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Plan’s webinar: Experts demand stiffer penalty for rape offenders

A group of experts on Wednesday unanimously urged the Nigerian government to implement stiffer penalties for rape convicts across the country.

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A group of experts on Wednesday unanimously urged the Nigerian government to implement stiffer penalties for rape convicts across the country.

The experts, speaking at a one-day webinar hosted by Plan International Nigeria on the theme: “Life After Rape: Survivors’ Right to Care, Support and Justice,” also called on both federal and state governments to provide and ensure that there’s adequate tools in all hospitals to care for rape survivors.

Mr. Arinze Orakwue, Director of Public Enlightenment at the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), said that apart from the shaming culture of rape survivors in the country, government’s inability to mete out appropriate punishment to perpetuators is further deepening the agony of rape victims.

The panel discussion, moderated by Murna Fattih Akyok, also featured Evangeline Dan Yusuf, a Psychologist and convener of SheNation Girls and Women Development Initiative; Kennedy Shaiyen, a Psychologist with the University of Jos and Salmah Abdulhamid Buba, a medical doctor at the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) clinic.

“When a rapist who is supposed to be punished walk about free and the law enforcement agents who are supposed to protect the citizens allow that, it deepens the pain of the victims and worsen the healing process,” Orakwue said, noting that part of the healing process for rape survivors was seeking a closure.

The Continental reports that there has been a frightening increase in sexual and gender-based violence in Nigeria in the past six months following the outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the country. From January to June, 2020, at least 707 cases of rape were reported, says the Nigeria Police Force (NPF).

This has culminated in public outrage following the brutal rape and murder of the 22-year-old university undergraduate, Miss Uwa Omozuwa in Benin, Edo state and the 19-year-old Barakat Bello in Ibadan, Oyo state, as the social media trended with the hashtags #JusticeforUwa, #JusticeforBarakat and #WeAreTired for days.

Survivors outnumber hospital tools

Also speaking, Dr Salmah bemoaned the absence of adequate tools at many hospitals to care for rape survivors which in effect also weakens the prosecutorial process as evidence needed risk being eroded.

While noting that it is important for a rape patient to present to the hospital within 72 hours to prevent unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and DNA evidence to prosecute the perpetrator, she said: “Here in Nigeria, most health facilities do not have the capacity to investigate. Crude methods are often used especially checking on presence of semen around the genitals. Drugs are then administered on the assumptions the survivors might have contracted STD, or pregnant etc.”

She further called on both federal and state governments to ensure adequate provision of free kits in hospitals to fast track forensic check on a rape survivor easily, thus making it difficult for perpetrators to escape justice.

Similarly, Evangeline Dan Yusuf, said effects on rape survivor include self-blame, panic attack, hyper ventilation, diminishing self-worth, night mares, and inability to be intimate with partners even in legitimate marriage.

She therefore urged rape survivors to speak up and damn societal expectations and shaming, saying research has shown that “talking about what you are going through especially with people you trust can help reduce the stress in the mind in 10 folds.”

“If anyone tells you of being abused, believe them first and not passing judgement,” the SheNation Girls’ convener added.

Boys being raped too

The panellists also agreed that boys were being raped too by fellow male gender and female, a scourge, they said, demanded urgent attention by all stakeholders to put an end to it.

This “does not take away the fact that girls are mostly at the receiving end of the risk of being rape,” Orakwue said.

While admonishing vulnerable persons to defend themselves against rapists with everything possible, the NAPTIP Director cautioned parents to train their sons to have self-restraints and be responsible.

“Many children consume pornography these days via the internet using the phone. Parents need to take responsibility,” he said.

Also commenting, Kennedy Shaiyen advised rape survivors to stop blaming themselves.

“It is not your fault. Speak up to a trusted person. Keeping silent will embolden the perpetrator to continue the act even with others,” he urged.

Right to self defense

In response to a question by a participant if it was legal to use pepper spray as form of self-defense against any suspected rapist in Nigeria, Kennedy said “Self-defense is not a crime. So, the use of pepper spray in face of danger coming your way is not out of place.”

Orakwue further added: “Your sanctity and your sanity are your right to be protected with everything possible. So, pepper spray can be used to deter a rapist.”

He said NAPTIP could be reached in case of sexual abuse via a short code: *627# or call on 07030000273 on all network.

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