Deborah Joseph* was 18 years old when it happened. Deborah’s story is one of the many stories chronicling the dangers and vulnerability young girls/women face, especially in a system that fails to protect its vulnerable.
“It was a painful experience,” Deborah said, narrating her experience. She had gone visiting her boyfriend at his house, where he asked if she’d had sex.
“I told him no and then he asked me if I’ve ever had sex, I answered again with no,” Ms Joseph said, “He went ahead to say he wants to have sex with me before I leave his house. I refused, telling him that I had never had sex before, I was a virgin.”
She refused his advances and he overpowered her, violating her.
Deborah’s life stalled after she discovered she was pregnant, efforts made by her family to get the abuser to marry her or take responsibility for her unwanted baby proved abortive. The abuser’s family forbade him from having anything to do with her, insisting their son was not old enough or ready to cater for a child.
Now 20 years old, Deborah lives at home at Garaku, Kokona Local Government Area of Nasarawa State.
Jade Olise, a family lawyer involved in the fight against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, believes there’s still a chance for Deborah to seek justice by reporting the incident to law enforcement agencies.
“No matter how long an offence has been committed, if the survivor is embodied enough to talk about her situation, maybe after dealing with the trauma that had happened with the incident the survivor can go ahead to pursue justice even though there might be some challenges,” Ms Olise said.
Ms Olise however raised concerns about the survivor’s ability to prove that she was raped given the fact that the incident happened a long time ago.
Rape has, over the years, generated heated debates, reactions and seen the birth of strategic ideas geared towards clamping down on perpetrators.
Nigeria’s demographic and health survey (2018) noted that of women aged 15-49, 31% have experienced physical violence and 9% have experienced sexual violence.
Violence Against Women and Crime Data from the Nigeria Police Force revealed that the number of females that experienced Rape/Sexual Abuse in 2018 and 2019, 62 and 59 cases were reported respectively, of which the number of females was 60 and 56 persons.
Sadly, issues surrounding sexual and gender-based violence have gained more attention over the past year as the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a surge of reports on sexual and gender-based violence across Nigeria.
The fight against SGBV is still challenging as only a very low percentage of victims get the courage to speak up. This is so because cases of women and girls who speak out are swept under the rug without justice being delivered.
Statistics from the National Demographic Health Survey has it that more than half of women (55%) who have experienced physical or sexual violence have never sought help to stop the violence; only 32% have sought help, approximately the same percentage as in 2013 (31%).
Chioma Agwuegbo, the CEO of TechHer, complained of negligence on the part of the government who has failed to create an enabling environment for sexual violence responders to succeed.
In November 2019, Nigeria launched its first national sexual offenders register, setting up a database of those convicted for sexual violence however cases concluded upon have not been reflected in the sexual offenders’ register and pictures of some perpetrators have been excluded from the register.