Tackling The Growing Menace Of Rape And Sexual Violence

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The menace of rape and sexual violence is fast becoming a disturbing phenomenon in Nigeria, forcing many concerned citizens to call for urgent measures to stem the malady.

The people’s concern is apt and justifiable, as the victims of sexual crime continue to mount by the day.

For instance, 15-year-old Biola, an itinerant trader, was raped by one “customer’’. The man, who pretended to be interested in one of her wares, lured her into a secluded place and raped her.

The number of hawkers who were sexually assaulted by unscrupulous men appears to be growing daily.

Observers maintain that the perpetrators of the heinous crime even include security agents; those who are saddled with the responsibility of maintaining law and order.

For example, there was a case involving a senior police officer attached to Ndiegoro Police Station in Aba, Abia. The officer was detained at the Zonal Police Headquarters in Umuahia, for allegedly raping a lady to death.

The suspect allegedly raped Princess Zainab Uwakwe, a former beauty queen, who was invited to the divisional police office for talks with the officer-in-charge.

There were conflicting accounts about what happened to Uwakwe at the meeting but reports indicated that the woman was brought out of the office unconscious, with a foamy mouth and blood-stained private parts.

The hapless woman died on the way to a hospital and some junior officers at the police station alleged that the suspected culprit was a sex maniac who was fond of “sexually harassing our female officers here’’.

Even the clergy are not free from the aberration, as the police last September arrested a pastor for alleged sexual assault of a 12-year-old member of the church’s choir at Afuda-Uromi, Esan North East Local Government Area of Edo State.

The incident incurred the wrath of some residents who spontaneously went on rampage and destroyed some equipment of the church, while the pastor was detained at the Police Divisional Headquarters in Uromi

Observers bemoan the growing cases of rape and sexual abuse in the country and call for urgent, concerted efforts to address the menace.

They stress that the situation which led to God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, as recorded in the Bible, would look so ordinary, when compared to the present-day situation in Nigeria, if nothing is done to contain it.

However, analysts contend that a major factor behind the increasing menace of rape and sexual abuse in the country is the fact that many cases go unreported because of the fear of stigma of the victims in the society.

Cleen Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, at a seminar on “Say No to Violence Against Women’’, identified stigma and insensitivity of the police as some of the major reasons why women refrain from reporting rape cases in Nigeria.

The organisation, nonetheless, called on governments at all levels to declare zero-tolerance towards rape in the country.

“The government should commit adequate resources to efforts to track down offenders, while encouraging victims to come forward and lodge reports with the police.

“Rape is grossly under-reported in Nigeria, compared to other heinous crimes.

“Police insensitivity and fear of stigmatisation discourage women from reporting rape cases. Less than 50 per cent of those who reported rape cases were satisfied with the way the cases were handled,’’ Cleen Foundation said.

Mrs Josephine Elechi, the wife of the Ebonyi State governor, has repeatedly urged the National Assembly and other stakeholders to initiate the review of the extant laws on rape.

Speaking at the recent launch of the campaign against maternal mortality and morbidity, Elechi noted that existing laws on rape in the country had failed to serve as a deterrent.

She stressed that the laws had failed to protect women, especially the minors, from the menace of rape, adding that a review of the laws would be aid efforts to curb the crime.

“I call on our lawmakers to review the laws and enact fresh ones that would stipulate stringent punishment for rapists, so as to serve as a deterrent to others,’’ Elechi said.

As part of efforts to tackle the menace, the Minister of Youth Development, Malam Bolaji Abdullahi, organised a conference on “Nigerian Youths and the Challenges of Rape’’ in November 2011.

The minister noted that there had been many disturbing cases of sexual assault on women and girls, recalling a particular incident where five men gang-raped a young girl in Abia State, recorded “the shameful behaviour on video and published it in the social media’’.

“It is sad to say that despite our efforts, the perpetrators of the vile act have not been arrested till date let alone prosecuted,’’ he lamented, adding: “This was largely due to the fact the victim failed to identify herself.’’

Abdullahi said: “I personally worked closely with the Human Rights Commission on the case, and when the victim was contacted by the Commission; she denied that she was raped, So did her family. This made it impossible for us to move forward with the case.’’

The minister, nonetheless, said that he had instructed the National Youth Service Commission (NYSC) to set up community development groups to deal with the issue of rape and other forms of sexual violence against young women.

Abdullahi stressed that his ministry was eager to get young men to understand that it was a hideous crime to sexually assault women, adding that it also intended to “treat the disease and not just the symptoms of rape’’.

“This is because a man must have some mental problems for him to rape a woman,’’ he added.

However, Dr Abiodun Awolusi, a Principal Medical Officer at the National Hospital, Abuja, said that a woman who was abused sexually when she was young might end up having some psychological problems which could even affect her desire to settle down with anyone.

On the other hand, the harrowing experience of a rape victim might lead her to become promiscuous later in life.

Dr Jude Ohanele, a women’s rights advocate, stressed the need for government at all levels to strengthen existing laws on rape and ensure their strict enforcement.

“Governments should put in place institutional framework that would make rape victims to come out boldly without being stigmatised, while it should provide treatment and support for the victims.

“Efforts should be made to provide treatment facilities and centres that would be rape victim-friendly. Such centres should provide rape victims with all the confidentiality they require and other support services such as rehabilitation and counselling to enable them to overcome their traumatic experience,” he said.

Ohanele said that the government should also provide counselling for rape victims to prevent them from suffering from “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’’ — a psychological condition which causes acute depression and other emotional disorders.

He urged the federal and state governments to provide an enabling environment for civil society groups, religious bodies and other institutions to work together in efforts to tackle the menace of rape.

Sharing similar sentiments, Mr Nwanosike Onu, a journalist, said that efforts to curb the rising menace of rape in the country needed the active intervention of every segment of the society.

“Rape has become a serious problem in our society; the earlier we tackle the problem, the better for everyone. Governments, churches, mosques, journalists, non-governmental organisations and everyone should be involved in the crusade,“ he said.

Miss Kikelomo Adebola, a radio presenter, urged female lawmakers in the National Assembly to push for an amendment of existing laws on rape to make the penalty stiffer for offenders.

However, observers note that efforts to restructure the campaign against rape and other forms of sexual violence have somewhat reached a crescendo with the conference organised by the Ministry of Youth Development last December.

They, nonetheless, stress that tangible efforts should be made to penalise rapists severely, while protecting their victims from all forms of stigma within the society.

“The extant laws on rape should be overhauled and made more stringent so as to deter potential rapists from perpetrating the crime,’’ some of the observers say.

Ogunshola writes for NAN

 

Femi Ogunshola