RIVERS STATE REPORT
The unusual rise in the incidence of rape and attempted rape in Rivers State, this year, has become a daunting challenge, in the face of the rampant nature in which the crime is being perpetrated and the seeming helplessness of the society to nip the problem in the bud. Rape is an act of sexual violence which simply put, entails a non-consensual sexual intercourse. Where a minor (a person below 18 years of age) is involved, it is deemed to be rape, whether or not consent was obtained. The Social Development Integrated Centre, also known as Social Action, working in collaboration with the Civil Rights Council (CRC) in monitoring the human rights violations perpetrated within the State, have in recent times, been inundated with reports from residents about rape incidents that occurred in their neighbourhoods. Over 40 cases of alleged sexual abuse have been reported since May, 2020 till date, of which the majority are cases of rape. Of this lot, is the recent case involving a 9 year-old girl who was allegedly raped by her neighbour, a 30 year-old man at Ikwerre LGA, on the 13th of June. Earlier reported, was a similar case of a 10 year old girl in Diobu, Port Harcourt LGA who was alleged to have been serially raped by her neighbour on May 22nd. In both isolated cases, as well as in many other reported cases, it was learnt that the alleged rapist was well known to the victim, and the family of the victim attempted to cover up the matter by promoting a culture of silence. Although this trend does not apply in all cases, 80 percent of rape cases reported within the period under review, reveal that the culture of silence enables the perpetrator, a well-known person to the victim, to escape justice with the tacit support of the victim’s family.
Social Action has also noted other similarities in the facts of unconnected rape incidents alleged to have taken place in different parts of the State, which have led to the following general findings: the number of rape cases recorded in the State is indeed, on the increase and this is partly because more victims are finding the courage to talk about their experiences. It is also due to the established fact that rapists and would-be rapists have become emboldened by the culture of silence associated with rape, which shields them from the long arm of the law. Majority of people would rather blame and shame the victim, than seek for the full wrath of the law to be meted on the rapist. Victim-blaming leads to the intimidation and social stigmatisation of the victim into a culture of silence. Another trend observed from the shared experiences of several rape victims, suggests that rape is often perpetrated, not because the victim was indecently dressed as many believe, but mainly out of a sadistic desire of the rapist to address his personal insecurities and assume a false sense of power, by controlling, subjugating and humiliating the victim to a state of conquest and helplessness. This could be directly or remotely attributed to the systemic failures in the society and its perverse value system. Social norms have become non-existent and moral values eroded.
Therefore, given the highly obnoxious experience which the offence of rape evokes, and more importantly, the traumatic effect on the victim, Social Action demands of the Rivers State Government, to as a matter of utmost concern, declare war against rape in Rivers State, and act swiftly to rid the society of the menace. Rape is a crime against humanity which could leave the victim deeply and permanently traumatised. A rape victim needs professional counselling, just as much as justice is needed. The civil society groups cannot be left alone to bear the burden of fighting for justice and providing counselling to rape victims. The State Government should take a very bold step against rape, by setting up Specialist Rape Clinics in all the LGAs in the State, where rape victims can have access to professional counselling. This counseling is needed to enable the victim recover from the psychological feelings of shame, fear and depression, and also to encourage the victim to cooperate fully with the Police and the prosecution team throughout the investigation and trial of the alleged rapist, until justice is served. More often than not, the victim relapses in fear and requests that the lawsuit filed in court against the rapist should be withdrawn, due to family pressure on the victim to conceal a crime believed to have brought dishonour to the family.
The support of the State Government is also needed, in the aspect of funding the expenses incurred from the point when a victim reports the crime at the police station. The Government should foot all bills involved, such as the cost of medical attention and tests needed to be conducted on the victim to ascertain rape, the cost of carrying out investigations into the matter by Police officers, and the cost of litigation. Also, police officers should be trained on the sensitive nature and gravity of rape cases. They should be serious about investigating allegations of rape when they are made, and be very supportive of the victims. There should be police complaint hotlines, through which residents of the State can call in to report rape cases and seek relevant information regarding rape. Such active helplines for information dissemination on rape cases only, should be duly publicised, for the knowledge and benefit of the society.
In addition, the government must actively operate a State Sexual Offenders Register where details of convicted rapists and other sexual offenders are permanently registered and published. With this, the shame of rape will be redirected from the victim to the rapist. The government should also make use of social media which provides veritable tools to garner public support against rape and shame the rapists. Government should engage efficient social media handlers who can help to further publicise the aggressive stance of the government on rape and the fight to rid the State of the crime. Social media will also be an easy means of communication through which members of the public could directly report rape cases to the government.
There is a lot that the government can do to address the rising number of rape cases in the society. Social Action is of the informed view, that most families, on their own, will not be able to end the pervasive culture of silence and victim-shaming, unless the government takes the lead in quelling the harmful culture. The people will take a cue from the government, when the government begins to show genuine commitment towards ending the scourge of rape in the society.
Essentially, Rape as a crime, is not new. The Criminal Code and Penal Code of Nigeria made clear provisions defining rape as a criminal offence punishable under the law. More so, Rivers State is one of the States in Nigeria that has adopted into State laws, the Child Rights Act, 2003 and the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) Act, 2015. These aforestated laws have covered the field of sexual violence, which includes rape. Penalties have also been clearly stipulated, which the courts must adhere to when a person is convicted. It is therefore incumbent on the State Government to put in place an efficient system for rape cases, whereby victims of rape are given full support and perpetrators of rape are swiftly arrested, prosecuted and brought to book.