Once again, the unpleasant reality of the appalling issue of rape in our society has been brought into the fore as Vera Uwaila Omozuma, a 22-year-old university student in Edo State, was recently found dead in a church after being allegedly raped.
Vera, who went to study in a church at Ikpoba Hill area of Benin City, on May 27, 2020, was allegedly raped and assaulted by assailants. It was gathered that the men forced their way into the church, where they raped and struck her in the head with a fire extinguisher (Oh my God!). The church security guard who found Vera in a pool of blood, reportedly called for help and the victim was rushed to the University of Benin Teaching Hospital. Vera did not recover from her state of unconsciousness until she died.
Vera’s sad episode is just one out of many such sordid rape tales that have come up of late. For instance, on May 30, in Dutse Local Government Area of Jigawa State, 11 suspects were arrested for allegedly raping a 12-year-old girl (name withheld).
The suspects were apprehended after the police received a complaint that one of the suspects, aged 57 of Ma’ai village was seen at Limawa market in Dutse LGA, trying to lure the victim. During the course of interrogation, the victim listed names of 11 men who had sexual intercourse with her at different times on many occasions.
Similarly, last April, 18-year-old Jennifer was allegedly attacked and raped by a gang of five men in Narayi, a small community in Kaduna South Local Government Area of Kaduna State. Her assailants were said to have carried out the dastardly action on the teenager after giving her a liquid content — said to be a mixture of alcohol and drugs — to drink. Two of the suspected rapists have been apprehended while the remaining three boys are currently at large.
In a manner that suggests the demon in charge of this reprehensible act is on the loose, 18-year Barakat Bello, student of the Federal College of Animal and Production Technology, Moore Plantation, Apata, Ibadan, was recently raped and killed in Ibadan. The ugly incidence took place at her home in Akinyele, Ibadan and the corpse found near the house.
Though a global phenomenon, the appalling side of rape in our clime has to do with recklessness of the perpetrators, lackluster response of justice administrators and absence of institutional supportive system to help the victims.
More worrying is that a good number of suspected rapists move freely on the streets after committing the heinous act. Also worrisome is the fact that not much is being done in respect of strengthening our weak law to incisively deal with perpetrators of rape.
Rape victims suffer a sense of abuse that goes beyond physical injury. They may become skeptical of men and experience feelings of embarrassment and disgrace. Victims who suffer rape trauma syndrome experience physical symptoms such as headaches, sleep disturbances, and fatigue.
They may also develop psychological disturbances related to the circumstances of the rape, such as intense fears. Fear of being raped has social as well as personal consequences. For example, it may prevent women from socializing or traveling as they wish while worried and un-enlightened parent can use it as excuse of limiting educational progress of girl-child.
Rape takes away from the victim, human rights such as right to life (as it led to death in some instances), right to dignity of human person, right to personal liberty and security of person and right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It is a crime against basic human rights and it also violates the victim’s most cherished of the fundamental rights – the right to life.
Sadly, occurrence of cases of rape calls to question not only our sense of justice but our civilization as a people. Now, let’s attempt to examine why some men engage in the heinous crime of rape.
According to experts, rape mostly occurs as result of a violent craving to control the victim rather than an attempt to achieve sexual fulfillment. They deem rape an act of violence rather than mainly a sexual encounter.
Beside the desire to control, rape also underscores the sorry state of mind of the perpetrators. The blatant way rape is often committed shows that perpetrators still operate in a distorted mindset of women as assets to be used and dispensed with at will. Many Nigerians believe that women/girls invite trouble on themselves by being careless. Mothers often chide daughters for wearing provocative clothing, in most cases a sleeveless garment or a pair of hip-hugging jeans. Though one isn’t an advocate of indecent dressing, but it could not be a justification for raping. Come to think of; is indecent dressing a ‘rapeable’ offence?
The weak stance of the law towards rape needs to be seriously addressed. Women and girls who are raped in Nigeria have little hope of obtaining justice and reparation. Victims are sometimes pressured into withdrawing the case or parents of victims prefer financial settlement out of court to a criminal prosecution.
Where cases are brought to court, prosecution sometimes fails because police refer cases to a court lacking appropriate jurisdiction and progress is then obstructed by the slow administration of the judicial system. In some cases, the alleged perpetrator is charged with a different and less serious criminal offence.
Sadly, perpetrators of rape have continued to enjoy the crime because the onus of proof lies only with the victims. The victim is the one that must provide the bed sheet used to rape her. She must provide her underwear and not clean herself before going to the police station and the hospital even when it is sure that there would be delays in getting and presenting the report of medical tests because of nature of our health facilities. She must not urinate, drinks liquid or takes any other bodily action as these could threaten her evidence.
A lot has to be done if we must achieve a rape/sexual abuse-free society. A bothersome issue is the idea of giving culprit option of paying fine of such amount as ridiculous as N250, 000 which can be easily afforded by the culprit and his family. Of what use is the fine compared to damage caused the rape victims?
Recent upsurge in rape cases questions our sanity as a people. We need to make stronger laws against the shameful act. Rape is too horrific a crime to be treated lightly.
Ogunbiyi writes from Lagos