International human rights organisation, Amnesty International, in a new report has expressed concerns over under-reported rape cases in the country due to stigma, victim blaming, and how police failure to investigate sexual violence deprives survivors of justice.
The report released on Wednesday, Nov. 17, titled “A Harrowing Journey; Access To Justice for Women and Girls Survivors of Rape” which covered cases of sexual violence on women and girls, revealed that a total of 11,200 rape cases were reported last year, including children raped to death despite the Nigerian authorities’ declaration of a “state of emergency” on sexual and gender-based violence.
According to the rights group, rape persists at crisis levels with most survivors denied justice, rapists avoiding prosecution, and hundreds of cases of rape going unreported due to pervasive corruption, stigma, and victim blaming.
The experiences documented include that of a six-year-old and an 11-year-old who were attacked so viciously they died.
The report revealed how harmful cultural stereotypes, failures of law enforcement to investigate rape cases, misogyny, and insufficient support for survivors, have created a culture of silence and impunity which continues to fail hundreds of women and girls every year.
“Concrete actions have not been taken to tackle the rape crisis in Nigeria with the seriousness it deserves. Women and girls continue to be failed by a system that makes it increasingly difficult for survivors to get justice, while allowing perpetrators to get away with gross human rights violations,” said Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria.
“The fear of not being believed, or even being blamed for being raped, is creating a dangerous culture of silence that prevents survivors from seeking justice. It is unacceptable that survivors of rape and other forms of gender-based violence face such a torturous ordeal to get justice, which only adds to their pain. The ‘state of emergency’ has proven to be an empty declaration, which has so far done nothing to protect women and girls in Nigeria.”
The report is based on research carried out between March 2020 and Aug. 2021, including interviews with 14 women and girl survivors of rape aged between 12 and 42. Amnesty International researchers also interviewed seven parents of child survivors. Interviews were conducted in Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Sokoto, and Bauchi states.
Pandemic of rape
Rape continues to be one of the most prevalent human rights violations in Nigeria.
The report revealed that following the lockdown imposed to tackle the spread of COVID-19 in 2020, there was an upsurge in rape cases. In June 2020, Nigeria police said they had recorded 717 incidents of rape between January and May last year. In April 2020, Nigeria’s Minister of Women Affairs Pauline Tallen said at least 3,600 rape cases were recorded during the lockdown, while the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) received 11,200 reported rape cases in 2020.
As reports of rape escalated across Nigeria, state governors declared a “state of emergency” on rape and gender-based violence in June 2020. They also promised to set up a sex offenders register. But over a year since their declaration, nothing has changed, as more cases of rape have been reported.
One victim, Vera Uwaila Omosuwa, a 22-year-old microbiology student, was raped and brutally assaulted in 2020 in a church near her home in Benin, Edo state, and died a couple of days later from her injuries.
Hamira, a five-year-old, was drugged and raped by her neighbour in April 2020. Her injuries were so bad she could no longer control her bladder.
Barakat Bello, an 18-year-old student, was raped during a robbery in her home in Ibadan, Oyo state. She was butchered with machetes by her rapists and died on 1 June 2020.
Favour Okechukwu, an 11-year-old girl, was gang-raped to death in Ejigbo, Lagos state. A 70-year-old woman was raped in Ogun state. In May 2021, a six-year-old girl was raped to death in Kaduna state.
Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International also stated that “the COVID-19 pandemic only exposed what has been going on for so long. Not only are women and girls being raped in Nigeria, but when they are brave enough to come forward they are being dismissed by police officers as liars and attention-seekers – slurs which inflict further injury.”
The report further revealed that despite Nigeria’s international human rights obligation to enact, implement and monitor legislations addressing all forms of violence against women, women and girls continue to face discrimination in law and practice.
The definition of rape under the Criminal Code, which is applicable in the southern part of Nigeria, and the Penal Code, which is applicable in northern Nigeria, are both outdated. The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act expanded the scope and definition of rape but was silent on consent.
“Notwithstanding expanding the legal scope of the definition of rape the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act and other laws have limited jurisdiction. Even in states where the Act and other laws have been domesticated, there has been no enforcement or implementation,” said Osai Ojigho.
According to the report, survivors and NGOs interviewed for this research said stigma and victim-blaming are key factors hindering the reporting of rape. Survivors shared distressing experiences of both, and told Amnesty International that they did not report due to fear of being disbelieved and blamed. Children, who are increasingly becoming targets of sexual violence, face particular challenges in reporting these crimes because of a lack of reporting process that is child-friendly.
“Some survivors said they were discouraged from seeking justice because of the toxic attitude of police officers towards gender-based violence, which manifested in humiliating lines of questioning and victim-blaming. In addition, decrepit police stations often lack the space for privacy that survivors need to make their statements.”
“Onyinye, a 14-year-old, was raped by her neighbour when she was sent by her mother to help fix his phone. When Onyineye and her mother went to the police station to report the crime, not only did a female police officer slap the girl and pull her ear, Onyinye’s mother was also scolded for not giving her daughter a ‘good upbringing’.”
It also highlights the challenges of activists and lawyers who have decried the poor quality of police investigations into rape cases. In some cases, perpetrators bribe the police not to investigate their crimes. The police have also advised survivors and perpetrators to settle cases outside the scope of the criminal justice system, which only perpetuates violations of women’s human rights and impunity for rape.
Amnesty International therefore called on Nigerian authorities to act now to protect women and girls from rampant sexual violence. “All reported cases of rape must be thoroughly, promptly, and impartially investigated and perpetrators must be prosecuted, and if convicted, sentenced with appropriate penalties. Existing discriminatory laws must be repealed and followed up with a concrete implementation and enforcement framework.”
“Nigerian police must provide all necessary support to survivors and act in line with their code of conduct, by providing safe process of seeking justice for survivors to report rape and other gender-based violence and get justice.”
The organizsation also advised that Courts must ensure that cases of sexual violence are fairly and promptly prosecuted. Any backlog in rape cases that may create unacceptable barriers for rape survivors’ access to justice must be addressed.
“Nigeria must protect women and girls by ensuring that perpetrators of rape face justice and survivors get protection and psychosocial and medical support. The tide of sexual impunity against women and girls must be turned now,” said Osai Ojigho.
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