By John Shiklam in Kaduna
The Justice for All (J4A) has identified sexual violence as the most serious crime affecting women and girls in Nigeria.
It, however, regretted that despite the magnitude of the problem, there were limited facilities to help victims of sexual assault in addition to the fact that only a few of such cases were prosecuted with very few convictions.
Speaking at the opening of a one day workshop in Kaduna, the coordinator of the J4A, Bob Arnot said the programme has supported the establishment of Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARC) in eight states of the federation to handle rape cases.
The states include Lagos, Enugu, Niger, Akwa-Ibom, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano and Yobe.
He said the Lagos centre known as Mirabel centre is located at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) is managed by partnership for J4A and provides forensic medical examination, counselling and other support services to victims of sexual violence.
Similarly, he said the Enugu Centre known as Tamar centre is managed by Women’s Aid Collective (WACOL) and is located in the premises of the Family Support Programme unit of the Enugu State Ministry of Gender.
According to him, the success of SARC has demonstrated the critical role it can play as a platform for collaboration among many agencies and groups that are fighting against sexual violence.
Arnot said further that SARCs work closely with the Juvenile Women’s and Children’s Units (JWCU) from J4A established Model Police Stations across Lagos, Enugu and Niger states where police and social workers are encouraged to undertake joint investigations.
He disclosed that the Lagos SARC has helped 1,954 victims of sexual violence within three years while the Enugu SARC has assisted 572 victims in the last two years.
“Between 2013 and October 2016, over 2,500 people have benefitted from SARC services in Lagos, Enugu and Niger States, 74 per cent of these are below 18 years old and 34 per cent are below the age of 10,” he said.
He added that the number of cases of sexual violence being investigated by the police and charged to court has multiplied since the SARCs were established.
Also, in an interview with journalists during the workshop founder of WACOL, Prof. Joy Ezeilo, said there are many challenges militating against the successful prosecution of cases of sexual violence.
She however called for the use of DNA test to scientifically prove rape cases.
According to her, the technicalities around prosecution and trial of rape cases are very problematic.
“You have also the cases of children who are victims in child abuses some of who can barely talk and give evidence.
“There is also the issue of societal pressure that stigmatises and blames the victims and then the victims are so reluctant even when they reported, there is always the pressure to withdraw.
“Sometimes police play along and the case is withdrawn and settle out of court. DNA is very important in the prosecution of rape cases,” she said