FeaturesGender & SGBV

The Walk To Justice Is Extra Bumpy For Rape Victims

Months have passed since Cynthia was sexually abused and the case was reported to the Police without much progress. It has been a long walk to justice for her and her aunt, especially with frustrations from the Police.

There is as much pain as there is rage and exasperation in Grace’s voice. Months have passed since Cynthia, her niece, was raped and the case was reported to the Police without much progress.

“It doesn’t matter what his family does, neither does it matter what the Police do,” Grace says, panting. “I will take this case anywhere, I must get justice for my baby.”

The first time Cynthia was raped, she thought she was delusional and had imagined it, but the telltales on the sheets assured her of her sanity so that even though the man who had done that to her was in the sitting room carrying on as though nothing had happened, she knew that something had.

A family friend

He was present when her parents got married in the North-central part of Nigeria, and months later when the child (Cynthia) came, he congratulated the new parents. Pascal had been in the extended family for so long that he had practically become a family member whom Cynthia called Uncle.

And so when Grace, Cynthia’s aunt with whom she grew up, left both Uncle (who was visiting) and niece at her home for a few days on a business trip, she never imagined that the man would do a thing as unimaginable as he had done.

But Pascal had done it. He had sexually violated 19-year-old Cynthia more than once.

The first time was on a Thursday. He had given an unsuspecting Cynthia tequila-flavoured beer. 

“If my aunty gives me something, I will not ask what it is, I will take it and eat,” she says, explaining that she applied the same principle with her Uncle.

When Cynthia opened her eyes, it was daybreak. She knew immediately that something was wrong but was not completely certain what it was. When she looked around, her bed was extraordinarily messy and there were spots of blood on the sheets. She knew then what had happened. That the man she called Uncle had intoxicated and raped her.

In the hours that followed, the man did not address what happened. Instead, he sat in the living room, relaxing. 

Cynthia was terrified by his indifference.

When he finally summoned her to the living room, it was to tell her to prepare a meal. 

His silence both terrified and confused her; if it were not for the sheets and the pain that tugged at her anytime she urinated, she might have believed his silence to mean nothing happened.

Cynthia tried to evade him by attempting to get her friend Chioma to come to spend the night, and when that failed, she phoned another friend and stayed on the line far into the night. 

A fact sheet by US-based National Child Traumatic Stress Network stresses that one of the reasons teenagers such as Cynthia do not immediately (and sometimes never) disclose sexual abuse is “limits to confidentiality”.

“Teens are more aware than younger children that sexual assault is serious and if they tell someone, the authorities may be notified and become involved,” the organisation said, listing other reasons teenagers choose to be silent.

Cynthia was nerve wrecked but said nothing and hoped for the best.

A second time

On Saturday night, he bought three bottles of the same drink he offered her on Thursday. The sight of those bottles sent chills down Cynthia’s body, heightening the anxiety she already had about him. 

She refused to take the drink when it was offered to her, carefully concealing it and pouring it into the bathroom.

“Whether you like it or not, we have had sex and you cannot escape it,” he said to her when he came back into the room later.

“There was something else he said to me,” Cynthia remembers. “He told me that when my aunty comes back, he will tell her everything and even if he didn’t, he would make it obvious that something has happened between us and that when she asks, he would lie to her and say that I like him and that I consented to have sex with him repeatedly,” she said, her voice small and tired.

Pascal took advantage of his close relationship with her family like many abusers have been shown to. A study on the prevalence of child sexual abuse among adolescents conducted in Southeast Nigeria found that the majority of the perpetrators were persons of trust, most of them being neighbours, family friends, and teachers.

A more recent Nigerian study published in the Journal of child sexual abuse found that “the majority of the perpetrators were their uncles and cousins,” with two-thirds (of those who had been forced to have sex), raped about 2-5 times.

Pascal eventually raped her again. 

At daybreak, he went about as though nothing of the sort had happened, even asking that she prepare a meal as he was hungry.

Cynthia cried all day until her eyes were swollen.

She would later call her friend, Chioma, who then came with her mother to take Cynthia home with them even though she had not revealed the full extent of what happened to her.

Telling her family was a daunting task. She was tired, apprehensive, and generally afraid of what might happen next.

She finally opened up to a friend who urged her to tell her family but Cynthia was so terrified; Pascal’s manipulative words clawed around in her head, gnawing away at her anxiety.

Already, she was going through a host of fears, such as the fear of not being believed, fear of being blamed, and fear of punishment (all of which are typical of a teenager who has been sexually abused) and all the things that Pascal said to her compounded this fear, making her even more reluctant to open up to her family.

“I was scared that they will say, ‘How are you 19 years old and they are raping you?’ or ask me why I don’t have a mind of my own,” she explained.

Her friend persuaded her until she called her aunt and told her all that had happened. She would also return to her aunt’s house while Pascal was away to discretely take a few clothes back to Chioma’s house, where she would remain until her aunt returned.

Finding justice

Cynthia’s aunt was still away on a work trip, so it was Chioma’s mother who took Cynthia to a hospital where it was found, after a test, that there were bruises in her vagina.

Once this was established, Chioma’s mother took her to the Police, who then referred her to the Mirabel Centre, a partner organisation, where it was found again, after another test, that there were signs of rape.

The Police in Lagos State arrested Pascal.

A screenshot displaying messages sent to Cynthia’s aunt by the father of Cynthia’s rapist. Photo: Grace.

Things did not get easier for Cynthia and her aunt after the arrest, it only became more hectic.

Instead of condemnation for what Pascal had done, what followed his arrest was multiple messages from different people telling Cynthia’s aunt to drop the case against the man who had raped her niece.

Cynthia narrates a threat that was delivered physically.

She remembers that it happened on the day they were supposed to have a meeting with the Lagos State Deputy Commissioner of Police. They were around the premises when a man walked up to them.

“He told my aunt that if she remained adamant on carrying on with the case, he would write to my school and that it would backfire on me,” she said, remembering how he said it, not minding her presence.

The man who Cynthia speaks of is a police officer who is also a member of Pascal’s home town. He is not the only person with whom Grace, Cynthia’s aunt, has had to contend with. 

“The Police do not want to do their job,” Grace says, frustration in her voice.

Like many Nigerians, she does not have much confidence in the country’s police force and even though she willed herself to trust them for the sake of getting justice for her niece, she says several occurrences since the process began have made her doubtful of their impartiality and willingness to truly help.

One of those instances was the day they (Cynthia, the deputy commissioner, and Pascal) were supposed to meet the deputy commissioner of Police. An officer had simply told her, a few minutes left from the scheduled time, that the meeting had been postponed without further information or explanation.

Cynthia, already through with her first-semester break, had come all the way from her school located in another state for the meeting, which was rescheduled without warning.

She would come back to Lagos State again for a meeting with an Investigating Police Officer (IPO) only to meet yet another obstacle.

“When we finally got to see the IPO, I was told that Chioma’s mother is the complainant and that the meeting cannot hold without her,” Grace said, recalling that the meeting was also cancelled.

Although it is true that the person who made the first report is referred to as the complainant, the Police failed to inform Grace and her niece about this, causing them undue stress and mental exhaustion.

“Why has the Police been corresponding with me if Chioma’s mother is the complainant,” she said, going on to ask why Cynthia couldn’t be the complainant as she is a 19-year-old.

Another time, when the Police were supposed to visit Grace’s home (the crime scene) for inspection, they did not show up until Grace called them, inquiring what the delay was.

“They answered the call and told me that I am supposed to come to the station to pick them up and take them to my house,” she said, explaining that she complied and drove them to her house even though that was not protocol.

Weighed down by the undue challenges surrounding the case, Grace reached out to Ben Hundeyin, spokesperson of the Lagos Police in a text message asking for his assistance but she was told to go back to the station’s gender Unit to meet with a certain Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) who heads the unit.

Grace’s response detailing what the Police operatives have been saying was not acknowledged.

And so since March when the case was first reported to the Lagos State Police, it is yet to progress to the court.

“The Police have been saying that the reason the case is yet to go to court is because the suspect is sick,” Grace says.

“They said he has been sending them videos of his health condition and that if I insist that he is well, I should send them evidence proving it,” Grace explains, emphasising that she has confirmed that Pascal is “hale and hearty,” in the city where he resides.

HumAngle repeatedly reached out to Ben Hundeyin, spokesperson of the Lagos State Police, for comments on the conduct of the Police in this case but was unable to establish contact even after texts and calls.

Many victims and families of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Nigeria have made similar complaints.

In 2022, HumAngle published a story about the case of a minor whose alleged rapist was scheming with the Police so as to frustrate justice.

Like Grace, many in Nigeria have lost faith in the ability of the Police force to ensure that justice was served. This lack of confidence in the system has also dissuaded many victims and their families from coming forward with their reports of abuse.

A National Crime and Safety Survey carried out in 2012 by CLEEN Foundation across the 36 States of Nigeria says that only 23 per cent of rape cases were reported to the Police during its study, leaving about 77 per cent of cases unreported.

With 32 per cent, Police insensitivity is the top reason why women did not report they had been raped. Other reasons mentioned were “fear of stigma (21 per cent), accused may not be arrested (21 per cent) and Police corruption (14 per cent).”

What are stakeholders saying?

Chinwe Onyeukwu, the executive director of Women Africa, a gender-equality-based NGO, who spoke with HumAngle, said that while she is unable to share specific instances due to confidentiality, she can confirm that, like Cynthia and her aunt, many victims of rape and their family members have faced similar situations.

Speaking on the lack of trust and confidence in the Nigerian Police, she said that victims and their families sometimes raise concerns ranging from “lack of sensitivity and empathy towards victims, allegations of demands for money to carry out investigations, corruption or favouritism towards the accused.”

But Onyeukwu explains, as in many other issues, the above situations do not happen in all Police stations across the country and is therefore not representative of the entire Nigerian Police force.

She also points out that while the fear for personal safety, fear of retaliation, societal stigma and lack of trust in the justice system are some of the reasons victims of rape hesitate from reporting their ordeal, other fears associated with the Police also contribute.

“In the case of the Nigerian Police, fear of trivialisation of the case, delayed investigations, and lack of professionalism can deter victims,” Onyeukwu said.

But Grace is not deterred, she continues to hope that the Lagos State Police will do what is right and ensure that justice is served.

Cynthia hopes for the same.

“There are two ways about it. My aunty is trying really hard. If she wasn’t pushing this hard, I don’t think he would be locked up. She is pushing strongly and some people are making it difficult for her at the same time,” she explains.

All the names of those mentioned in this report have been changed to protect their identities. 

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Chigozie Victor

Chigozie Victor is a journalist and a creative writer. Her work focuses on SGBV, policy and security infrastructure. The graduate of English and Literature from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka is passionate about helping audiences understand salient issues through clear reporting and multimedia journalism. She tweets at @nwaanyi_manaria

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