By Chioma Obinna
LAST week, the Adeyemi Bero Auditorium, at the Lagos State secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja, was full of secondary school students from various colleges across the state. Their faces revealed their excitement, as they aspired for knowledge about the scourge of rape and sexual violence during the sensitisation programme put together by the Mirabel Sexual Assault Referral Centre.
An arm of the Partnership for Justice which offers free medical services to victims of rape and sexually assaulted persons, Mirabel Centre organised the school programme to enlighten students on self- defence against rape and sexual assault.
For Chidera Nwatu, a JSS 11, student of Christland High School, Ikeja, the programme was an eye opener on issues of rape and related sexual violence.
“My eyes have been opened about how to defend myself against sexual assault. Although, I have heard about rape but I never knew I could defend myself. I now know the importance of speaking out and reporting to the Police and my parents immediately.”
Effiong Francis, an SS 2 student also told Good Health Weekly that he had learned to respect victims of sexual assaut and that the sensitisation had instilled in him ways to stop and to report acts of sexual violence.
Speaking at the event, Managing Partner, Mirabelle Centre, Mrs. Itoro Eze-Anaba, who explained that in two years, about 900 people had been offered support services at the Centre.
More children affected: “We observed that every month we have more children coming in to report after being raped and the youngest so far is 10 months old while the oldest is 70 years old. Primarily our clients are between the ages of seven and 14 and these are people that should be in school so we decided to target schools since they are majority of our clients. We have reached over 50 schools with talks on rape and sexual violence.”
Eze – Anaba regretted that lack of proper legal framework impedes successful prosecution of perpetrators.
While commending Lagos State on its legal framework, she maintained that the problem remains making the law effective and enforceable. “We need the Police that has the capacity to investigate and judiciary that is ready to prosecute successfully.”
Action against rape
She urged communities to step up action against rape and to stop begging on behalf of perpetrators.
Corroborating her views, Mirabel’s Centre Manager, Juliet Olumuyiwa-Rufai said children of school age were the highest victims of rape and other sexual violence hence the need for the programme.
“We saw the need to target these young ones and educate them on the issue of sexual violence. We are providing them detailed information on how to keep themselves safe from any form of sexual attack. And in case they fall victim, they need to know how to access the medical health facility and seek redress in court. It is all about passing across the right information.
We have also discovered that most people don’t like to talk about it, but if we must win the war on rape, then we need to discuss the issue the way it is.”
Role of the Law: On the place of the law, President –Elect, Soroptimist International of Nigeria, Barrister Nneka Chris- Asoluka, who identified stigma as a major factor against successful prosecution said: stigma associated with rape has made so many cases un reported.
“Many victims are not ready to be labelled rape victims and so do not want to be a witness in court. Families are also a hindrance because they don’t want their names to associate with rape. We have laws enshrined in the constitution but implementation is poor.”
The Coordinator, Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), Lola Vivour-Adeniji said rape was a grave offence punishable under the law. She advised students to always speak out, pointing out that survivors’ silence had always encouraged perpetrators to continue in the dishonourable act.