Rape: A costly lifelong burden
Lately, Nigeria has been overwhelmed by anger and resentment against rising rape incidents. They seem unending and the gory details too bloodcurdling to recall.
On Saturday, June 13, Nigerians were shocked about the brutal rape and murder of Grace Oshiagwu, inside a church in Ibadan, Oyo State.
The 21-year-old student was discovered with deep machete cuts on her body.
This was while Nigerians were yet to come to terms with rape and murder of Uwaila Omozuwa, a UNIBEN student, on May 27, inside a church in Benin City, Edo State.
On June 1 and 5, Barakat Bello, 18, and pregnant Azeezat Somuyiwa, 29, were respectively hacked to death after being raped in Ibadan, Oyo State.
Jennifer, 17, suffered the same unfortunate fate as she was ambushed and gang-raped by three, suspected street urchins, in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State. Luckily, she survived to recount her ugly ordeal.
Elizabeth Ochanya, died on October 17, 2018, following health complications after being serially raped by her guardians in Benue State.
Her demise drew attention to the terrible issue of rape and exposed the failure of the Nigerian society to protect women and the girl child from being prowled on by sexual predators.
Rape is the act of forcefully having sexual relations with a person without consensual approval.
Nigeria has increasingly recorded an upsurge in the number of gender-based violence, especially rape and child defilement. Interestingly, according to RAINN, an American anti-sexual violence organisation, 90 per cent of adult rape victims are female.
There is no age limit to this barbaric act, even as tribe, colour or class are irrelevant with this heinous crime
Even though the list of rape victims in Nigeria is endless, it will be difficult to compile a list of those who have had to deal with this menace in the country.
This is because statistical reports on rape cases over the years have been inaccurate as most incidents go unreported due to fear of stigmatisation and lack of follow-through investigations by law enforcement agents and agencies.
The United Nations Children’s Fund said one in four boys and one in 10 girls under 18 years are victims of sexual violence.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, also said nearly one in five women are raped or sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, often by someone they know and trust.
The World Health Organisation said 35 per cent of women worldwide experience some kind of physical or sexual assault in their lifetime, with adolescent girls much more likely to be victims of rape, attempted rape or assault.
A 2016 report, “Violence Against Children in Nigeria,” by UNICEF revealed that four out of 10 girls experience sexual violence between the ages of six and 11, while it is one in every 10 for boys before they become adults.
Though rape is endemic in many countries, perpetrators in Nigeria seem to be getting more emboldened daily.
According to the Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, a total of 717 rape cases were recorded between January and May 2020.
Experts and concerned Nigerians say rape has become a pandemic, this is even as governors in the country recently unanimously declared a state of emergency on it.
Already, Nigeria is said to be trailing India, as the most dangerous place for women of all ages.
Concerned, the President, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), in his democracy day speech said he is determined to fight Gender-Based Violence through the instrumentality of the law and is upset at recent incidents of rape, especially of very young girls.
“The police are pursuing these cases to bring perpetrators of these heinous crimes to swift justice,” he assured.
Victims of rape are mostly stigmatised and blamed by society for being responsible for the crime.
This makes them recall into their shells and become wary of voicing out their encounters – they painfully bear the pain in silence.
Psychologists say the psychological pain caused by sexual violence runs deeper than people can fathom and that the pain is unending as victims are scarred for life.
Beyond rape, victims and their family members live a life of trauma and are daily haunted by the bestial experiences.
They are subjected to detrimental mental torture, which experts say leads to depression, suicide ideation and deviant behaviours.
In the words of Sonia Okodo, a victim, “The invisible wounds from rape are far more devastating and far harder to repair.”
According to Rutgers-New Brunswick study, the mind of a rape victim is a constant battleground where blame, regrets, suicidal thoughts and depressive spells fight for supremacy.
It notes that victims of sexual assault experience more vivid memories than women coping with the aftermath of other traumatic, life-altering events not associated with sexual violence.
Studies revealed that 70 per cent of rape victims experience moderate to severe post-traumatic stress disorder and have a hard time overcoming it.
This medical condition typically takes the form of nightmares, anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, flashbacks, eating disorder, feelings of guilt and shame that can surface immediately or years after.
Bukola Lameed, a psychologist, counsellor and therapist, explained that, regardless of age or gender, the impact of rape goes far beyond any physical injuries.
She explained that the trauma of rape or sexual assault can be shattering, leaving victims feeling scared, ashamed and alone.
She warns that if not properly handled, in the case of a minor or teenager, it could further push the victim into trauma.
“They become withdrawn, resort to bedwetting, thumb-sucking, aggression, cluelessness, drug addiction, bold mindset to venture into prostitution, depression, followed by suicidal thoughts.
Some become lesbians because they detest the opposite sex.”
Prof. Kayode Taiwo, a clinical psychologist and personality assessment, Lagos State University, said victims can only find closure if they come to terms with it as one of life’s challenges.
“It would not seem as if it never happened. It would be like a wound that seals, leaving them stronger and more determined.
“The first step to healing is seeking help, professionally or by speaking with a close, trusted person,” he said.
Finding closure, in the words of Maymunah Kadiri, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, is a long road to traverse for victims. She said rape equates to losing something too precious, hence, victims go through stages of grief to heal.
“To get closure, a rape victim will have to first go through shock or denial stage, then anger, bargaining, depression or full clinical depression. Acceptance is the last stage. They must go through counselling and mental evaluation.”
Many have blamed the risen on the inability of public institutions to address the menace.
Punishment for rapists, they averred, is like a mere slap on the wrist. The police and other law enforcement have variously been accused of complicity and treating suspects with kid gloves.
Laws against rape, many insist is not deterrent enough and has fueled a pervading culture of silence on rape.
In Nigeria Criminal Code, punishment for rape, as spelt out in Section 358, is life imprisonment, while an attempt to commit rape attracts just 14 years.
Not much has been heard about the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act passed into law in May 2015, and which came up based on agitations for protection of persons against the different forms of violence.
The criminal and penal codes of 1990 laws guiding rape justice in Nigeria has also been adjudged to be deficient in many ways.
Many have concluded that the voice against rape is criminally silent; the law, ineffective, while the institutions to render support are sick and culpable.
Rape will continue to happen until a highly deterrent law to curtail the act is enacted and enforced.
However, beyond security and legal measures, punitive steps and advocacy, victims of rape should get psychological and psycho-social support to ensure wholesome healing.