By Joy Ehonwa
How does a victim of rape get justice in Nigeria? This was the topic of discussion on this week’s episode of #NascoMoments on City 105.1 FM. To shed light on this sensitive yet serious issue, Joy Isi Bewaji invited a lawyer, Akintoba Kalejaiye, and as usual, there was a lot to learn.
Rape is the act of forcing sexual activity upon another person against their will, and it stands to reason that this terrible crime should be punished swiftly. So how and where do complications come in?
Help, I Have Just Been Raped!
Ideally, the first thing to do is to report to the police immediately. If you want forensic evidence to be preserved, DO NOT TAKE A BATH. Hair and semen samples are needed to establish a case of rape, and as much as you want to scrub off the filth, you’re advised not to. Secondly, go to a hospital and get yourself tested and vaccinated against infections. Thirdly, get a support system. If you can’t get a psychiatrist, then lean on family and friends who are not apathetic to your case.
Police is (Not) Your Friend
Now, the above steps actually only make sense in an ideal world. Here in Nigeria the victim who tries to carry out step number one finds to her dismay that the police are not really cooperative. We can’t entirely blame them; they have no knowledge of what to do. Whereas in developed countries a rape kit is available to help police nail the culprit, Nigerian police have no training on how to handle rape cases. Add to this the fact that there are no laws to make sure they do their jobs properly; going to the police may very well be a waste of time.
What About DNA?
DNA is a very important part of rape justice. If you’re like me you’ve been watching a lot of Crime and Investigation shows, and assume that things happen in Nigeria the way they do in developed countries. I was shocked to learn the truth about DNA testing in Nigeria:
- Because our police are ill-equipped to investigate rape cases properly, a rape victim has to go to a lab and get forensic evidence on her own. In Abuja perhaps, police can try to help, but even that is iffy.
- It is expensive to get samples analysed- the kind of analysis you need to establish a rape case costs about N400, 000.
- We do not even have the equipment in Nigeria: the samples are sent to South Africa for analysis.
What all of this means is obvious; the average Nigerian cannot get justice for rape.
The Law is an Ass
Until few years ago, before the Evidence Act was amended, it was okay to bring evidence of a victim’s promiscuity to discredit her in a rape case. Many rape cases were actually struck off as a result of this. Can you imagine that? There are still roadblocks that need attention:
- Rape cases can take a long time: Whereas in developed countries rape cases are expedited, cases in Nigeria can take years unless the judge is particularly disposed to rape cases.
- You need an eye witness: In the absence of DNA evidence, corroboration is the only way to get justice: the victim needs to have someone who saw the act of rape happen. Toba has worked on a case where the victim secured justice, and it was because she had witnesses. Her brother burst in and raised alarm, and people came in. The rapist was careless enough to do it in that setting. The reality is that only about 2% of people have witnesses to their rape, as most rapists isolate their victims. Back to square one.
- He cannot rape you, he’s your husband: Marital rape is not recognised in Nigeria. A spouse forcing himself on his wife (or vice versa) is not considered as a crime. Since according to our law rape cannot occur in marriage, the best you can get is indecent assault. Of course that doesn’t even begin to cut it!
- Only a woman can be raped: Female victims of rape are the only ones recognized by our laws. When a man is raped, the law considers him to have been assaulted indecently. Perhaps sodomy laws can help him, but this is an entirely different thing.
It Has Happened, Just Let It Go
Social and religious shaming is real. Families have been known to tell victims to be quiet about rape cases to avoid embarrassment. Toba once worked on a case where a five-year-old girl had been raped. He was ready to pay from his own pocket for her evidence to be processed, but her parents backed out, and the poor child was denied justice. The rapist was smiling in court on the day he was arraigned, because he knew nothing would come of it.
What Can We Do?
The penalty for rape is 14 years to life, but the situation in Nigeria is dire, so rape has taken a backseat to other criminal acts. It is hard to get a conviction. At the end of the day, it’s going to take the lawmakers to change the law, but while efforts are ongoing to drive that ass the way it should go, here’s what we can do:
- Educate: Between 2012 and 2013, there were 678 cases of rape reported. We can’t even begin to imagine the number of cases that weren’t. Worse still, survey after survey shows that many Nigerians still believe the cause of rape is indecent dressing! This shows that we still have a lot of work to do in educating people.
- Speak: There’s a silence around rape that perpetuates it, and we must break it.
- Monitor: Earlier this year, the sexual offences bill was passed to ensure that anyone who rapes a child (13 years and below) gets life imprisonment. Still, prevention is better. Mothers especially need to pay attention. Child rapists are usually people known to and trusted by children. There have been many cases where the fathers have been the rapists.
- Respond: When kids complain, don’t shut them down. Don’t beat them for being raped or tell them to be quiet about it.
- Protect: It is unfair to post images of a victim – who is sometimes just a child with a future ahead of her – on social media instead of images of the perpetrator. We must protect rape victims.
As usual, there was Nasco Trivia. What is Nasco’s pay off line? Send your answer to 08033286604 or tweet it using the hashtag #NascoMoments and you could be the winner of a Nasco goody bag!