By Cecilia John
The prevalence of rape cases and its effect on victims has been a major global concern.
Observers note that unlike other crimes that are reported willingly to relevant authorities for prosecutions, rape victims find it hard to report their cases for fear of stigmatisation.
They express concern that the negative social attitude of the public to rape cases has continued to keep the victims quiet while the crime is on the increase.
For instance, the National Human Rights Commission said there were 2, 656 domestic violence cases, including rape in 2012 alone.
Concern citizens also observe that in spite of challenges facing rape victims, measures targeted at getting rape cases reported to authorities in Nigeria have been discouraging.
Beside Nigeria’s experience, the U.S. Bureau of Justice also says that 60 per cent of rapes cases are never reported to authorities.
In the same vein, a statistician, Enrico Bisogno from U.S. notes that “one in 10 cases of rape is reported to the police in many countries due to fear of being stigmatised.’’
Observers, therefore, call on stakeholders such as non-governmental organisations and the media, to collaborate on how to address the challenge by creating awareness that will discourage rape.
However, Mrs Esther Uzoma, a human rights activist, said more rape victims in Nigeria, in recent time, had been reporting their cases to authorities than they did in the past.
She explained that this was due to cooperation among civil society organisations and the media.
She said when the society became concerned about rape victims and their challenges; they would have confidence to speak out.
Uzoma, nonetheless, stressed that there were still many unreported cases of rape, especially among the elites.
According to her, the elites often do not speak out which leads to continuous assault on their children by domestic workers.
She cautioned that the danger of not speaking out on rape cases might involve the child drug abuse so as to cope with the psychological trauma arising from rape and eventually become an addict.
She observed that it was difficult to know the exact number of people that were raped in Nigeria because many cases were not reported.
“You can’t find any record of the number of people who were raped, who raped them and where.
“It is worrisome, but it is gladdening to note that there is an increased awareness. For instance, I’m handling about seven rape cases involving the underage.
“We have concluded one in which a serving police officer assaulted a minor,’’ she said.
She called for adequate training for relevant authorities that were handling rape cases, particularly the police, to ensure that victims were not stigmatised.
She also urged the police officers to take rape cases seriously in order to ensure that perpetrators were adequately punished.
Uzoma advocated the provision of DNA kits for police stations so that test could be conducted on suspected rape victims on report.
In his view, Mr Abdulrahaman Abdulkadir, a civil servant in Abuja, said there was improvement in attempts to break the culture of silence on rape cases due to increased level of awareness campaign.
“I think rape cases had been rampant in the past but they were not well reported as it is presently done.
“We have started breaking the culture of silence because these days, parents speak out when their kids go through that kind of abuse,’’ he said.
Sharing similar sentiments, Mr Frank Ijuo, a political analyst, commended the progress made so far in reporting rape cases.
“People are now subjecting themselves to medical test willingly on issue of rape; this is because the awareness is better than what it was in those days when the level of stigmatisation was high,’’ he said.
This commendation notwithstanding, he called for further advocacy on how to report rape cases to appropriate authorities and remove fear of being stigmatised among rape victims.
Mr James Oluwasegun, Head of Legal Unit, Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA), said the issue of stigmatisation was fundamental to reporting rape cases because it could affect women’s marriage.
“Every woman wants to be married; and for those that are married, they can’t even speak about it even if they were victims before marriage.
Corroborating his view, Mrs Hauwa Shekarau, the President of the International Federation of Women Lawyers, said “most people who are victims of rape will rather keep quiet than coming out to talk about it.
“Rape has some form of stigma around it, particularly where the victim is unmarried.
“The general belief is that when she comes out to talk about it, she is likely not going to have a husband to marry.’’
Shekarau commended the court for punishing perpetrators but noted that the current laws on rape were still creating room for more perpetrators to evade prosecution.
“The current law has a limited definition of what is rape, for instance, if you look at the ingredient that is required to proof rape, it has to do with penetration.
“Now, we have people who derive sexual satisfaction without penetration and by the definition of rape, that person cannot be charged for rape; the best charge will be indecent assault.
“The law is not taking cognisance of emerging sexual offences that are even serious than the ones envisaged by the current law,’’ she said.
In view of emerging trend in rape cases, Shekarau, therefore, said that there should be a review in the definition of rape in law.
She also opined that passing the Violence against Persons Prohibition Bill (VAPP) into law would check rape cases and guide prosecutions.
Sharing Shekarau’s view, Rep. Beni Lar, the House of Representatives Chairperson on Human Rights, said when VAPP became an act, it would stem the trend of violence in the country, including rape.
Human rights activists, nevertheless, insist that until something urgent is done in curbing the rape, it would continue pose a serious threat to women who may indulge in not reporting the cases for appropriate actions. (NANFeatures)