With the current campaigns against rape and other forms of sexual abuse in the country, the State needs to rise to the occasion and deal with it. The handling of reported cases by the Police in some situations, has discouraged many victims of rape from coming forward. Today, we shall continue our discourse on this vexed issue, commencing with the causes of rape in Nigeria.
Causes of Rape in Nigeria
Often times, many are quick to attribute rape to indecent dressing of women and girls. However, such a line of thinking offers an escape route to rapists, and in some queer way, justifies rape. It takes the blame from the rapist, and rests it squarely on the victim. The argument that rape is caused by indecent dressing is lame, and a lazy man’s outlet. Such argument forecloses the need for boys and men to be taught the fundamentals of consent, and respect for women. Above all, it exposes an underlying rape culture that our society has deliberately or inadvertently built over the years, of disrespect and maltreatment of women.
a.An Underlying Rape Culture
When reference is made to the existence of a rape culture in our society, there is a tendency to assume that the society consciously and actively promotes rape. However, that is far from the meaning of a rape culture. According to UN Women, rape culture is the social environment that allows sexual violence to be normalised and justified, fuelled by the persistent gender inequalities and attitudes about gender and sexuality.
Our society somehow trivialises, and even excuses rape and sexual assault on the girl child. For instance, most boys and men go about with the impression that they are entitled to a woman’s body, as of right. For instance, if a boy playfully grabs a girl’s bum and the girl reports to the teacher, there is a tendency that the teacher will dismiss such complaint by labelling it “play” between students. The failure of the teacher in this circumstance to correct the boy, leaves him with the impression that he can freely go about grabbing girls’ bums without any negative consequence. It also leaves the girl with the mistaken belief, that a boy is free to touch her bum. This instance might seem trifling, but that is exactly how the rape culture festers.
b.Lack of Diligent Prosecution of Rape Victims in Nigeria
One of the leading causes of rape in Nigeria, is the lack of diligent prosecution of accused rapists, leading to very low convictions of accused rapists. The lack of diligent prosecution, has engendered and empowered prospective rapists with an aura of invincibility. To this extent, rapists go about committing their heinous crimes, knowing full well that they will most likely not be caught, and even if caught, would most likely walk away free. No thanks to our broken justice system.
Similarly, the Police prosecutes a majority of criminal offences in Nigeria, including rape cases. In most cases, these Police officers are not adequately trained, remunerated or as to remain motivated, and not bungle cases assigned to them. The implication of this is that, most persons accused of rape are somehow let off the hook.
c.“Victim Blaming” of Rape Victims by the Society
One of the leading causes of rape in Nigeria, is the disgusting disposition by both men and women in the society to blame rape victims for being raped. Often times, the rape victims are blamed for dressing in a manner considered “indecent”, or for seducing their rapists. With due respect, victim blaming is to all intents and purposes, irresponsible, and promotes a culture of irresponsibility in young men. When victims are blamed for being raped, rapists are condoned and excused. Why is the society obsessed with dictating to a girl what she should wear, instead of teaching the boy to seek express and unequivocal consent from the girl child before sexual intercourse?
Those who make these excuses, fail to consider that babies of less than eight months old (who do not know the meaning of dressing) are also victims of sexual violence. In such circumstances, one is moved to ask what a sixty year old man would find attractive in an eight month old. Insanity on the loose!
Rather than blame victims of rape, boys and men should be taught to respect the bodies of girls and women. They should be taught to always seek consent from girls and women, in the event that they desire to ventilate their sexual muscles.
d. Social Stigma Against Rape Victims
The stigma against rape victims, prevents rape victims from speaking up against their rapists. It also empowers the rapists to continue on their prowl, knowing full well that their victims would rather die in silence out of fear of societal disapproval. The social stigma is also responsible, for the lateness in reporting rape by victims.
e. A Slow Legal System
The Nigerian legal system is traditionally and frustratingly slow, and this, coupled with the uncertainty that surrounds litigation, discourages rape victims from reporting rape cases, or making them undecided whether to report or not.
f. The Publicity of Court Proceedings
Section 36(3) of the Constitution provides that, court proceedings should be conducted in manners that would be accessible to the members of the public. The danger in this is that, in the course of a rape trial, the victim under the fire of cross-examination may be made to reveal details of her private life that she would otherwise desire to be kept secret. This is a huge turn-off and discouragement to rape victims, and it ultimately accounts for the delay in reporting rape cases.
This is a recurrent feature in almost every aspect of life, in Nigeria. It indeed, accounts for the delay in reporting rape cases. Many a time, wealthy Defendants successfully bribe the Prosecutors to bungle the conduct of the trials. In some cases, these Defendants even go further to bribe Judges, who will ultimately return a verdict of “not guilty” in their favour.
Reasons for the Low Rate of Prosecution of Rape Cases in Nigeria
The following are the reasons why rape prosecution cases in Nigeria are low, and almost as if there are no rape cases in the country.
1.The Inability of Rape Victims to Report
This is as a result of the fear of the stigma that may follow, shame or neglect. It is no longer news that rape victims in Nigeria are looked at, as those who have dined with the devil. They are constantly made a topic of derision, even in their absence. It ranges from openly mocking the victims, to being neglected by close family members and friends. In some cultures in Nigeria, some are even seen as having brought shame and dishonour to the family. The agencies put in place to help support such victims, often times, parade such victims to gain public sympathy and financial assistance from members of the public. Statistically, the number of rape cases that have made it to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, are basically those of underage girls who do not usually understand the nature of the offence. Most adults would rather suffer in silence than to come out into the open, so as to avoid public anguish and stigma.
2. No Proper Investigation by the Appropriate Authorities
A typical Nigerian Police station will take the complaint of a rape case over the counter, regardless of persons being there at that particular point in time. Aside delaying investigation or the lack of proper equipment’s both in human and material resources to effectively investigate rape cases, there is a lack of specialised training for Police officers in handling these cases, or in providing support for the victims. Furthermore, forensic identification of suspects cannot be effectively carried out. The use of biological evidence such as blood, semen, saliva, vagina epithelial cells, etc, is totally lacking. Not to mention the monetary mobilisation they usually ask for to fuel their vehicle, or to put men and resources together to help them investigate properly.
3. No Proper Enforcement of Legal Sanctions
It is not enough to have sanctions put in place, when an offence has been committed. It is more important to enforce this punishment, in a very firm and decisive manner. Police authorities should courageously investigate, and recommend for prosecution, alleged rape offenders. The Judiciary, on the other hand, should not shy away from handing out maximum punishment to sex offenders, when the occasion so demands. This will serve as a deterrent, to other members of the public.
4. The Requirements to Prove Rape
In Nigeria, for the offence of rape to be properly established, there must be penetration, and there must also be corroborative evidence which usually comes from eye witnesses account or medical evidence. As regards eyewitnesses’ corroboration, the law requires that such witnesses must have witnessed the actual penetration of the victim’s vagina. The possibility of this happening, is very low. Most times, the act of rape is carried out in a place not easily accessible to members of the public. Even as regards the issue of penetration, the court is always concerned with whether the penis actually entered the vagina at any point. Modern realities have shown that penetration does not only have to do with the vagina, for it to be rape. Many a time, before any person would get to the scene of the crime, the offender would have disengaged from the victim; which ultimately means that, rape as a criminal offence can hardly be established; though a lesser offence of attempted rape may be proved. (To be concluded next week).
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
“Violators cannot live with the truth: survivors cannot live without it. There are those who still, once again, are poised to invalidate and deny us. If we don’t assert our truth, it may again be relegated to fantasy. But, the truth won’t go away. It will keep surfacing until it is recognised. Truth will outlast any campaigns mounted against it, no matter how mighty, clever, or long. It is invincible. It’s only a matter of which generation is willing to face it, and, in so doing, protect future generations from ritual abuse.” (Chrystine Oksana)