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‘Nigerians must collectively refuse to shield rapists’

Vivour-Adeniyi

Coordinator of the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), Titilola Vivour Adeniyi, in this interview advocates that anyone that pleads on behalf of a rapist should be arrested and charged along with the perpetrator.

What do you think is responsible for rising cases of child abuse now, especially rape?
Child assault has always been present in Nigeria but I would say there is now an increase in formal and informal reporting all over the country.

In times past, lots of people didn’t see it as a big deal and those that were affected preferred to keep rape cases quiet. This is no longer the case these days as more and more people are seeing it for the evil it truly is, destroying the life of a child, which should never be kept quiet. There are more channels to report these cases now, especially the use of social media. I acknowledge that sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) especially child sexual abuse is on the increase, however, it is not peculiar to us alone as SGBV remains one of the most under-reported crimes all over the world.

What is the DSVRT doing to stem this ugly tide?
We are doing a lot especially in three major areas — advocacy, awareness, and sensitisation. We cannot do it by ourselves; we need the help of everyone.

If you see something, say something. Don’t say it is not your business. Starting from the family, to caregivers, schools and the community, everyone has a role to play in reducing SBV to the barest minimum. We must engage and teach kids how to set healthy boundaries, teach them what grooming is and how to identify it so they can report it the moment someone tries it with them; teach them about their bodies and what they must not engage in and so on.

We must teach our boys how to respect women and letting them know that assault of any kind is a crime. We must get it right from the cradle as rapists are not born that way but learned it one way or the other. We have to give them first-hand information on what to do and teach parents to inculcate the right values in their children. We are training first responders, building the police’s capacity as well as medical personnel so that they can all provide improved response and secure a strong conviction before a judge.

What can be done when a child falls victim to assault?
We have to ask ourselves, as a society, how do we treat rapists? Do we shield them and continue to live with them knowing what they do or have done? Society must begin to name and shame perpetrators. Encourage and help survivors seek and pursue criminal justice and ensure rapists get punished. We have to begin to take prosecution and conviction of rapists more seriously so that they know there is no safe place for them again.

Rapists get off lightly; often times with pleading with the victims with the help of community members and religious leaders/bodies. This is unacceptable and must stop. Why would you want to plead on behalf of a rapist? People that do this should be arrested and charged along with the perpetrators and I’m sure it would stop.

We are focusing on advocacy and prevention, as we believe this would go a long way in reducing this menace. We are taking the message everywhere and to everyone. The penalty for defilement and rape is life imprisonment in Lagos State and we all need to be aware of this.

The problem is that we trivalise rape and defilement in Nigeria, often equating it with stealing, classifying it as a misdemeanor. No! I say boldly that rape is the same if not more than kidnapping and murder. Nobody pleads on the behalf of kidnappers and murderers; we all want to see them punished severely. Why then do you plead for a rapist? It is the same for rape, because a child’s innocence has been taken away forcefully and killed. They might grow up with all kinds of problems later on in life if the trauma is not properly managed. In that case, have you not taken away a life?

What can be done when a family member assaults a child?
According to our data, over 90 percent of rapists are known to the victims. There is usually a level of care or the person is in a position of caregiver to the child. As parents, you must adopt hands-on parenting; effectively communicate with your children or ward and no matter how little or much time you spend with them, ensure it is quality time. Your children must be able to trust and confide in you; they must feel comfortable telling you things. When you have a good relationship with your child, they will tell you everything.

Child sexual abuse is rooted and shrouded in silence, which gives it room to thrive. If your child is abused, it is not the end of the world. Do not cover it up or attempt to negotiate with the rapist in any way, ensure justice is done. With good counseling, love and psycho-social support, the child can overcome and grow up to be a well-rounded individual. It is sad that a lot of rapists in Nigeria hide under the cover of religion and because we are a religious people, we tend to look the other way and allow them to continue raping women and children in the name of God. This must not be allowed to continue.

Now, if the father rapes his child and the mother becomes aware, she has double duty as wife and mother. However, her duty as a mother must supersede that of a wife and she must ensure the child is protected and the husband removed from that environment immediately. It is easy to condemn some mothers who don’t take action but we must take into cognisance that most times, women whose kids are being raped are themselves victims of unspeakable violence. However, they have to speak up and get help at least for the child. Having sex with anyone under the age of 18 is defilement and you will go to prison for life when you are caught. Having sex with anyone without his or her consent is rape and you will go to prison as well.

It appears rapists are hardly convicted in Nigeria…

(Cuts in) That is not true. We arrest and convict rapists all the time. In fact, I make bold to say that we have secured over 20 rape convictions this year alone and we will still secure more. A few days ago, Justice Sybil Nwaka of the Ikeja Special Offences Court handed life imprisonment to a man in a defilement case.

What is your response to insinuations that some children are assaulted for ritual purposes?
Sadly, raping children for ritual purposes is nothing new as we have heard all kinds of stories over the years. Some rape virgins and children for money, to increase their ages, renew wealth, health or vitality and so on and so forth whilst most are just perverted. However, there is nothing like this in the eyes of the law as the law is clear on what must be done in cases like this. We must all collectively refuse to shield rapists, expose them, ensure they are punished to the full extent of the law and the child must be protected at all costs.

What can the government do to improve this situation and protect children?
We must engage in sustained advocacy, engage communities more and strengthen the capacity of first responders, improve medical facilities and offer better psychosocial support. It is unfortunate that some of our police officers are not properly trained to handle sexual abuse cases and so do not know what to do when they are confronted with it.

As I speak, there are just 12 Family Support Units (FSU) across the whole of Lagos. We need to improve this number. There should be an FSU in every police station in the state. If you report a case of child sexual assault in a police station and you feel dissatisfied with the way it was handled or you were not favourably attended to, please report the case to the gender department of the Lagos State Police Command.

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