Rape, according to the Oxford English dictionary, is having sexual intercourse with someone without consent. It also describes it as an act of destruction or an act of destroying a place.
Despite the violent description given to rape, it is unfortunately, said to be on the increase. Ironically, the prosecution of the offenders of this heinous crime has remained relatively low as many rapists are going all over the society scot free due to the disheartening fact that the existing rape laws have not been a deterrent to the perpetrators of the crime which tends to encourage them to molest girls.
The Nigeria law provides that any person who has unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl under the age of thirteen years is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for life, with or without caning.
Two recent laws made by the Lagos State Government, one, providing stiffer penalties against men who rape women and the other against ‘’impregnators’’ (men who impregnate women and run away without bothering to support mother and child) are laws meant to protect women. The provisions of the law regarding rape in Nigeria are clear, but the application of the law leaves a victim feeling even more raped.
Today, let us focus on rape and the philosophical standpoint that informs modern rape laws not only in Nigeria but in most rights conscious countries of the modern world. Have you ever heard of the term “used goods” in relation to human beings, that is what a woman is considered to be after being raped; sadly that is how most feel. The brave who speak out are damned, shamed, stigmatised and considered bad luck to their families, some even get thrown out to their houses, and in some societies even honourably killed. The less brave ones bear the burden of secrecy to death.
Most cultures/societies in Nigeria believe it is the height of indecency to be raped, and then discuss or report it. Reporting rape at a Nigerian police station is another dehumanising feat. The general layout of our stations does not support private discussions, as transactions in the police station are done over the counter. There are no specialised police units trained to deal with sensitive issues like rape. Quite often, a rape victim is questioned like a murderer, arsonist or an armed robber, and the fundamental evidence some police officers require to see, before they even attend to a rape case, is that the victim appear in the same state she was while the act occurred, i.e. unshowered, in tattered clothes, retaining the smell of the rapist.
With the culmination of all the above, is it a wonder that 90 per cent of rape cases go unreported, or that 85 per cent of reported cases go unpunished, or that 70 per cent of cases that do get punished are by whim and not the full extent of the law? The provisions of the law regarding rape in Nigeria are clear, but the application of the law leaves a victim feeling even more raped.
What we seek the lawmakers to do is to effectively make or pass laws that will affect the handling of victims, as well as ensure protection for them and their families, while also strengthening the legal provisions as originally ascribed i.e. without shortcuts or mercy for perpetrators. This should give victims sufficient confidence to report cases, and serve as a deterrent to rapists.
The society will also need to come to terms with its treatment of rape; what is obtainable now is counter-productive, and has more or else scaled up the rape statistics. The mentality is; since the society encourages silence on rape, hence rapists not getting reported or prosecuted, nothing will deter rapists from the repeating the crime. It’s that simple.
Rape is painful physically, but even more so emotionally. Victims can only recover when they are tended to lovingly by family, law enforcement, and given proper therapy, and not when they are shunned and made to feel like used goods. This is a conversation we need to have, in the family unit, at community/state/national level. If we do not, then uncles will continue to rape their nieces, drivers will continue to rape their employers’ children, teachers will continue to rape their students.
Rape in any case, is not justifiable; it is barbaric and inhuman. Contempt should be reserved for those that prey on the innocent and weak as opposed to the victim. If this war against sexual assaults in Africa must be won, then all worthy hands but be on deck.
We can do it! Yes we can!
Barr. (Mrs) Esivwo is a Nigerian trained Lawyer and a Certified Professional in Negotiation and Mediation. She is happily married and she’s a mother of a handsome boy. She resides in Manchester in the U.K with her husband. She can be reached via her Twitter handle: @salvationogbor