Friday, 21 February 2014

Tackling rape epidemic in Nigeria

NIGERIA is a country under the grip of rape. Hardly a day goes by without screaming headlines of bizarre cases of rape leaping out at embarrassed newspaper readers. It is either a law enforcement officer is taking advantage of a female suspect or a teacher his student, or a guardian, a father or some other intimate family members are violating their innocent wards, daughters, sisters or nieces.

This tidal wave of rape and other forms of sexual assault are doubtlessly a shameless advertisement of the extent of moral decadence and permissiveness in the society. Indeed, ours is a country in dire need of a higher level of morality and a timely intervention of the redemptive power of relevant state agencies. More than ever before, the innocent victims of rape are in need of protection from the reach of these marauding wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Even though Lagos State was credited with a figure of 132 rape cases for last year, it may just be a tip of the iceberg, given the utmost secrecy with which cases of rape and other incidents that have to do with sexual abuse are treated. Dean G Kilpatrick of the National Violence Against Women Prevention Centre, Medical University of Carolina, says rape is the most underreported crime in the United States. Even though there is a gradual change in attitude, many Nigerians are still very reluctant to fight rape cases to a logical end. The Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Command, Umar Manko, recently explained that the figure of 132 represents a marginal increase over the 129 rape cases recorded in the state in 2012.

In Edo State, authorities of the Central Hospital, Benin City, reported that 80 cases of rape were brought for treatment between March and mid-October last year. The situation can only be imagined if figures from other hospitals in the state are brought to light. Child Protection Network, a non-profit organisation, revealed last year that 95 child rape cases were reported in five northern states of the country, with Gombe alone accounting for 50. Some of them were cases involving a policeman and a lecturer. Another organisation, The Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development, claimed in a News Agency of Nigeria report of May last year that 1,200 girls were raped in Rivers State alone. Michael Gbarale, the Project Officer of the organisation, said most of the cases involved gang-raping. He said 800 victims were treated in hospitals.

Notable individual accounts that were recorded in the past year included that of a police corporal, Anthony Onoja, who was ordered by a court, alongside the Inspector-General of Police, to pay N10 million “exemplary damages” to a two-year-old rape victim in Nasarawa State. Fortunately, she was adequately recompensed, but hers happens to be one of the few cases in which there had been attempts to ensure the culprits paid for their crime. In other instances, however, the victims have had to either live or die with the infamy of having been raped or violated.

Janet, an 18-year-old woman, could not bear the shame of being gang-raped at gunpoint in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State and committed suicide. And for another victim, a nine-year-old pupil, it was also a case of succumbing to death as she could not survive what doctors described as “complications due to forced sexual intercourse.” The late pupil of Fulfilled Greenland School, Ikorodu, Lagos, was a victim of a 14-year-old student rapist.

Regrettably, the police who should help bring this randy teenager to justice have been the ones perverting the course of justice. When Simeon Jogo, the 77-year-old father of the dead girl, went to the police station to make a report, he said he was denied the chance to write a statement. Rather, he was required to leave his telephone number behind so that he could be invited once the culprit had been apprehended. In the meantime, the teenage rapist had relocated from Lagos to Delta State, perhaps far beyond the reach of the law.

Although often defined as a man having a carnal knowledge of a woman without her consent, rape, to the psychologist, is beyond a sexual crime; it is a crime of violence because it always involves force or the threat of force. It is also a crime capable of leaving the victim traumatised for life. Aside from finding it difficult to forge future relationship with the opposite sex, some victims have to contend with unwanted pregnancies.

Sadly, it is not only strangers that commit rape. Experts say that most rape cases are actually committed by people known and close to the victims. And since most cases often go unreported, the rapists are emboldened to continue with their deviant behaviour. This is why cases of sexual molestation and defilement should always be reported to the police.

The law enforcement agents will be of great help in reducing the incidence of rape if they can be less antagonistic towards victims. They should be very hard on rapists to serve as a deterrent. Not only should the search for justice be taken seriously, victims should also be provided adequate medical and counselling services by professionals.

It is also important for women to avoid placing themselves in a vulnerable position. These include walking alone at night and taking a ride in strangers’ cars. Even at home among family members, there should be precautionary steps to avoid rape.

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