Three-year-old Deborah* was playing with her mates outside her home when one of her neighbours decided to take her for a short walk.
The toddler’s parents did not think much of it, it was usual for this neighbour to display kindness and affection to the young kids in their community in Numan, Adamawa, northeast Nigeria.
The man Humangle is calling Abel* led Deborah to the grounds of a community primary school and raped her.
Deborah’s grandmother told HumAngle that when she realised that it was past play-time and her grandchild was yet to return home, she decided to raise an alarm. She led people to search for the girl.
“We went to the primary school area and saw her lying outside the premises, groaning in pain. She was already stripped of her clothes and could barely stand. The signs were everywhere,” she said.
Deborah was taken to a medical centre, where it was confirmed she had been raped.
Asked if the perpetrator denied what he had done, Deborah’s grandmother said: “There was no way he could have denied it, because people saw him leading her to the primary school that evening, but no one suspected a thing.”
But despite the clear signs of guilt, Deborah’s father decided not to take any action against the man, who was a neighbour.
Deborah’s terrible ordeal was not brought to the attention of the authorities, and the man who did it was allowed to continue his freedom, perhaps to rape other children in future.
HumAngle, through its Accountability Fellow Programme, has reported on several cases of rape in in the last few months.
In each case Humangle reported, there is a common thread; pressure brought to bear on the victims and their families to let the crime go, to not report it to the authorities.
In the case of Monsiri, a young man who was raped, his relatives were persuaded to drop the case and not report it to the authorities by the influential relatives of the man who raped him.
The relatives of the man who raped Benjamin Laman’s two children tried to persuade her to not pursue a legal case against the guilty man. She felt additional pressure from the community when she did report him to the police.
Shortly after, the mother of two had to leave her community because of this pressure.
Deborah was raped in December 2020. A week after she started having problems each time she wanted to urinate. She could not walk long distances because of the pain.
Upon hearing about the matter, Deborah’s uncle condemned his brother’s refusal to take legal steps. He took the girl to Hope Centre, an organisation where cases of violence against women and girls are handled in Numan.
The centre opened a case file in Deborah’s name, offered her free drugs and facilitated a series of medical tests.
But her parents frustrated the centre’s efforts, staff say.
Deborah’s father stopped showing up when the non-profit organisation briefed the police about the case for possible arrest and prosecution of the perpetrator.
“Deborah’s case is that of negligence from her family,” says Glory Masai, of the Hope Centre.
“When she was brought to the centre in 2020, we asked her family to return for weekly check-ups but they never showed up. All efforts to reach them proved abortive as her father’s phone number was no longer reachable, perhaps because we contacted law enforcement agents,”
According to Masai the centre often sees cases where survivors, or their parents, are persuaded to withdraw from pursuing justice.
“It is so because perpetrators are mostly family members or close acquaintances. In some cases, parents of survivors don’t even report at all.”
She added that the centre has a counselling unit headed by an expert who guides survivors on the need to pursue the cases, but nevertheless families actively resist moving forward.
Aishatu Kabu Damboa, the Executive Director at Zenith of the Girl Child and Women Initiative Support, an organisation that provides support for domestic violence survivors in Borno State, said families allow perpetrators to get away with these crimes because of shame and stigma.
They hope if they don’t press charges, the whole situation will just go away, and life will go on as it did before.
“Parents and guardians of survivors tend to favour perpetrators in circumstances where the perpetrators are close acquaintances,” Kabu Damboa said. “This is because they wouldn’t want their wards to suffer stigma, because survivors are often judged and this affects their livelihoods, especially children.”
Speaking with HumAngle, the survivor’s father Joseph*, said he was “forced” to let it go when the perpetrator and other members of his family “pleaded with him”.
“I was mad at the man that raped my daughter. We are neighbours and pretty much like family, but he defiled my daughter. I cursed him from the moment I learned about the incident,” he said.
“But I didn’t report the case as I planned.”
Because the crimes are not reported, getting reliable figures for how often this happens is impossible.
But according to the United Nations’ child rights body UNICEF, six out of every ten children in Nigeria experience some form of violence. One in four girls, and 10 percent of boys have been victims of sexual violence.
Of the children who reported violence, fewer than five out of every 100 received any form of support.
During a HumAngle accountability fellowship Sex and Gender Based Violence sensitisation and awareness session in February, our reporter observed that Deborah could barely walk properly, long after the incident.
Now almost five years old, she was complaining she was in pain.
Asked why they never returned for medication and legal investigations, the survivor’s father said he “didn’t get the part where they said we should come back.”
Speaking with HumAngle, Doctor Bulus Ishaya, a medical practitioner with the Moddibo Adama University Teaching Hospital in Yola, said she might be battling a genital injury like a perineal tear or extragenital injury leading to incontinence.
Our reporter later returned with Deborah to Hope Centre, where a series of new medical tests were conducted. She was said to have suffered from a severe infection that required a series of follow-up visits.
She has since been given some drugs for her physical recovery.
Meanwhile, Doctor Ishaya added that Deborah’s case should be monitored closely.
Survivors of sexual abuse can continue to suffer throughout their lives, even if they don’t have a memory of the original incident. Psychological trauma, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among other conditions, is common.
Deborah may need therapy for her mental health many years from now.
Pretending like it never happened will not be an answer.
*Names of the people connected to the crimes contained in this report have been changed to prevent future identification of the infant victim.
Efforts by HumAngle to speak to Abel proved abortive, as he avoided our reporter during visits to the community.
Saduwo Banyawa is a 2023 HumAngle Accountability Fellow from Adamawa, Nigeria.
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