RAPE MENACE IN NIGERIA

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Rape is defined as the unlawful carnal knowledge of a person without his or her consent, or with consent, if the consent is obtained by force or by means of threats or intimidation of any kind, or by fear of harm or by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the ac

Rape is defined as the unlawful carnal knowledge of a person without his or her consent, or with consent, if the consent is obtained by force or by means of threats or intimidation of any kind, or by fear of harm or by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act. When the term ‘carnal knowledge’ or ‘carnal connection’ is used in defining an offence, it is implied that the offence, so far as regards that element of it, is complete upon penetration. Therefore to prove that the offence of rape has been committed, there must have been a complete act of penetration. The offence of rape is similar to that of defilement. Defilement is, in simple terms, the unlawful carnal knowledge of minors. Statutory rape, on the other hand, is a situation where an adult has ‘consensual’ sexual intercourse with a person who has not attained the statutory age of consent.

The Covid 19 pandemic and the attendant lockdown order mandated individuals to stay home and most non-essential businesses to temporarily shut down. As earlier alluded to, there has been an increased incidence of rape and defilement cases during the lockdown and a number of reasons have been adduced for this state of affairs. For instance, ActionAid Nigeria reported that since the lockdown in March, 2020, it had recorded 253 cases of gender-based violence in Bauchi, Cross River, Enugu, Kebbi alone, which data only represents the number of reported cases and does not, therefore, include cases not reported.

The European Institute for Gender Equality has identified this phenomenon as a global problem and has stated that, although women and men experience the increased gender-based violence, women and girls have, indeed, been worse hit. Consequently, the United Nations has sensitized countries across the globe regarding this development, which it attributes to forced proximity of people caused by the global lockdown.  Arguably, the inability of law enforcement agencies in Nigeria to devise effective strategies towards curtailing acts of violence amongst citizens has in turn resulted in the increase in cases of sexual violence which is evidenced in the nature and sheer brutality of the recently reported cases of rape and murder of girls and women, particularly in the month of May, 2020. It is pertinent to state here that even before Covid 19 existed, sexual offences in Nigeria had been a matter of growing concern, however, it seemed to have taken a turn for the worse since the advent of the pandemic.

 

REASONS FOR CHALLENGES ASSOCIATED WITH RAPE CASES

The difficulty in prosecuting sexual offences in Nigeria has only worsened the rape pandemic as, in most cases, the perpetrators are allowed to walk free and emboldened to re-enact such despicable conduct on future unsuspecting victims. Some of these challenges in prosecuting sexual offences range from the reluctance of victims to report such crimes, the existence of loopholes in the relevant criminal laws relating to sexual offences, ignorance of persons on the proper procedures and channels to follow when such offences occur, the inability to prove such cases successfully when instituted, and the seeming reluctance of judicial authorities to impose the full punishment prescribed by law on convicted offenders.

The reluctance of victims of sexual offences to report cases is a major factor that has compounded the prevalence of such offences. This factor could be traced to the popular notion that a victim must have committed some contributory act (such as wearing clothes that exposed parts of their bodies, moving around late at night, visiting persons of the opposite sex alone etc.) that made him/her susceptible to that crime. The mainstreaming of this societal belief system that entails blaming the victim rather than the perpetrator, is in this writer’s view, at the heart of fixing this social menace: it undermines the effectiveness of any proactive step taken to tackle the problem. The recent case of a mother beating up and blaming her 2-year-old daughter for getting raped and paying no attention to the rapist is a classic case in point. This discourages victims from speaking up as they reckon that their complaints would be treated with kid gloves by the Police.

Lacunas exist in our existing laws on sexual offences which militate against effectual prosecution of complaints. For instance, the offences of rape and defilement are not gender specific, however, the Criminal Act and Penal Code, the prominent laws on sexual offences in Nigeria, both recognize females as the only gender capable of being abused sexually. These provisions make penetration of the vagina an essential element in establishing rape and allied offences. These provisions, in effect, automatically exclude from application cases of sexual abuse against males. The Criminal Code also regards a male below the age of 12 years as being incapable of having carnal knowledge. In the author’s considered view, this provision is completely flawed and does not take into account present day realities in which male children of lower ages have been reported to be involved in such acts. Where the law does not recognize an act as an offence, how then can a victim of same obtain justice and how can such perpetrators be brought to justice?

 

MEDICAL EXAMINATION

Victims of rape and other acts of sexual violence are encouraged to undergo medical examination immediately after the act. A medical examination will involve a simple examination of the victim by a medical practitioner to confirm the fact that indeed there was penetration or other assault of any kind. This examination is usually followed by a medical report which will be tendered in court to prove the offence. This is important because it provides evidence that the victim had been abused and states in details the extent of the abuse. The provision of a medical report provides evidence that establishes one of the most essential ingredients of a sexual offence, which is the fact that sexual intercourse occurred. This evidence must be definitive in its description of the offence as the court may be reluctant to grant a conviction where a medical report is ambiguous or vague in details.

It is important to state here that the ability to produce a medical report does not in itself provide irrefutable proof of rape; as with other evidence, same must be proved beyond reasonable doubt before a court of law. The medical practitioner who prepared the report would be called upon to give evidence and be cross-examined on it. Where it is, however, proved to be genuine, the same would constitute good and credible evidence upon which the courts may convict, especially, when it fits into the timeline of events. The procurement of DNA evidence from the victim during medical examination in cases of rape and defilement can, however, create irrefutable evidence that the offence was, indeed, committed by a Defendant where the DNA obtained from the victim is found to match that of the Defendant.

 

SUGGESTIONS

The scourge of rape and defilement in our society isn’t about to go away unless society adopts deliberate steps to understand its socio-cultural causes and what legislative and institutional reforms are required to contain and ultimately reduce it. Assailants, typically, leave their victims physically and emotionally traumatized. Some survivors are scarred for life and become psychological wrecks. Given the criminal nature of the act and the stigmatization associated with survivors, efforts towards finding sustainable solutions would require a multi-dimensional approach. I have considered and hereby propose the following action points for general application across the country.

 

Sex offenders’ register

This is a register of all convicted sexual offenders in any given country or state as the case may be. This system enables government authorities to monitor and keep track of the activities of sex offenders including those who have completed their sentences. In some jurisdictions, convicted sexual offenders may be required to notify persons living close to or around their residential areas of the fact that they are sex offenders as a means of helping their neighbors be on guard against them. Child sex offenders may be restricted from living in certain residential areas including those in close proximity to schools, day cares and residential areas with a lot of under aged children. In some jurisdictions, sex offenders may be restricted from using the internet freely and from joining certain social media platforms. While, in most countries, these registers are usually only accessible by law enforcement agencies, in the United States, the registry is open and accessible to the public and can be accessed from anywhere in the world as the details are uploaded online. Nigeria does not have any standard sex offender registry. In fact, the only law that makes reference to the operation of a sex offender registry is the VAPP Act, which is not enforceable in all states of the Federation and even the states where it is applicable are yet to fully domesticate and operationalize same. A paradigm shift from victim-shaming to offender-shaming will help raise societal consciousness about the debilitating and multiplier effects of rape on victims, their families and the communities they live in.

 

Public Education and Enlightenment

There is need for a comprehensive sensitization program to be undertaken through both the print and electronic media, digital channels and the organization of seminars, workshops and campaigns in schools, churches, mosques and other religious gatherings, hospitals, social and cultural clubs and groups, to educate society about the major fallacies relating to sexual related issues and how they can be properly addressed. These would help change the negative narratives about sex and educate people on acceptable sexual behaviors within our communities. Also, sex education for children and adults in order to inform them of their rights and limits on sexual related issues should be encouraged. Parents should also pay closer attention to children and teach them the accurate names of private body parts as this will empower them to understand their bodies, ask questions and report any behavior that could lead to sexual abuse.

 

Reformation of existing laws relating to rape

There is a case to be made out for reform and amendment of existing laws on sexual offences so as to provide wider and better protection for victims of gender-based sexual violence. With respect to child-related sexual offences, it is important to raise the ante pursuant to ensuring that children are protected from this scourge and persons with such predispositions are deterred from actualizing their aims. It bears reiteration that the laws protecting children in Nigeria are either not fully operational or not properly enforced in the states where they have been enacted. Also, there should be stiffer and more severe punishment for the abuse of children as opposed to the usual slap on the wrists that offenders receive. Existing laws like the Child Rights Act and the Violence against persons (Prohibition) Act, should be operational in all states in Nigeria. It would help if the security architecture in the country is revisited with a view to improving the level of security and quality of life that citizens are entitled to take for granted under the social contract principle.

 

Support from Counselling and Rehabilitation Centres

Dealing with the aftermath of sexual violence is critical to the process of healing, rehabilitation and reintegration into society of survivors. There are organizations dedicated to providing the necessary assistance to victims. Victims of sexual offences are encouraged to get help from centers and organizations dedicated to providing multi-dimensional and multi-level assistance and support services ranging from provision of access to forensic medical assistance, pro bono legal aid as well as rendering of professional counselling services to victims.

 

 

WRITTEN BY ANYANWU GLORY

(EASTERN POLYTECHNIC FEMALE STUDENT OF 2020/2021)

MASS COMMUNICATION DEPARTMENT

EASTERN POLYTECHNIC, PORT HARCOURT NIGERIA

 

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