16 year-old girl was gang raped in Oshogbo by five men. It has also been reported that a pregnant woman was raped by three men in Kebbi. 70 year old Pastor arrested for raping a 10 year old girl. A seven-year old girl was molested by a neighbour who forced her to have oral sex with him. The Attorney-General of Lagos has reported that in 2012 the Ministry of Justice handled 427 cases of rape of minors.
Reviewing the Cases of Sexual Violence
It seems unbelievable but the cases of incest and rape in Nigeria are rising. While statistics of rape prevalence in Nigeria are inadequate since rape is a crime that is generally underreported, available statistics from the 2011 National Crime & Safety Survey show that only 28% of rape cases were reported to the Police. However, the reality is that rape is happening every day, and every minute.
Rape is increasing becoming an invincible crime that affects no one. Unless we address the root causes of rape which lie in the way the society treats women and the gender inequalities in our system, rape would not only continue the next generation would inherit a legacy of rape and insecurity that would be on scales unimaginable even in our very 'religious' country as we like to view ourselves.
Incest is a silent crime that recently has become topical and primarily because of access to information and the act being known by persons outside of the family unit. Incest is sexual relations between persons related by blood (consanguinity) or by marriage (affinity).
Father-daughter incest is more prevalent than Mother-Son or Father-son incestuous relationships. 'Father' in this context includes other male relatives including Uncles, Grandfathers and older male cousins. A simple explanation for this is due to the role of fathers in the family - they are the heads and rarely to be questioned but obeyed. They are also elders as they are senior in age and children are taught to respect their elders. Fathers are traditionally breadwinners providing food, shelter for their family and paying for children's education. Society also promotes male supremacy domination over women that further amplifies the image that a man and an older man for that matter has over girls and women. This patriarchal environment encourages men in the family to believe that they own women and can do with them as they please. It further demands from women a certain submission to the unilateral control of men in their families especially the fathers. It is therefore very easy for a father with incestuous intentions and corrupt morals to sexually abuse his daughter who believes she has neither the power not the will to stop or resist him.
The punishment for rape is life imprisonment (s.317 of the Criminal Code). Despite this stiff punishment, very few culprits have been brought to book. Incest of minors is a sexual offence whether force was applied or not and should be treated as a case of sexual abuse, defilement or rape. The culture of impunity that has led to little or no punishment for the crime has transcended to a new dimension where people boldly circulate pictures and videos of girls and women being molested, raped, sexually harassed and assaulted. The ABSU 5 case is still fresh in our minds, where are the culprits - nothing has been done. What does this tell us? That women's lives are not valuable, that women are sex objects and nothing else, and that our morality is skewed at protecting the perpetrators of sexual violence and victimising the victims. That we are receiving cases of young men (less than 25 years old) being involved in rape and incest show that we now have a generation that thinks it is okay to rape a woman. And if these attitudes and behaviours are not drastically changed, we risk bequeathing a legacy of violence, rape, incest and impunity to the next generation of children and adolescents who would grow up to be adults.
Addressing the Root Causes of Sexual Violence
Increasing high levels of intolerance for bad behaviour. Public awareness about effects of rape and incest has been shown to increase rape empathy for victims and encourage bystander interventions. This means that persons who are aware are more sympathetic to victims and would intervene if they see an incident of violence happening thereby reducing the chances of it occurring. The Lagos State Prohibition Against Domestic Violence Law 2007 provides for a third party to intervene in a domestic violence matter by notifying the authorities. In informal settings, this could be by raising alarm if someone is being violated or stepping up to stop the violation if it is safe to do so. Public awareness should be done by various actors including the government to spread the message that rape will not be tolerated.
Gender Inequality and Power Relations. Rape is a question of power and control. It has nothing to do with sexual urges. A man rapes because he is asserting some form of power and entitlement to satisfying his primordial desires. In some cases, rape is used as punishment to keep girls in check and reduce their self-confidence. Socialisation begins from childhood, in our schools and in our communities. We must begin to tell our boys that they are equal to girls and should respect one another. We should also spread the knowledge that it is not cool to violate someone else even if they are your sisters, wives or daughters. Understanding and addressing the power dynamics would ensure that when women report these cases, their versions would not be unduly questioned and interrogated as if they cannot independently inform others of how they feel and report what has happened to them. In most cases, there is a tendency to believe a man rather than a woman because society places higher value on what a man says compared to a woman. This is especially challenging when a woman has a prior or subsisting relationship with a man she now accuses of rape. There is a tendency to be more lenient with allegations of rape against such a man because it appears that it is a case of rebuffed advances between lovers.
Managing Secrecy and Social Stigmatisation. As long as girls and women are treated disrespectfully and insensitively by those they report cases of rape and incest to, they would continue to keep quiet about it. There should be structures in schools to ensure confidential counselling where girls can express themselves freely. Also, the shift should move from shame of the girl that was raped to the integrity of the alleged culprit so that the fear of stigmatisation is balanced. Where a case is reported to the police, victims should be shielded and their testimonies taken confidentially and promptly. The use of one-stop centres where medical, policing, legal and counselling services are provided in one building would prevent women being subjected to repeat their testimony several times. Male champions in the community that speak out against rape and incest and respond to dealing with such issues would help in breaking the silence and encouraging the acceptance of girls that have been violated.
Existence of rape myths. This prevents people from addressing factual incidents of rape. Some myths are that: a) rape is committed by strangers and not people the victim knows - majority of victims know their rapists. It can be a neighbour, a friend, brother-in-law, father, teacher or pastor. b) a girl being raped would physically resist and shout for help. If she doesn't shout then she consented - forceful sex is forceful, period. Threat of further violence or death can cause victims to freeze or accept their fate. The question is did she consent? If the answer is no, then it is rape. Also consent by minors is not consent therefore any sexual act with a minor is statutory rape. It is not an excuse if the culprit believed the girl to be much older. c) reporting to the police is immediate if it is a rape - the act is traumatising enough and evidence has shown that most women would not speak to anyone about it for a period of time and by the time they report it some time has elapsed. Studies have shown that women reported rape within 3 hours or up to two weeks after the incident (Silverman, "Blitz Rape and Confidence Rape: A Typology" 1988). Some reasons for the delay are: fear of stigmatisation, fear of privacy and ignorance of the law.
Inadequate Punishment. In one case, the accused was given the option of fine in a defilement case. Where judges or magistrates prescribe lenient sentences or punishments for rape or child abuse cases then impunity would continue and the seriousness of the offence is lost on the perpetrator. It also discourages victims as justice has not been served.
Monetary Compensation. There have been many cases of rape and incest that were settled by the families of both the victim and the violator. In some cases, the police are involved as 'mediators'. The acceptance of money or settlement of a case by land or other material gifts is not justice for the victim and encourages the alleged rapist to continue in his ways. There have been cases of serial child molesters and rapists who move from one place to the other after settling the families of their victims. It is wrong. It is against the law and in any case it reduces the crime to a matter of disagreement or misunderstanding which perpetuates impunity.
Weak Criminal Justice System. We need police, legal officers, medical and psychosocial staff that understand how to help victims. Training including specialised training in rape trauma, child psychology, forensic evidence collection and preservation, counselling, legal strategy, human rights programming to address the gaps in investigation, prosecution and adjudication.
Passing Strong and Effective Laws. The Criminal Codes and the Evidence Act are there but a law specifically addressing violence and sexual violence including incest is currently before the National Assembly, the Violence Against Persons Bill. This bill expressly declares incest a crime which is absent in our current legal structures and makes it punishable on conviction to five years without an option of fine. If we want incest to be dealt with strongly we need to advocate for our legislators to pass the bill.
Everyone is involved in fighting for an end to violence against women. It is a global challenge and Nigeria must play its role to protecting its people. According to statistics on the One Billion Rising website (www.onebillionrising.org): 7 in 10 women will be abused in their lifetime; 1 in 3 women has experienced some form of violence whether physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, economic or threats of violence. That is one billion too many. And in Nigeria where the population is about 160 million with women slightly above 50% of the population that is approximately 25 million women and girls.
We can begin today, by talking about it in our Churches, Mosques, schools, universities, workplaces and communities. We need to speak out. Violence against women and girls in any form should not be tolerated. The change starts with you, one person at a time. And it is critical because the lives and health of our girls and women are being destroyed and being prevented from reaching their highest potential.
Ojigho, Deputy Executive Director of Alliances for Africa, is on the steering committee of the Solidarity for African Women's Rights (SOAWR) Coalition and is a Nigerian Rising to End Violence Against Women