By Sadiya Hamza
Awa, a 47-year-old mother of three children, says that her worldview changed dramatically when her seven-year-old daughter (now 17 years old) was raped by a close relation.
“I will never forget that day. I came home from selling my wares in the market and met my daughter sitting at the corner of our one-room apartment crying.
“I asked her what happened and then, I saw her lood-stained skirt. I picked her up and took her to the hospital.
“She told me that `uncle’ sent her on an errand, saying that when she came back, he lured her into his room and raped her.
“This ‘uncle’ is my husband’s cousin. After the incident, my husband’s relations prevented me from reporting the case to the police.
“Initially, they did not believe my story, even after I presented a doctor’s report on the state of my daughter. At the end, I was sent packing out of my matrimonial and labelled a liar,’’ Awa narrates her ordeal in tears.
The helpless woman insists that her daughter has yet to get over the traumatic experience, years after the incident.
Mrs Ba’ana Imam, a social worker in Abuja, says that rape victims and members of their immediate families habitually undergo a lot of psychological and physical trauma.
“When rape or gender-based violence occurs, we need to believe the victim’s report and assure her that the problem is not her fault.
“We also need to encourage counselling. Mothers, friends and people around these victims need to seek help from professionals,’’ she says.
Ms Ladi Sati, a Jos-based psychologist, makes some suggestions on how to manage rape victims.
She stresses that victims of rape and sexual assault may experience severe feelings of anxiety, stress or fear, known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“We have seen some instances where victims would want to deliberately harm or injure themselves.
“In some cases, you find that some of the victims have contracted sexually transmitted diseases and there are also possibilities of the victims becoming pregnant,’’ she says.
Sati says that rape victims often face the problem of stigma in the society.
However, questions are often asked about what could push a man into raping a minor.
In Enugu (South East zone), 72 cases were documented, while 53 cases were documented in the Federal Capital Territory (North Central zone).
What then accounts for the poor documentation of cases of gender-based violence?
Ms Hauwa Shekarau, the President of International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), underscores the need for the police to be change agents in efforts to tackle sexual violence which is becoming rampant in the society.
She argues that the police ought to fully understand issues relating to the violation of the people’s fundamental rights, particularly the rights of women and girls, and how to handle such violations.
Shekarau stresses that in cases of sexual violence, the police ought to be mindful of factors that could lead to the violation of the victims’ rights, while addressing them before the violation occurs.
“For instance, when a woman approaches the police station to complain of verbal harassment either by her spouse or neighbour or colleague, the policeman on duty should not dismiss such reports as mere domestic cases.
“Many times, what is labelled as a domestic affair turns out to be a crime which could have been averted if only the police had been responsive in the first instance,’’ she says.
Shekarau bemoans the absence of protocol in the management of sexual violence cases in the country.
“If there is a protocol in place to ensure recognition, management and prosecution of sexual violence cases; if the people are aware of what steps to take in the event of a violation, rape cases would then be properly handled.
“In a situation where a victim of rape washes off herself before reporting at the police station or before presenting herself at the hospital, vital evidence, which could be used to knock down the perpetrator, is thus destroyed.
“However, while we are advocating the development of protocols, we advise victims of rape not to tamper with the proof; they should rather go straight to the police.
“The police have the duty to immediately take the victim to the hospital where she can be immediately examined, while any available evidence is taken and preserved for the prosecution,’’ she says.
However, observers stress the need for a review of the country’s laws to prescribe stringent punishment for sexual offences.
The House of Representatives is, perhaps, thinking along those lines, as it recently approved life imprisonment for any person convicted of rape.
The bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Abike Dabiri-Erewa (APC-Lagos), also approved a minimum of 20 years, without an option of fine, for persons convicted of gang-raping someone.
Besides, the Lagos State Government is planning to compile a database of sex offenders, as part of its efforts to enhance the efficacy of justice system.
Mr Ade Ipaye, the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, disclosed this at a three-day Action Planning workshop organised on justice sector reforms in Lagos State recently.
The workshop, which was geared towards achieving a sustainable approach to improve justice delivery in the country, was funded by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) in concert with the European Union and the Federal Government.
All the same, Mr Chris Olakpe, the Commissioner of Police in Plateau, advises parents and guardians to adopt pragmatic strategies to protect their daughters and wards against rape.
His words: “Parents should always strive to monitor their daughters while at home to know their whereabouts. Mothers should teach their daughters the virtue of leading a simple life that will not attract any regrets.
“Parents should caution their underage daughters against living ostentatious life which can expose them to the evil machinations of some men.
“The girls should be discouraged from collecting unsolicited gifts from other youths and men. They should also be discouraged from soliciting gifts from people, as gifts can be used by rapists to lure them.’’
The police commissioner, nonetheless, solicits the involvement of religious and opinion leaders in the campaign against rape and other sexual offences in the society.
Ms Sandra Hamilton, an Abuja-based lawyer, says: “With regard to rape or any other kind of gender-based violence, we insist that after the criminal act, there should be time to grief, heal and most of all, there must be justice.
“Perhaps, a story that gladdens my heart is that concerning a 63-year-old man who was sentenced to death by stoning by a Shariah Court in Kano State, for raping a 13-year-old girl and infecting her with HIV.’’
Hamilton calls on the National Assembly to enact a law that would prescribe severe punishment for rapists and other sexual offenders.
“Sex-related violence in Nigeria has indeed assumed very dangerous and alarming dimensions. By and large, the reported cases are very few, compared with those cases that are kept secret,’’ he adds.
All in all, analysts underscore the need for all Nigerians to make concerted efforts to address all the underlying factors behind the increasing cases of minor’s rape in the country. NAN