WARIF: A Safe Haven for the Sexually Abused

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In response to the high incidence of sexual assault, rape and human trafficking occurring amongst young girls and women across Nigeria, Women At Risk International Foundation (WARIF), recently opened its doors to victims of abuse. The centre is meant to be a safe haven for survivors of abuses, writes Mary Ekah

To ensure that all young girls and women live in a society free of rape and sexual violence, an ultra-modern crisis centre, called Women At Risk International Foundation (WARIF) officially opened its flagship centre in Lagos recently. Working in collaboration with Washington DC Rape Crisis Centre, USA to achieve its aims, the Centre’s recent opening is the first of many initiatives that will be set up by the foundation towards achieving its goals. Incorporated in 2016 by Dr. Kemi DaSilva-Ibru, a very well educated and influential doctor who has dedicated her life to working for the women of Nigeria. WARIF, a non-profit organisation, was established to raise awareness and advocate against the increasing prevalence of sexual violence amongst women and young girls of all ages and its consequences.

DaSilva-Ibru said that being a specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist with decades of experience had exposed her to the devastating effects of sexual violence especially among women and young girls whom she prefers to refer to as ‘Survivors’ rather than ‘victims’. The doctor who revealed that her youngest child (victim) treated is about two years of age while she also has a young mother who is just over 11 years of age, both of whom are survivors of sexual abuse by those close to them, noted, that in spite of inadequate data, the anecdotal figures are staggering which is why WARIF is set up with the primary responsibility to address this high incidence of this concern with the development and implementation of intervention and preventive initiatives; the first of which is WARIF Centre.

She stressed that there was a high incidence of sexual violence against women with only a few well-equipped centres to effectively offer survivors the physical and psychological attention needed especially within the first 72 hours as well as their long-term social support. “These effects are both immediate with health and psychosocial risks to the victims as well as in the long-term societal problems that subsequently occur such as poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases,” she noted.

She explained further that the services rendered by WARIF will add to the existing number of sexual assault referral centres already existing who are doing a thorough and commendable job in assisting these survivors in getting back on their feet.

“We are at the moment collaborating with the Ministry of Justice and I was privileged to have a conversation with the coordinator of the Lagos State Domestic Violence and Sexual Violence Response Team (DVSRT) and they have a wonderful structure in place where all the committees are well represented, including the law enforcement and the office of the public defender.

So I think we all have work to do to address this problem, as it should be,” she noted. WARIF, she said, is bringing initiatives that will be effective, it is bringing a structure that can be added to the already existing structures to improve on the work noting that WARIF is here to stay.

Asked what the Foundation was going to do to break the culture of silence on sexual violence and sexual abuse, DaSilva-Ibru said, “We have not broken it and so I think we need more dialogue, conversation, awareness and I think it should start with centres like WARIF where women can come knowing that it is safe haven, knowing that their confidentiality is assured and that they are safe from the public places and then this will give them that self-esteem to go out there to tell their stories and raise the awareness so that we can address this properly.”

The facility, she said, is basically meant for girl and women, while also expressing the hope that it will expand to encompass the boy-child and men as well who obviously are also suffering abuses.

“Presently, our focus is on the girl-child. From my personal experience, I have seen a two and five years old girls who were abused and the youngest pregnant child I have seen is 11 years old. So this centre is well equipped to deal with children as young as between 2-8 years old and above,” she noted.

From Psycho-socio stand point, she said there was also training available by the Washington DC Rape Crisis Centre to handle cases of children as well as their mothers, adding, “When you have cases such as that, it is not enough to treat and care of the child, you also have to care and treat the mothers and caregivers.

“Children are the very heart of what WARIF is trying to do and what we are going to do from January next year with help from Dr. Indira Henard of the Washington DC Rape Crisis Centre, is to build a programme that goes to school to train teachers and even the children on how to call a spade, a spade –… because some of these things are lost because the children cannot express themselves with the right words. So education is key even from that stage and even for parents. It is so heartbreaking that even adults and teenagers are not able to come forward because they do not know what is happening to them. And in terms of infection and treatment there is a dedicated laboratory that would take care of that,” she said.

She noted further that one of the things that would be on the offering at the centre would be a 24–hour-7-day crisis call centre, adding, “so we hope that a child or young lady who has a rape issue would have access to these numbers and then call immediately and then we can tell them to come to the centre for treatment and counseling.”

She was quick to add that gender-based violence is not just about sex but that is about gender-based inequality. “It is about the way in which the boy-child is grown with entitlements while the girl-child is brought up sitting and living in the kitchen; being grown not to talk back while he has the entitlement to do so. It is about bringing up our children with that gender-based equality because rape is about struggle of power and domination; it is more than just a sexual act. So if we can bring up our children in that spirit of gender equality and love in a community that is more consenting, I think a lot more would be achieved,” she said.