DSVRT, Ministry of Justice partner journalists in the fight against SGBV, child abuse

According to the DSVRT, this scenario above is more common than most people realise as one in every five women is/has been a victim of sexual assault and over 35percent of women have experienced physical violence.

The Rising number of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), assaults and Child Abuse as well as a poor number of reported cases are seemingly defying solutions in the countr, but the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) say they are equal to the task and will not rest until it is obliterated, writes TOBI AWODIPE.

Tolani is an eight-year-old child living in a suburb of Lagos. Sometimes this year, Mr. Ogunsola, a resident of a flat in a block of flats in which Tolani lives with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Olorunda, noticed that Tolani, a usually playful and bubbly girl was sitting alone one afternoon while the other children in the compound played. When he asked her why, Tolani started crying. She said her uncle, Tope, had done “something” to her. From her explanations, Tope had sexually assaulted the little girl. Paying a visit to the girl’s parents, they reluctantly told him that Tope had been caught with his hands in the little girl’s private parts before and had been sent away from the house but decided to keep it in the family to “safeguard’ Tolani’s reputation.

According to the DSVRT, this scenario above is more common than most people realise as one in every five women is/has been a victim of sexual assault and over 35percent of women have experienced physical violence. Lamenting the fact that reportage of sexual assault cases to the proper authorities is still poorly abysmal, standing at between 13.8%-15%, they revealed that most parents and guardians want to keep it quiet because of the shame and stigma attached to sexual assault in Nigeria. Furthermore, 1 in 4 children would be abused, either physically, emotionally, verbally or sexually before the age of 18.

Speaking to journalists at the one-day event in Lagos, the Director, Citizen’s Rights, Ministry of Justice and Alternate Chairman, DSVRT, Clara Omotilewa Ibirogba, described Gender Based Violence (GBV) as any form of violence directed and inflicted upon a person solely for reason of his/her gender. “Although both sexes experience GBV, our evidence shows that women suffer it the most.” Listing forms of GBV to include rape, physical assault, abuse, economic abuse, harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, widowhood practices and forced marriages, she said women are most likely to suffer at least one of this compared to men.

Saddened that several false myths still surround Domestic Violence, she pointed out that it is not limited to poor people, illiterates or rural people as anybody from any walk of life could be a victim. Moving on to child abuse she said this include neglect of any kind, abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, maltreatment and any act done which is not in the best interest of the child. Frowning at many practices which Nigerian parents see as normal like flogging excessively, causing bodily injury, bite marks, poor hygiene, lack of supervision, wearing inappropriate clothing for them and so on, she describes all these as abuse that are punishable under the law.

Listing several behaviours under sexual abuse to include engaging in any form of sexual activity with a child, prostitution of any kind, age-inappropriate knowledge of sexual behaviour, sexually explicit drawings and songs, unexplained itching, pain or bruising in genital areas, veneral disease or yeast infections and impregnating a girl under the age of 18, she reveals that the agency and the government is going to start clamping down on perpetrators and asked that the public cooperate with them.

“Children are easily affected and the impact of all these can range from anything to fear, inability to create friendships or develop social skills, fear of expressing feelings, poor learning skills, low self-esteem, feelings of guilt/shame, regression, withdrawal, violent anger, demanding and clingy or knowledge of inappropriate sexual talk and behaviour which can be damaging to them in the long run. Incidences are mostly inaccurate or go unreported because of fear, stigma and influence from the abuser of the victim’s family,” she said.

The Zonal Police PRO, Zone 2, SP Dolapo Badmus speaking on Best Practices for Investigating SGBV and What The Nigerian Police Expects opined that prosecuting sexual criminals has always been very difficult for the police as most times, victims change their minds while some even deny everything, claiming nothing happened. According to Badmus, this usually presents a huge problem for them and despite pleas to not fear the perpetrator, most victims don’t turn up to court and the case is dropped. “I can confirm that we have seen cases where victims drop cases because the perpetrator gave the victim’s family milk and beverages or quarter bag of rice and some yams. I was stunned and despite pleas to follow the case and get justice for the victim, it fell on deaf ears.”

“Reporting SGBV cases have always been looked upon as an abomination as perpetrators are usually known people or family members and pressure comes from the family not to report the case or drop it. Sometimes, some victim’s families only report cases to us when they couldn’t get enough money or gifts from the perpetrator and this is months or even years after the incidence has occurred, making it impossible to get any specimen or evidence from the victim. If you have been physically abused, snap some picture evidence and show it to us and we would take up your case.”

She urged journalists not to regard SGBV reporting as a means to win awards or ‘break’ stories but as a moral responsibility that would force society to acknowledge that we have a serious problem at hand and look for how to end it. “Reports should place pressure on policy makers to legislate policies that would end SGBV and when such legislation exist, to enforce it.”

Urging journalists to ignore cultural, religious and traditional biases when reporting cases of SGBV and child abuse, she stressed that survivor’s best interest must be served and protected at all times and the individual’s right to dignity and confidentiality must be prioritized. “Writing about the survivor’s sexual history or anything that can put blame or judgment on the survivor must be avoided. Do not give details that can put them at risk but ensure to include information on local help services that survivor’s can go to for help and support.”

The coordinator of the DSVRT, Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi revealed that though reporting of child abuse and sexual violence is on the rise in the state, a lot still needs to be done to remove the blame, shame and stigma attached to it. She stressed that anyone going through or seeing anyone going through any form of abuse should call the state’s emergency numbers (112), any police station, the DSVRT (08137960048), or visit any primary health care centre and they would be directed accordingly for immediate help and support.

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