By Adewale Kupoluyi
What has become a serious source of worry to many Nigerians is the dehumanising, wicked, heartless and growing cases of rape of minors, youths, ladies and women in the country. There is hardly any day that passes by that cases of sexual molestation, violence and crime, are not reported. Rape, the forceful canal knowledge usually of a female, is a serious calamity that can befall any female. Of more concern is that affecting innocent female children. Why is there an upsurge in rape cases in the nation?
A gory statistics, according to the Nigeria Police Force, showed that the nation recorded 1,827 rape cases in 2015; 1,959 cases in 2014; and 1,788 in 2013. Furthermore, NOIPolls, country-specific polling services in the West African region, done in partnership with Gallup, United States of America, revealed that almost seven in 10 adult Nigerians, constituting about 67 per cent, decried the high incidence of teenage rape in the country, while three of out 10, making up of 31 per cent, personally know of a victim of child rape in their local communities.
NOIPolls stated further that four in 10; that is 36 per cent of adult Nigerians, claimed that most often, the alleged offenders involved in child rape were close family relatives and neighbours; amounting to 33 per cent, as almost half; amounting to 49 per cent of those that personally know a victim alleged that they were usually children between seven and 12 years old; while 78 per cent of the respondents alleged that rape cases were reported without any deliberate effort being made by the police to investigate and prosecute the identified culprits.
It is a common occurrence all over the world that girls, ladies and women are raped while boys and men are occasionally raped. Places where children are known to suffer sexual high assault include India, South Africa, Zimbabwe, United Kingdom and the United States of America. Nigeria has now assumed a top position among nations with severe incidence of rape. There are just too many examples in various parts of the country, to elucidate this ugly trend. What is disheartening in the increasing tide whereby most cases of rape being reported in Nigeria are associated with minors and underage children in their homes, schools and other public places.
Perpetrators of these heinous acts are known to be directly or indirectly close to their victims, which make the attacks more troubling and agonising. They are usually brothers, uncles, cousins, fathers, step-fathers and even, grandfathers. At times, I terribly feel ashamed of myself when I read of other men raping minors, girls, ladies and women! Apart from the physical pain and bodily harm, victims of sexual assault are psychologically tortured, demoralised and traumatised. Not only that, they are vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies, sexually-transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS infection and untimely death.
The stigma inflicted on rape victims often taunt them for the rest of their lives. It is a sad experience that cannot be forgotten so easily. What makes matters worse is the fact that perpetrators of this crime are not apprehended and if ever caught, they are hardly convicted because the criminal justice system requires that the burden of proof should lie on the prosecutors that is usually difficult to attain. The case of minors is even more complex because of the usual threat handed to them by the rapists that they should never divulge what transpired.
This makes it more difficult to deal decisively with the problem. The alarming rate of reported rape cases of minors is becoming scary while quite a number go unreported. The reality is that if we are ever going to make a head-way in combating this common plaque, there is the need to adopt a new strategy because it is not possible to get new results by doing things in an old way.
A cursory look at how previous cases of rape were handled indicates that both pro-active and retro-active approaches should wholistically be deployed, to successfully wage war against the rape of minors. This time around, a national coalition against rape (NCAR) should be formed with immediate effect that would work together to fight a common enemy, as virtually everyone knows of one raped victim or another.
The coalition should be duly registered and be made up of victims of rape, lawyers, journalists, students, non-governmental organisations, wives of top government functionaries and other interested members of the public throughout Nigeria. A double-sword approach should be adopted to curb the rape scourge. A variety of pro-active measures would entail massive public awareness and education on the ills of rape on our daughters, wives and mothers.
Apart from rallies, protests and demonstrations that often take place in various parts of the country, corporate organisations, individuals and philanthropists should come together and sponsor a soap opera that would feature prominent Nigerian artistes that would be broadcast on major television and radio stations across the country for a number of weeks. This measure, I am sure would go a long way in touching the hearts of perpetrators, to desist from this evil. Apart from the moral suasion effect, the play should teach parents on how to prevent their children and wards from being vulnerable, how to properly report cases of rape, how police officers should behave when dealing with rape cases, how to successfully initiate and prosecute the criminal trial of rape cases.
Without prejudice, I am aware that some non-governmental organisations are already doing some good work on ending sexual violence against our female-folk; this idea is different in the following ways from what they could be doing. Firstly, it a national cause. Hence, no single individual or corporate organisation is taking the sole credit for the initiative. Secondly, it is going to have more impact on the people considering the number of people involved as artistes, officials and the huge funding that is going to be involved.
Thirdly, it would have dual functionality by serving as corporate social responsibility project for some organisations, charity work for some individuals involved while proceeds from advertisements and sponsorships can be used to rehabilitate rape victims, sustain the transmission/broadcast of the soap opera and conduct research on rape. Eminent and trusted personalities, across the country should manage the coalition under whatever nomenclature that is agreed upon.
On the other hand, religious institutions should do more and continue to reach out to their adherents during sermons, outreaches and societies on why men should desist from raping minors, girls and women. The national assembly and the various state houses of assembly should ensure the passage of bills that would make it possible to easily conclude rape trial procedures at the courts and would equally mete out severe punishment on the perpetrators of this barbaric act, irrespective of their status.
Considering the great turmoil that rape victims go through, arising from their awful experience, perpetrators deserve stiffer penalties such as life imprisonment. For now, there is the need to begin something different. People that are genuinely passionate about ending this scourge should come out now and make this initiative a reality by forming the national coalition against rape to end this national embarrassment.