Nigeria’s new anti-rape law still can’t help victims much

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Court symbol used to illustrate the story.

Hauwa Haruna said the man who raped her young daughter lived nearby in an inner-city slum in Jahi area of Abuja. Once, the man asked the 12-year-old to fetch water for him, but when she did, he took her to a security post where he worked as a guard and raped her. The attacker threatened to kill the girl if she screamed.

The second time, the man asked the minor to help get firewood but raped her yet again. The attacks continued whenever Mrs Haruna and other neighbours left for work, and did not stop until the suspect was caught in the act.

But when Mrs Haruna went to the police in November 2017, the officers demanded money to take her daughter to a hospital for examination. Unable to pay, the family agreed to settle out of court. The police released the girl’s attacker, Sanni Abubakar, a father of eight children, who had earlier been detained at the anti-robbery unit.

No one pressed the case further, in many ways conforming to the unstated but widely used approach of the Nigeria police to rampant cases of rape. Activists, who for years have campaigned for a stricter model that involves a comprehensive investigation, prosecution of offenders, and rehabilitation of victims, say that template leaves thousands of Nigeria’s rape victims without much help.

Sexual violence

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund reported in 2015 that one in four girls and one in 10 boys in Nigeria experience sexual violence before the age of 18. Findings from a national survey carried out in 2014 on Violence Against Children in Nigeria confirmed one in four females reported experiencing sexual violence in childhood with approximately 70 per cent reporting more than one incident of sexual violence.

It means that of the 99.1 million estimated number of women in Nigeria, 24.8 million may have experienced some form of sexual violence. And for almost 70 per cent of that number, it was more than a happenstance.

To further explain how grim the climate is, it is interesting to note that it was found that 24.8 per cent of 14,560,417 (3,610,983) females age 18 to 24 years experienced sexual abuse prior to age 18, of which 5.0 per cent (108,549) sought help, with only 3.5 per cent (126,384) receiving any services.

The criminal and penal codes of 1990 are the laws guiding rape justice in Nigeria. The code is deficient in many ways.

For instance, the law defines rape as having unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or girl without her consent, or with her consent if it was obtained by force or by means of intimidation.

This definition excludes other methods and orifices of penetration, save penile penetration of the vagina. Experts said such is not all-encompassing to help protect citizens.

To mitigate some of the challenges, the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act of 2015 (VAPPA) was enacted with the aim of checking sexual and gender-based violence. It brought with it the expansion of the previously narrow definition of rape, sexual assault and violence.

Heralded as a ground-breaking legislation and proof of government’s refusal at normalising or excusing sexual abuse, the law was drafted to close the cracks through which offenders escape justice.

These gaps include elevating unlawful anal and oral sex to the status of rape, recognising gang-rape and setting a minimum penalty of 12 years imprisonment away from the judge’s discretion for the crimes.

However, despite the grim situation, the law, its implementation and agencies responsible for implementation have all put Nigerian females in a disadvantaged position.

This analysis beams a searchlight on some of the grey areas in the provision of the laws, loopholes in implementation and excesses of implementing agencies.

Absence of rape kits

In organised societies, the first step towards establishing a claim of sexual violation is getting medical examination done with a rape kit. A Rape Kit is a container that includes a checklist, materials, and instructions, along with envelopes and containers to package specimens collected during a sexual assault and forensic examination.

With its innovative methods of thorough data and sample collection, investment in such tools bring an added advantage of “more in-depth documentation, beyond the baseline assessment of Post Exposure Prophylaxis,” explains Dorothy Njemanze, head of the Dorothy Njemanze Foundation, a non-governmental organisation with the focus on amplifying rights of women, children, youth and People Living with Disabilities.

On September 21, this reporter visited the Federal Medical Centre in Jabi, a tertiary health care institution in the FCT. She was told by medical personnel that the kits were not available.

“I suppose that the rape kits are available in some hospital in Nigeria, whereas some hospitals haven’t got them. Ideally, the federal government through the ministry of health is supposed to provide these kits to the hospitals where these cases are reported, but that is not the case. Most hospitals, general hospitals and including my hospital where I work, have never gotten these kits,” a consultant in the hospital said. He did not want to be named since he had no permission to speak on the matter.

The consultant further explained how rape victims are treated in the absence of kits. He added that even though it does not exist, some personnel in Nigeria are trained on how to use it.

“We take vaginal swabs to look out for infections, but hardly take sample for forensics, because that is where the kits come in and because we rarely have it, taking samples for forensics is very difficult”

Mboko Christopher, the Head of the Gender, Adolescent, School Health and Elder (GASHE) Division of the Federal Ministry of Health, said rape kits are only available in specialised clinics in Nigeria.

“There are Rape Kits available but most government-owned clinics in Nigeria may not have it because it is specialised clinics that do such processing and definitely not primary healthcare centres. Doctors are trained to know how to refer their patients to those who have it.”

However, Ms Njemanze, countered the claims, saying that the kit does not exist anywhere in Nigeria.

“A rape kit is not a kit if it doesn’t have specific labelling, that protect the security of the specimens. Even in the Police Hospital in Area 1, Garki that have been a huge support in our work of taking care of victims of sexual abuse, it is only the baseline tests that is available. These sorts of tools should be made available to healthcare facilities, schools, police stations etc. so that every report of abuse can be easily documented even by someone with little experience, speedily,” she said.

Processing of Survivors and Forensics

Looking at investments into forensics testing, which could strengthen medical evidence, the situation is just as grim as ever. Forensics is scientific tests or techniques used in connection with the detection of crime. This is very useful as medical evidence, especially in cases where the perpetrator is unknown, to prove if an accused person committed the crime.

Ms Njemanze told this reporter about two girls, aged five and seven, who while attending primary school in Dutse Alhaji in Abuja were lured with biscuits and raped by multiple people this year. When brought to the hospital, it was seen that one had large deposits of semen and she couldn’t identify who was responsible.

To find out who the perpetrator was, Mr Mboko said this survivor would have to pay for forensics.

“It cost about N150, 000 per sample,” he said. The medical personnel said that the reason for the high cost is the low level of technological development in Nigeria. He added that there are only 2 forensic laboratories in the country, in Lagos and Police Headquarters Abuja.

Ms Njemanze proposed a solution; “These costs and gaps are where policy should come in. We don’t have victim sensitive response protocols. There is supposed to be government support for survivors who have suffered violations. We have beautiful policy action reports on paper but in reality, we don’t have support for abused survivors in Nigeria.”

Zero compensation, huge cost of prosecution.

Reports on rape in Nigeria show that there is a culture of the society normalising or generating excuses for sexual abuse. It is a culture that ignores rape victims’ trauma in complicity with the rapist. Mr Mboko said: “If people do not understand the seriousness no government will go spending so much money to provide these forensic testing facilities.”

The VAPP Act which has established rights of Victims of Violence in Section 38 provides that victims of rape receive the necessary materials, comprehensive medical, psychological social and legal assistance through governmental or non-governmental agencies providing such assistance.

In reality however, victims pay a lot to seek justice and in the end, get little or no support from the government.

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Miss Njemanze captured the situation, “If a two-year-old is raped now in Abuja, when this law applies, that two-year-old is expected to pay for filing in the police station, mobilise the police to take the survivor to the hospital, pay for the baseline assessment test for herself and the accused which may end up costing almost N10,000 and then proceed to pay all the necessary filing fees when the case has begun (if not supported by some form of legal aid either from the government of Civil Society organisations).

“This is the plight of those who may already be economically and socially disadvantaged in the society. We make laws to order society in a way that would be beneficial to all, irrespective of one’s status and standing in life. However, if such laws do not empower those seeking redress, can it be said that the law has done its job?”

Furthermore, she explained that even though the government is meant to be working hand in hand with non-governmental organisations, most times officials antagonise the work of NGOs. There is not enough being done to support the work of NGOs to make this law a reality. This was shown in her case against the Nigeria police won in the ECOWAS court.

Psychogical Care and Rehabilitation

Recent studies have shown that it is vital for sexual assault victims to talk about rape. This is vital to the survivors’ healing from the trauma and psychological damage caused by rape and sexual assault.

A six-year-old rape survivor, Omodasola Omibeku, was first abused by a distant relative. Ms Omibeku said she began to rise above the trauma after she met other victims of sexual abuse at Osowobi’s Stand to End Rape Centre. Ms Omibeku wants her story and how she healed to help other women know it is possible to move past the trauma.

All these stories, point to the fact that psychological care is integral to the welfare of survivors of abuse. Section 38 of the VAPPA states that victims/survivors should be provided with mental, social and psychological care and warns against victim/survivor being discriminated against or punished. This duty was given to both governmental and non- governmental agencies.

This reporter reached out NAPTIP to comment on the present situation of facilities for rehabilitation of survivors of SGBV. Contrary to some victims’ account, the agency said the government has provision for rehabilitation.

“There are government sponsored rehabilitation programmes for victims of sexual abuse being implemented through NAPTIP shelters, Ministry of Woman affairs, Social Development etc. The agency has shelters in Zonal Commands namely Enugu, Uyo, Makurdi, Benin, Lagos, Kano, Sokoto, Maiduguri, Osogbo and Abuja HQ. The agency also collaborates with reputable NGOs and caregivers like WOTCLEF, MeCHAT, Idia Renaissanse, etc. in the rehabilitation of sexual abuse victims,” the agency wrote in an email response.

The claim was countered by Miss Njemanze.

“There is no government-owned shelter for victims of sexual and gender-based violence. NAPTIP has a shelter and it mainly has victims of trafficking. All the times we have had with women and children that need to flee their abuser, there was nowhere to keep them, talk more of providing psychosocial care”.

The Way Forward

A lawyer, Nureini Jimoh, said getting relief for victims is a joint task.

“No single agency of government can address sexual assault prevention alone. Portfolios across all levels of government, including education, health, justice, and crime prevention, as well as the non-government sector and community stakeholders, each have a significant contribution to make.”

Miss Njemeze wants the government to show more will in tackling this menace.

“Many organisations like FIDA, Global Rights have come up with protocol documents based on their experiences and research into best practice, to bridge the gaps found. But the institutions that are meant to provide services keep failing and the reason they are is because the government does not see them as important enough to invest in.

“Deliberate investment by the government is necessary. We have a lot of wonderful things on paper like The National Action Plan on the implementation of the UNSCR 1935 and other related offences, it provides for a wide synergy amongst various institutions yet no implementation, the laws are not feasible without a deliberate push from Government and its agencies.”

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