22 May 2015

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We must all stand up to fight this menace which violates the dignity of our girls and women

Even though the punishment for the crime as spelt out in Section 358 of the Criminal Code is life imprisonment, rape has become commonplace in our country today, essentially because many of the perpetrators know they can easily get away with it. We therefore call on the relevant authorities to devise effective measures and strategies to checkmate the growing menace of sexual assaults across the country.

Hardly a day passes without one female child or a woman being sexually violated. But having created a society in which the seemingly strong are seeking ways to display their superiority over 'weaker' people, rape may be a more blatant manifestation of a deeper deviation in our social psychology. It goes without saying that when positive means of personal identification and legitimate expression are suppressed, the devil finds work. But no society should condone rape which regrettably is fast becoming a social epidemic.

In Nigeria, police insensitivity and the fear of stigma (or persecution) discourages targets of violence from formalising the reports of incidents involving them. This reluctance, however, has only contributed to the rise in a culture of impunity on the part of the perpetrators. A recent policy brief of the National Crime and Safety Survey depicts how prevalent sexual violence is, as well as the fact that our society seems to be living in denial about the issue. The study particularly reveals that victims of rape hardly lodge reports for fear that their cases would not be treated seriously, that they would be stigmatised or that corruption would hinder effective investigation.

There have also been several reported cases of abuse of children, the most recent of which is that of a six-year old girl. Yet the Child Rights Act (and Laws) enacted, so far, in 23 states of Nigeria clearly mandates that a specialised unit in the Police Force should handle cases involving children. Unfortunately, even where trained and specialised, police officers get routinely transferred and deployed to other beats, without having been given the opportunity to implement their newfound skills. The need for a review of existing strategies and the strengthening of mechanisms, including for documenting these incidents, has therefore never been more urgent.

But beyond those who have been entrusted with the responsibility of protecting life and property, the society also needs to be alive to its responsibility. A police force is as good as the society that supports it. A point of safe, protective and comforting recourse must exist for victims of sexual violence to address their immediate needs as well as to enable them summon the courage to pursue the ends of justice. While better training on a wider scale, diligent prosecution and swift and exemplary sanctions would certainly send a strong signal to the perpetrators to desist, the media remains a necessary partner in sustained efforts to curb these wanton acts of evil.

Our courts must also be more proactive and stringent in applying sanctions, as some of the verdicts, for the few that have actually been successfully prosecuted, are ridiculous. Our private network providers should readily donate help-lines with free calls for victims of violence, while our hospitals and the legal profession should be prepared to offer pro bono services to the victims. We must all be ready to stand up to fight this menace which violates the dignity of our girls and women. The message the society must send out is that on this issue, our women do not stand alone.

While human rights violations of this nature occur everywhere in the world, as the sick, the evil and the deranged exist in all societies, the only manner in which citizens can feel safe and secure is where the response to crime is swift, efficient and effective. That is what the current situation demands from the relevant authorities.

Tags: Editorial

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