Sexual Violence, whether domestic violence or otherwise, has become a real issue in Nigeria today. With the increased level of information in this digital age, messages flow between Whatsapp and Facebook daily that speak of sexual violence, mostly of women and children. These victims are molested by their parents, landlords, teachers, drivers, pastors and so on. For the sceptics who roll their eyes when these messages are sent, numbers do not lie.
On the 1st of March 2017, Project Alert (a non-governmental women’s rights organisation) released another report following one it had done in 2013 on the state of sexual violence in Nigeria. In 2013, it reviewed 155 cases reported between 2010 – 2011 across the major regions in Nigeria to come to the conclusion that 69% of the victims of sexual violence were children.
The new and revised 2017 report titled, “Sexual Violence in Nigeria: A Silent Epidemic” was published with information from Mirabel Centre (Nigeria’s first sexual assault referral centre). It shows that in Lagos state alone, there were 1,110 sexual violence cases reported between July 2013 – July 2015, and 98% of these victims were female and 2% were male.
Here is the shocking part: 77% of the 1,110 cases were children between the ages of 0-17 years old. There was even a case of a victim as young as 4months old!!
If these numbers are recorded only in Lagos State, just imagine what the numbers would come to if cases in Nigeria were reported like was done in the 2013 report.
Also scary is the fact that both the 2013 and the 2017 report reveal that the most prevalent form of sexual violence in Nigeria is the defilement of children, and the girl child is more vulnerable.
Our worry is most parents may feel that their children are safe because the children are always at home. But according to statistics by Project Alert, 95% of the perpetrators of the violence reported were not strangers to the children. They were either family members or friends /neighbours/teachers/close associates. What this means is as long as people have access to your children, they are at risk. And since no child lives in isolation, this means ALL OUR CHILDREN ARE AT RISK!
The sad part is that the perpetrators of these crimes usually go scot free. According to Mirabel Centre, out of the 1,110 cases recorded in Lagos between July 2013 and July 2015, only 20 had been followed up until conviction. According to Project Alert, one of the reasons for these low conviction rates is the challenge with the criminal justice system. They say the cost of pursuing justice up until the level of conviction is very high. Victims’ families usually have to pay for recharge cards used at Police Stations, Medical Reports, Transportation to arrest the suspect and so on. Since most of them cannot afford these costs, they just give up all together and “leave it for God.”
They went on further to say that because many victims of sexual violence suffer from intimidation and victimization from family and friends, they hardly pursue the case. There was a particular a case where a child was molested by her father, and when the mother of the child wanted to report to the Police, her in-laws (her husband’s relations) came to beg her. When she did not listen to their pleas, threats followed, and the mother eventually had to give up her pursuit of justice.
So how then does one protect one’s child from becoming a victim of sexual abuse? The Centre Manager for Mirabel Centre, Mrs Juliet Olumuyiwa-Rufai, says there is a lot parents can do, especially mothers. “Mothers should be close to their children and they should be very observant. A mother who does not have time to know what is going on in the life of her child is not doing well for that child. A lot of things may be going on in the mind of the child, and if you are not available, something could happen to them eventually.”
Obviously, Mothers also need to pay attention to their sons to make sure they do not become perpetrators of sexual violence within their families because the 2013 report revealed that 99% of the perpetrators were male and 39% of the perpetrators were minors between 0-17 years old. This leads to the conclusion that they could have been brothers, cousins, young uncles and so on. It is our view that boys need to be taught that touching their sisters or their cousins inappropriately is not okay. They also should be taught that when a girl says NO, she really means NO.
As parents do their part, the Project Alert team believes the Federal and State Government need to acknowledge that Nigeria indeed has an epidemic on its hands, and therefore come out with a National plan of action with funding and follow up to deal with the issues. The cost of justice for victims also needs to be reduced so that victims would be encouraged to report all cases of sexual violence.
While we all look forward to a day when the issue of sexual violence becomes minimised and possibly eradicated from our society, we all need to push for increased and sustained awareness on all platforms be it in the work place, religious centres or schools.
We must not be silent.
We must fight for the safety of all our children.
If you have a child that is a victim of sexual violence, please reach out to the following organizations:
Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, Lagos
Tel: 08155770000, 07013491769, 08187243468, 01-2957818
21 Akinsanya Street Off Isheri Road, Taiwo Bus Stop (Behind FRSC)
Tel: 234-1-8209387; 08052004698; 08180091072