Guarding against sexual and gender-based violence and supporting survivors is a collective responsibility, as parents and educators explained to Funmi Ogundare how they have been able to put the interest of the children first and restore the dignity of the child that has suffered abuse.
In the aftermath of a sexual assault or rape, survivors can face complicated and painful emotions and experiences. So parents and educators are devising safety plans to teach children how to protect themselves.
These include making the home comfortable for the children to live in by ensuring the right communication and cordial atmosphere, the commitment of parents to each other and the children seeing that they are living the values, parents believing in their children and giving them the right words to say. Other plans are paying attention to people who may be paying attention to their children, teaching them the age-appropriate sex education, protecting their children, as well as monitoring individual relationships that others may have with them.
Educators and parents say they have considered their parenting styles, devised a safety plan, educated their children by teaching them the age-appropriate sexuality education. They have also analysed their Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) and are standing by their children to protect them from falling prey to sexual abusers.
The Executive Director of Media Concern for Women and Children, Princess Olufemi Kayode said: “As a family, we have values and a constitution. We have had to redefine certain roles and we don’t demean our children because these are the things that make children fall easily to abuse.”
She said she has ensured that the home should be the first place where children should learn the values and beliefs so that they do not go out and fall into negative influence.
According to her, “when things happen to them, they are free to come back and discuss it openly with me. I have had to let my children know that the world they are in is dangerous. Sometimes they are exposed to sexual content; so as a parent, you need to explain to them why such is detrimental to them. The atmosphere is cordial, and there is open communication between us which makes the home more comfortable for them to live in.”
Kayode said once an extended family member is coming to visit or stay with them, they make an effort to introduce such a person to the family, adding that they will let him or her know the things they don’t tolerate in the house. “It’s a collective responsibility,” she said.
The Executive Director Pathfinder and Empowerment Resource Centre, Mrs. Folashade Rojugbokan said the organisation took its campaign against sexual violation to different schools in 15 out of the 23 local government areas in Kaduna State. It has been teaching students both at the primary and secondary levels how to protect themselves.
For violated teenagers, she said her organisation has been working with the Ministry of Human Development and Social Services in Kaduna and rendered psychological help to the victims.
“The ministry made it easy for us because most of the cases there were taken up by the government. We are also in close collaboration with the state Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Department of Sexual Violence and Gender Abuse. The adolescents are speaking up because we can help them with the help of these people.
“Our targets have been secondary schools and teenagers that are out of school, so the campaign has been highly effective, especially with the support of the Ministry of Human Development and Social Services. The response from parents has been tremendous,” Rojugbokan stressed.
She said the organisation has also been empowering school teachers, principals and proprietors on preventive measures and the red flag signs that they should take note of among sexual abusers, as well as how to talk to parents during PTA meetings properly.
“We took our campaigns to religious houses and schools and spoke to the proprietors and school principals. We trained the teachers in the secondary schools and empowered them about preventive measures; and established pathfinder clubs in schools around Kaduna State.
“We talked to them about self-esteem, sex education, emotional intelligence and empathy. The result and feedback have been wholesome. We are looking forward to extending this to other states in the northern part of the country.”
Rojugbokan said she recently carried out a research work about the prevalence and determinants of sexual abuse among adolescents in secondary schools in Kaduna metropolis, noting that the results she got were alarming.
“About 78 per cent of them have been sexually abused and still being sexually abused by the same people because they don’t know what to do. We offered free counselling against sexual abuse, psychological help for those who are in need and even invited some of their parents over especially those who are in need. Once the parents are aware, they can help their children,” she said.
A social empowerment advocate, Mr. Taiwo Akinlami said his organisation created resource materials which were sent to different media to enlighten the public about the rights of the girl-child.
According to him, “our model is predicated on enlightenment which is superior to enforcement. We have created resource materials. For instance, I have a blog where I have 800 articles, and from time to time, I am on TV and radio advocating for the rights of girls. From my personal story, the impact of sexual abuse is internal. Because of that, I had to work extensively in developing materials that can help us to prevent sexual violence.”
When it comes to the issue of sexual violence, he said knowledge is vital, adding that parents must know what to do and have the right attitude on how to do it.
“These are fundamental things that parents need to understand. We have created the resource material on our website, social media, and meeting an initiative campaign to help us to understand the right of children. We try to understand that culture is key which is the dominant value system of the people,” he said, adding that his organisation has been re-orientating the people about their perspective on the girl-child.
“The girl-child is not a sex object; neither must she be portrayed in popular music today. No one should portray the boy-child as a sex-machine. These are things to which we call attention. We have been enlightening people through a lot of advocacy, social empowerment of people with the needed knowledge, skill and attitude to protect their children.”
Taiwo said the organisation made huge progress in creating awareness about the rights and responsibility of parents to children.
“We have been doing a lot of work to ensure that there is policy implementation and enforcement of the law when people become affected. Others include ensuring psycho-social support and addressing the fundamental issue of poverty on the issue of protecting children from sexual violence so that they don’t become easy prey. The response has been encouraging to a large extent.”
Growing numbers and sober statistics
THISDAY checks reveal that girls and women across Nigeria are falling victim of sexual assault and rape.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), sexual and gender-based violence affect an estimated one in three women worldwide. Men and boys can also be targets. Sexual and gender-based violence manifest in physical, sexual and psychological forms. It is a harmful act directed against a person based on gender using coercion.
This reporter visited the Centre for Children’s Health, Education, Orientation and Protection (CEE Hope) a non-governmental organisation located in Ogba, Ikeja and met Miss Mariam Abisoye (not real name), 13, a junior secondary three student of Emmanuel Academy, Akute, Ogun State receiving counselling and words of hope by the founder of the organisation, Mrs Betty Abah. She was a victim of rape.
From a poor background, Mariam had left home that Friday morning before the closure of schools with high hopes just like any of her mates, oblivious of what will occur to her.
On her way from school at about 2pm, four boys accosted her. They poured some powdery substance in her face, and she became unconscious. The boys dragged her into an uncompleted building, gang-raped her. Those she felt could protect her, instead betrayed and deflowered her.
She was miserable and depressed with tears flowing from her eyes as she tried to recall how the gang rape happened.
She shared her story with THISDAY: “When I was coming back from school on Friday, I was accosted by a particular Sheriff who is my boss’ fiancé whom I work for as a trainee auxiliary nurse at Baale Akinwusi Street, in Ajuwon. I noticed he was coming behind me, and he suddenly held my hand and poured a powdery substance in my face. That was the last thing I remembered.
“By the time I regained consciousness, I saw myself in an uncompleted building with blood all over my body. I saw four boys standing there beside me. I asked them what I was doing there. They told me not to worry and threatened that if I alerted anybody, they will kill me. He gave me another powder to rub my face at that point and mentioned his name as Sheriff Agunbiade. Though I was very weak, I discovered that they had removed my uniform and shoes and I was left with the singlet I wore under my uniform in the morning. I managed to escape from the uncompleted building.”
Mariam fears going back to school because of the shame she might face. She said, “My classmates and teachers may think I am a bad girl and may want to stigmatise me.”
Maria’s issue is one of many cases of sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated in Nigeria. Most times, it either goes unchecked, or no one pursues the claims to a logical conclusion because of stigma and the culture of silence in the society.
The Executive Director, The Spring Centre (SARC), Mr. Damola Lapite said his organisation had been engaging parents at the PTA levels while reminding those that have forgotten their responsibilities about the need and the things they ought to do to protect their children.
“We engage in training school owners/administrator, guidance counsellors and caregivers on how to protect children in their care, what to look out for in protecting the children, as well as standard guiding principles to be put in place by their institutions.
“We also engage in public enlightenment campaigns by visiting communities, markets, churches and mosques to teach on protective measures to put in place in protecting the children; and things to watch out for when a child has been or is in danger of being sexually violated.”
Aside the parents and school owners, Lapite said his organisation has been engaging in age-appropriate sexuality education for children of all ages imparting practical knowledge of what is appropriate for them.
“We teach them about their bodies, appropriate and inappropriate touches and about how to protect themselves,” he said.