The prevalence of
rape in the society and its attendant effects on victims has been a major concern in many countries of the world.
Sociologists note that it is worrisome that rape victims find it difficult to speak out for fear of stigmatisation unlike other crimes where people willingly report to relevant authorities.
They observe that negative social attitudes, including the “unfriendly coverage of rape cases by the media’’, have contributed to the reluctance of victims to speak out.
According to them, in view of the stigma and other challenges related to rape, evolving measures to break the culture of silence has been a daunting task for human rights groups and other relevant bodies.
Observers note that irrespective of the challenges, stakeholders have intensified advocacy on the need for rape victims to speak out so that offenders can be prosecuted.
For instance, Mr Abdulrahaman Abdulkadir, a civil servant, said there had been a steady progress in an attempt to break the culture of silence on rape due to increased level of awareness among citizens.
He, however, advised that more efforts should be made to ensure that more rape cases were reported to relevant authorities.
“I think rape cases were rampant in the past but they were not well reported as they are presently; I think there is a level of awareness.
“We’ve started breaking the culture of silence because these days, parents speak out when their kids go through that kind of abuse,’’ he said.
Sharing similar sentiments, Mr Frank Ijuo, a political analyst, commended the progress made so far in reporting rape cases.
“People are standing up for a check on the issue of rape because the awareness is better than what it used to be in those days when the level of stigmatisation was high,’’ he said.
He called for further advocacy, stressing that people were still afraid of the society’s reaction to rape cases when the victims announced it.
Also, human rights experts argue that pragmatic approach must be taken to curb rape, insisting that it is a crime that poses a serious threat to women and the society.
Mrs Esther Uzoma, lawyer, opined that the rate of keeping mum on rape cases among victims had reduced through the help of civil society organisations and the media.
“People are now looking the offenders in the face and challenging them and as such, victims are now more eager to speak; we are not there yet but we are not where we used to be,’’ she said.
She observed that there were still many unreported cases of rape, particularly among the elites.
“The danger of not speaking out by this group of people is that their children end up as drug addicts or rapists,’’ she noted.
Uzoma said it could be difficult to say exactly how many people had been raped and the number of cases reported to relevant authorities over time in Nigeria due to the complex nature of the crime.
“You can’t find any record of the number of people who were raped, who raped them and where.
“It is gladdening to note that there is an increased awareness; for instance, I’m handling about seven rape cases of underage.
“We have concluded one. In this particular case, a serving police officer assaulted a minor,’’ she said.
Uzoma called for adequate training for relevant authorities handling rape cases, particularly the police, to ensure that victims were not stigmatised.
She also said there was a need for police officers to take rape cases seriously to ensure that perpetrators were adequately punished.
But Mr James Oluwasegun, Head of Legal Unit, Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative, blamed the judicial system for not protecting rape victims.
He also blamed the attitude of police officers in handling rape cases, stressing that many people would prefer to remain silent than face embarrassment at police stations.
He, nonetheless, commended the level of awareness, particularly in the media, admitting that due to increased awareness, parents had begun to monitor their wards’ movement.
In addition to awareness campaign, Rep. Beni Lar, Chairperson, Human Rights Committee at the House of Representatives, called on victims to report rape cases so that perpetrators would be punished.
She said the Violence against Persons Prohibition Bill before the National Assembly would go a long way when passed into law in stemming the trend of violence in the country, including rape.
In her opinion, Mrs Hauwa Shekarau, the President of the International Federation of Women Lawyers, however, said law on rape gave room for more perpetrators to evade prosecution.
“The current law has a limited definition of what is rape, for instance if you look at the ingredient that is required to proof rape, it has to do with penetration.
“Now we have people who derive sexual satisfaction without penetration and by the definition of rape, that person cannot be charged with rape; the best charge will be indecent assault.
“The law is not taking cognisance of emerging sexual offences that are greater than the ones envisaged by the current law,’’ she observed.
She said in view of the emerging trend in rape, there was a need to review the definition of rape, admitting that passing the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill into law would help in that regard.
All in all, analysts advise that stakeholders must continue to work hard to ensure that the culture of silence is completely broken in the society while the perpetrators are brought to book to serve as deterrent.
Cecilia John writes for News Agency of Nigeria.