Tribal rapists in the past two weeks have competed to outperform one another in their sinister career of not only having unlawful carnal knowledge but also gruesomely eliminating two of their victims from mother earth and plunging their immediate families and national community into mourning mood actively seeking justice. These organised criminals unleashed violence on promising teenagers and terminated their dreams of becoming successful while turning two decades of parental investments into losses of monumental proportion. Away from COVID-19 pandemic and its associated complexities, sadness envelopes the national space as promising young girls were eliminated unjustly by ‘familiar foes’.
This has been our experience from May 27 in Edo State, where the life ambition of 22-year old Uwaila Omozuwa was made unrealisable by gang of rapists and murderers, to the pacesetter State where Barakat Bello (18years), suffered similar fate in her house on June 1, 2020 to Lagos State in Ajah where a 12-year old girl was gang-raped by four masked men; and not forgetting, the 11-men arrested in Jigawa State for serially raping another 12-year old girl! The experiences of girl breadwinners raped while hawking pawpaw and sachet water on the street of Ekiti and Ogun States show how the public and private spaces have become deadly for the girl-child. Note that many rape cases go unreported while those reported may also not have entered police records. We are now confronted with motivated sexual predators in the absence of effective social control mechanism.
Rape is one of the sub-topics taught in our contemporary social problems, crime and delinquency; and deviance, deviation and society courses at undergraduate and graduate levels at the Department of Sociology, University of Ibadan handled by the Criminology unit. In this intervention, I examine contextual factors which accounted for the incidences. I also share insights from our study on rape in Nigeria to assist law enforcement agencies in their investigation and guide parents on who not to trust with their children. I argue against death sentence for rapists being advocated in certain quarters and in its place, push for diligent prosecution and timely administration of justice in rape cases. To me, this holds the key to reduce the menace and strengthen the silent voices of other victims to speak.
Crime occurs according to routine activity theory (RAT) propounded by Cohen Lawrence and Felson Marcus when three elements converge in space and time: an attractive target (girls), motivated offender (the rapist) and absence of capable guardianship (police, parents, significant others). RAT tells us that our life routine exposes us to crime victimisation when monitored and mastered by criminals. Put in other way, a predictable routine provides opportunity for criminality especially when the target is attractively unprotected. Uwa was said to have a predictable routine of collecting keys and reading in the Church and would be alone. The church seems not to have anyone guiding the structure during her reading time.
Barakat’s attackers knew that the parents would be away at certain time and her younger sister would go for Quran lesson. She would be alone with no help considering the detached nature of her house in the community surrounded with bushes. The 12-year old in Ajah was attacked when the father went out to buy fuel and the attackers came in through the fence not through the entrance gate where we learnt people were working. The Ondo hawker was raped around 7pm when market was sparsely populated. In the scenarios, the girls are attractive target to the motivated offenders (the rapists) without anyone to prevent it (a capable guardian). For the rape to occur, the rapists mastered the routines of their victims and ensured that guardianship was nil before they accomplished their criminal intentions.
Identity concealment is important where victim is likely to know the offenders. While the rapists in Lagos raped their victims masked, the murderers in Uwa and Barakat’s case may have decided to silence their victims with death owing to possibility that the victims might know them and reveal their identities. Sadly, all the raped victims share similar low socio-economic status which increased their susceptibility.
In our recently published paper on rape (DOI: HYPERLINK “http://dx.doi.org/10.5772/intechopen.91705” http://dx.doi.org/10.5772/intechopen.91705), we examined newspaper coverage of rape between 2012 and 2016. We analysed 331 reported cases. Of this number, 96% (319) were female victims while the rest were male victims of rape. Thirty-three percent of the female victims were aged 1-10; those between 11-20 years constituted 46.1percent of the victims; while victims aged 21-30 were 8.4percent. The percentage of victims reduces with increase in age. This is understandable because those advanced in age are more likely to be married and with experience, not likely to be unduly exposed to such risk. Age characterisation of rape victims show which age group is more likely than others to be raped and where increased social control mechanism and increased guardianship should be mounted.
Our study also shows the age distribution of rapists and who they are likely to be. Youths (18-35years) constituted 43.5% of the rapists while those between 36-55 years constituted 30.2percent of the offenders. Our study unveiled the identities of rape offenders as family members, fathers, neighbours, teachers, pastors and Alfas. We described all these as familiar foes because majority of the rapists are known to the victims. Very few are total strangers. We have observed similar trend in our research on fraud, kidnapping and robbery. Our study implies collapse of moral community and the limits of trust in social relationships between the neighbours, parents, families, associates and friends.
Is rape a Nigerian phenomenon? NO. Rape is a global problem. According to World Population review 2020 data, 97% of rapists in the USA walk free. Only 9% get prosecuted and 3%percent end up in jail. Rape is ubiquitous in all facets of our national life but I have seen mothers whose sons raped other persons’ daughters blocking justice. Some settle it because they are from the same village, ethnic group, social status, unequal power relations or same society while the victim is ridiculed by her tormentor. People of low social economic class are more likely to be victims because they lack the money to prosecute and the criminal justice system is unhelpful to their course of seeking justice.
Justice is for the highest bidder when police asks victims’ relations to ‘mobilise’ before commencing investigation and builds distrust of victims in the system. They may even advice the victims’ family to take money and take care of their daughter! However, calling for death penalty or what is called stricter punishment for rapists however misses the point. The criminal code Act prescribes a punishment of life imprisonment for anyone convicted for rape with or without canning.
Attempt to rape receives fourteen years imprisonment. It is not the want of laws, it is behaviour of the criminal justice system. How are ‘genuine’ rape victims treated by police and in the courtroom? Are we not re-victimising rape victims and emboldening the offenders? What quantum of evidence does a victim need to provide in defending a rape case?. Going forward, trust is fast eroding and there is a limit to which people should trust relatives, neighbours and third party parents with their children. We don’t need new laws; we need the criminal justice system, its actors and interest groups to enforce and apply existing laws and punishment on convicted rapists to get justice for victims of rape.
Dr. Tade writes from Ibadan via [email protected]