Rape: When silence impedes Justice


Womens’ voices are heard rarely in many developing countries like Nigeria. In some communities, women must speak through a man – either their son, nephew or any other male relative— no matter their wealth and education. A woman who escapes from an abusive marriage deals with many challenges in some families. Her family can force her to return to her abusive husband or bear psychological abuse from family members, so some prefer to swallow the humble pie and hang on. Violating women and ignoring their worth is something that men, including educated ones, do without considering the long term effect this has on women. The fear of stigma explains why women who become victims of Domestic Violence hang on to their marriages even when it costs them their lives.

Joy’s mother is a typical example. Having had three children from previous relationships, she decided to hang on to the last one, an Army Corporal, no matter what. When her husband brutally raped Joy, her 15-yr-old daughter, she lived in denial. She admitted that her husband raped her brutally.” I have marks to show for it.” But she blames her daughter for visiting her without prior warning and even accuses her of seducing her husband. “I want to protect my marriage at all cost as I don’t want to go back home after another failed marriage”. Her main concern is the stigma and how she will be sneered at if she returns home.

Her husband denied the allegation when Joy reported the rape. He went AWOL with his wife in tow. She is standing by her husband because she doesn’t want to be shamed by society.

Joy’s mother is insistent on making her marriage work even if the man she is married to is a rapist. She is more scared of the stigma associated with being a single mother of four children fathered by different men.

The military police have taken no action six months after receiving the report.

Blessing Emmanuel Ugele, 40, a teacher and a mother of three, fell in love with an abusive man and refused to leave him despite efforts by friends and family to persuade her to leave him. For nine years, Blessing suffered abuse both sexually and physically.

After delivering her second child through C-Section, Blessing went to recuperate at her mother’s home. Her husband begged her to return home two weeks later, claiming he was lonely. After much persuasion and despite her family’s misgivings, Blessing agreed to return to her husband. Emmanuel demanded sex and beat her with a plank of wood when they got home when she refused his demands. 

This time, neighbours couldn’t stand it again as they descended on him with heavy blows. Blessing pleaded with them not to beat him up. He abandoned her to the care of her family, who lived close by. Her family took her to the hospital, where she died from her injuries six weeks later, on April 27, 2021. 

Her husband, who had gone into hiding, was arrested and held at the Keffi, Nasarawa State, but barely three weeks after the wife’s burial, Emmanuel was released,

Emmanuel is a free man because of poor police investigations, which allow perpetrators like him to go free. Flawed policing methodologies deny justice to victims of gender-based violence like Blessing. Families afraid to have their names and loved ones dragged through the mud in unending court litigation opt to adopt a culture of silence. The blame would fall on Blessing, who chose to stay with her abusive husband against the advice of friends and family. A proper GBV survivor’s support system and robust investigations that lead to convictions will help end this culture of silence.

Delays in concluding rape and other GBV-related cases in court are also a concern. A case in point involves a 54-year old man accused of serially raping and causing the death of his 13-year old niece. Even though the man was arrested soon after her death, there has been no conclusion to the case. His son, who is his co-accused, is still at large, as he went into hiding soon after the girl died.

In 2020, a 14-year-old student died after being raped and sodomised at a private boarding school in Lugbe. After her abusers left a condom inside her body, the little girl died of sepsis. The school has denied responsibility, and no arrest has happened despite appeals from the girl’s mother.

“Justice is still a long way short because of the little or no premium placed on the life of Keren by the ruling class who are united in a conspiracy of silence and inaction to protect a big school owned by one of their own,” said Mr Lemmy Ughegbe of Men Against Rape, when he launched a #Justice4KerenCoalition campaign.

No government official has spoken out to condemn the perpetrator or demand action against the school. Nobody has reached out to condole or console her family. Police have made no efforts to retrieve the school’s CCTV footage of the 15th and 16th of June 2021, even though it may contain vital information relevant to the incident. We understand that the school says they do not have it anymore. How can that be? The system is made for elites to protect elites and their business interests”.

“Issues around women are not receiving the attention and support it need. The recent brutal rejection of the Gender Equality Bill indicates this fact. Misogynists would always want women treated as second class humans to be dominated and suppressed. In contrast, women are genuine partners whose immense talents should be given serious attention in a mutually beneficial and complementary role. All men and women should have equal access to opportunities to become the best version of themselves. Although Nigeria mouths this, it is a pipe dream”.

President Muhammadu Buhari, on October 1, 2021, announced the establishment of Special Courts to render swift judgment to perpetrators of Gender-Based Violence. 

In February 2022, the Federal Capital Territory established four courts. The judiciary appointed four judges to hear and fast-track GBV cases. Can victims get a swift judgement that will enable others to break the culture of silence?

“Establishing the GBV Court will enhance swift justice for the victims/ survivors. The Chief Justice of the FCT must also assign GBV cases very speedily,” says State Prosecutor Chinyere Moneme, who is also the chairperson of the SGBV Committee Nigerian Bar Association Bwari Branch 

“The time it takes to assign a matter is problematic. Within that period, the parties get disinterested or disenchanted. Even when cases are assigned, sometimes adjournments take very long. There are also delays when police receive the report and file their charges in court. The registry is supposed to take special notice and fast-track the assignment of SGBV cases”.

“The criminal justice administration has provision for a day-to-day trial. There is no reason why a criminal case cannot be concluded in two weeks. Suppose the petition has three or more witnesses. In that case, you take one daily and conclude your findings, except when it requires technical aspects like the unavailability of the medical personnel that may have examined the victim, but that can be handled earlier to accommodate the two-week time frame,” Chinyere Moneme explained. 

Barr Gladys Emmanuel, a member of FIDA, believes that court delays sometimes force some women to develop cold feet and opt for a family settlement instead of the courts. She, however, said that sometimes the women change their minds a few days after the file cases, and you can’t compel them to do otherwise.

In its report in a book, NIGERIA: A HARROWING EXPERIENCE; Access to Justice for Women and Girls Survivors of Rape, Amnesty International, showcases Nigeria’s failure to tackle the rape crisis emboldens perpetrators like the Army corporal and Emmanuel and silences survivors.

Rape cases skyrocketed in Nigeria due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Between January and May 2020, the Nigeria Police recorded 717 cases of rape, and by April 2020, the number had risen to 3,600. The National Human Rights Commission NHRC noted that it received 11 200 reported cases in 2020.

 “Parents do not help matters. They flog the child, and they beat the child. They further abuse the child for ‘allowing herself’ to be raped. And because of this, they are afraid to speak in the presence of their parents,” said Clifford Thomas, the executive director of the Foundation for Civic Education and Human Rights Advancement. The organisation offers legal aid, assistance and social services to victims of human rights abuse.

Sadly, the unreported and undocumented rape cases double the reported ones. For instance, During the COVID-19 lockdown, a health reporter there was receiving constant phone calls for intervention on health issues. She came up with a Facebook group for easy reach, culminating in Network Against Domestic Violence Foundation (NADVF). The platform seeks to protect, share and intervene on behalf of GBV victims. It does so without identifying the victims. In less than six months, the Facebook group had received 87 unreported cases of rape and 315 domestic violence incidents. The Facebook group already has about 5000 members. It receives anonymous tips via an SMS hotline.

On a recent day, we sampled the kind of tips received on the hotline. One was about a father molesting his three daughters with his wife’s full knowledge. The mother had decided to adopt the culture of silence while promising her kids freedom once they gained admission to tertiary institutions. 

There was a tip about a man who raped his three-month-old daughter to death. Another message was about a girl who had given birth to twins after being sexually assaulted by her father. Another report told of a man who had used scissors to cut open his 4-year-old daughter’s vagina so that he could penetrate her. 

These are just a few of the thousands of incidents that go unreported. The victims include women, girls and infants, and some of the victims have died due to these violations. Sexual violations are considered a matter that families should handle internally. Many families are ashamed to expose the perpetrators, and victims are afraid of the stigma associated with sexual violation. “She will never get a husband if the world knows that she was raped,” said the mother of one of the victims.

Victim-blaming, stigma and cultural practices discourage many victims and families from reporting these violations. Women who accuse men of sexual violation risk backlash, high profile defamation suits and even retaliatory police investigations. The enactment of the Violence Against Person Prohibition Act (VAPP) in 2015 has not emboldened victims to end this culture of silence.

The Judiciary system is slow in dispensing judgement, which explains why the perpetrators are encouraged to continue assaulting women and girls. The perpetrators can bribe their way out of jail or count on their victims’ fear of exposure and the interminable trips to court for hearings to dissuade them from pursuing justice.

The FCT Social Development Secretariat submitted a report during a joint EU-UN Spotlight Initiative to Eliminate Violence Against Women and Girls highlighted this problem. According to the report, only one conviction resulted even though 444 suspected rapists were arrested in 2020. What happened to the other 443 rape suspects? According to data from Nigeria’s national anti-trafficking agency, only 32 rape convictions were recorded by the country’s judiciary between 2019 and 2020. Some survivors find it more effective to name and shame rapists online than report to police in that environment.

“While rape remains at an epidemic level in Nigeria, there are no accurate nor consolidated statistics on rape. Data is critical for assessing the situation of women’s rights and developing adequate laws and policies to combat sexual violence and its consequences,” said Amnesty International.

Accessing data on rape and other sexual offences is impossible. This reporter has, over the years, made repeated requests for data from the Police Gender desk of New Nyanya Police Station. “We cannot release it (data) until we get instructions from the Police IG,” the policewoman in charge, who asked for anonymity, tells me whenever l ask. The local chief of Karu said he reports all sexual and other gender-based violence incidents to the police.

The judiciary system is not helping matters. Most women don’t speak out because they probably have seen what happened to other women who spoke up, and nobody helped them.

The establishment of the Special Courts, if well implemented, will ensure swift justice for victims/survivors and perpetrators will be arrested and face the full force of the law.

This article was produced with the support of the Africa Women’s Journalism Project (AWJP) in partnership with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and through the support of the Ford Foundation. This article was first published by the Scrollreport