Rape remains one of the more prevalent but under-reported crimes in Nigeria. Lagos State alone reported 12, 120 cases of rape in the last four years. The number of rape cases in the country has always been cause for concern for both government and non-governmental organisations in Nigeria, like Project Alert, who campaign nonstop against it.
These concerns pushed the Lagos State Government Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) to approach the Lagos State legislature for a solution, to which it has now responded by deeming it a criminal offence to not report cases of rape to the appropriate authorities. This crime is punishable by a two-year imprisonment. The law affects employees under the state government who work directly with children.
This law was a follow up to the training of 190 people as ‘responders’ to cases of rap and sexual abuse by the Lagos State Government that was just concluded on August 16 of 2015. The responders are teachers, nurses, and social workers equipped with skills that enable them to obtain information concerning cases of sexual abuse and report them adequately.
In the United States the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that 68 percent of rape cases do not get reported; nine out of 10 women are victims, children constitute 12 percent of victims, and 98 percent of sexual offenders never spend a day in prison. The low numbers of reported cases are because most of the victims feel ashamed and traumatized. In countries like Nigeria where society attaches great stigma to victimes of sexual violence, these numbers are likely higher. Some place are known for their maltreatment of rape victims, with countries like the United Arab Emirates, Somalia, India, and Afghanistan even throwing them in prison in extreme cases.
In response to this particular problem, Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, Coordinator of DSVRT, has asked the media to use its power to focus attention on perpetrators when reporting and publicising these crimes, and always include contact details of help sources for the victims. According to her, this helps to build solid support systems for rape victims.
Punishment for sex offenders is is widespread around the world, but punishment for people who fail to report knowledge of such crimes is not yet common. This is mainly due to the fact that a bystander is not necessarily bound by duty to make a report. However, an event in California in 2009 involving the gang-raping and beating of a 15-year old girl has caused American states to reconsider. States are now hinting at implementing laws that carry punitive consequences for witnesses to such awful crimes who fail to report, placing the protection of the victim’s life beforea bystander’s privacy. This new law in Lagos State follows the same direction and serves as a push for the delegated individuals to carry out their duties effectively.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s administration has made it clear that there will be zero tolerance for sexual and gender-based crimes. Altogether, the DSVRT has trained 800 people in Nigeria to help in the fight against sexual and gender-based violence. The new law passed by the Lagos State Government shows immense support for the victims of rape. If the law serves its purpose, more states in Nigeria might see the need to pass such a measure into law.