Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, ironically, witnessed a surge in rape cases and sexual violence. In response to the surge, thousands of Abuja residents had marched around major cities to demand justice for victims.
Miffed by the increase, fathers hitherto not bold enough to discuss it have embraced teaching their children sex education even at an early age. For them, the fear of their daughters becoming victims forced them to find their voice.
At the Hike Against Rape (HAR) put together by FAME Foundation, a non-governmental organisation for women and children, the Federal Capital Territory Football Association (FCTFA) chairman, Adam Mouktar Mohammed, said: “Now is the time to act.” He described rape as a silent pandemic, urging fathers to be at the forefront of speaking against it. He co-ordinated the interactive session that discussed how men can curb rape in the society:
“This is a life changing event. Rape is a silent pandemic that we don’t like to talk about. I have never been involved in anything as such (speaking against rape). It kills me more inside and I am sure of many others, especially the victims as well who experienced this cruelty to humanity.
“Why I said this (HAR) is different is because I have three daughters that I love dearly. I sleep and wake up every day, thinking about the possibility of anything happening to them. I try to be as protective, couscous, careful, vigilant as possible.
“I think, importantly, the role of men starts at the micro level at home. What I realised is that I have never talked about this with my daughters. This event gave me the opportunity to talk to my daughters about it. I mustered the courage, walked up to them and said I had this hiking event against rape. They asked what it was about. I said it was about awareness, rape, sexual violence against men and women. People talk about girls and women but boys and men are violated as well.
“This is a global issue that we have refused to deal with. I think mostly men are to blame because we find ourselves more in the position of authority, in the legal system, in leadership as leaders in the home, etc. But the question to ask is, why do men do it?
“We need to take a scientific approach and ask questions. What are the likely reasons, likely places and targets? From the UN statistics, 93 per cent of victims was raped by family members, an uncle or even a parent.
“It means that the role of men is usually at home. We must find the courage to talk about this issue to our kids, male or female, from a very early age. Talk to them on how they should not be touched or approached and if it happens they must tell you. It is time to talk about it rather than sweep it under the carpet and think that it does not exist.
“Each and every one of us has someone dear who has probably been a victim of sexual violence. It is the worst form of crime and we must start to talk against it. We must fight it.
“I think men should actually stand up and be at the forefront of getting the states to pass new laws against rape. The responsibility is more on our laps as men. Unfortunately, 40 per cent of the cases in Nigeria have not been recorded or documented. When I was researching, I found out that there is no statistics, no data. So we need to do more.
“It is rather disturbing that the police do not have a database of sex offenders in the country. The police said that, from January 2020, they have recorded 700 rape cases in Nigeria. But that is not accurate because it ought to be far more than that.
“It is crucial in this fight against this silent pandemic that we are able to name and shame rapists. We also have to go beyond the rhetoric by providing support structures for victims like safe houses and more serious government legislations so as to stop this heinous crime.”
Another father, Mustapha Mubdiyu, Special Assistant, Technical to FCT Minister of state, said: I am a father of three girls and I am a vulnerable parent. I see myself as a front liner in this fight.
“The truth is rape cannot end but we can do something to get ourselves and our kids protected. There are some causes why people rape, one of which is the carelessness of parents and the fact that the laws in place to try rapists are not deterring enough.
“Most parents do not discuss sex with their children. If you do not discuss with them somebody else will get to discuss it with them. Our children get to learn what they should not learn at a certain age from modern gadgets like TV, video and internet. The moment that happens, they want to explore. There is also peer group pressure. Most parents do not know their children’s friends.
“Recently, my wife called me to narrate how someone has been chatting with my daughter using her friend’s phone. The person had hacked into my daughter’s friend’s phone. My wife normally wakes up early in the morning to spy on her phone before she wakes up to see who she has been chatting with. So this person in question was asking her suggestive questions trying to lead her into some discussions.
“Somehow, she was sure it was not her friend chatting her up. But then she did not tell her mum, until her mum checked the phone and found out that these discussions are going on behind the scene. But we tried to check the person out we found out that it was nobody. Which simply means that parenting nowadays is something to worry about.
“The mum is out, the dad is out and the kids are left at the mercy of maids or whoever. Even that little time we have for them, how much of parenting do we try to put up? It is not enough to just provide everything for them. We need to put a lot of things into them to let them understand that life is much more than providing things for them.
We have to make sure our children are our friends and can tell us anything.”
Atto another father, said: “Victims are supposed to be given and availed adequate and affordable psychosocial support. Many are traumatised, mentally disturbed and suffering from worthlessness and low self-esteem. Efficient mental support for them will go a long way.”
Angela Muruli, Junior Program Analyst with UN Women Nigeria: “Sexual violence tears the fabric of community, breaking trust, essentially allowing a culture where we do not believe women, our children- boys and girls when they are molested or when they are raped.
“The long term effect of rape includes affecting the economic capacity of women, their life trajectories. I think what is very important when discussing rape or sexual violence is that we must have survivor and victims approach and look at how they can navigate the world after experiencing something so traumatic.
“We should all push on the state governors to pass the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPPA) bill. If we have it passed, we will be able to provide compensation for rape victims. The VAPP act will enable rape victims access the mental health therapy and financial compensation, which they often lose when seeking legal aid etc. Advocacy is also one of the ways to fight it especially when it comes to breaking the barriers of speaking about it.”
The organisers of the event said hiking against rape, a Play it, Dream it, initiative of the NGO, is aimed at using physical exercise to drive a cause, hoping it will create sustainable changes in the society.
The convener and founder of the organisation, Aderonke Ogunleye-Bello, said: “As at June 15, 2020, Nigeria had recorded a total number of 717 rape cases, according to a data provided by the Nigerian Police Force, hence, the campaign against rape.
“As we are unable to do much at this time than to campaign against rape, through means that will be safe and also accessible to everyone to hear our voices at this time, we decided to hike with few people under strict observation of the social distancing rules for outdoor events. Rape is a crime, it is traumatizing and we called for stricter measures against rapists in Nigeria.
“We did this for a good course, for society and for humanity.
Recently, I received a video of a three-month old baby that was raped by a man, the pictures were so gory, it’s so bad and this really has got to stop. I am grateful for the fact that despite the fact that we have a common enemy out there, COVID-19, those who came out felt the indignation to come out and do this.
“We are not just hiking against the rape of women and girls, but against that of boys and men as well. Rape is bad, it has to stop and anyone who rapes should be castrated and a woman who rapes a young boy her breast should be chopped off. That is the essence of feminism.
“Feminism is not all about wanting to be greater than the men, we want a gender equality world where the man and a woman have equal rights. I am so happy that some states are adopting VAPPA 2015. We hope it goes through all 36 states, so the bill is signed into law and so that perpetrators will be punished accordingly.”