Sexual Rights Violations: Role of Awareness, Reporting

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Sexual violence is a serious public health and human rights challenge with both short and long-term consequences on victim’s physical, mental and sexual reproductive health. Isa Best Omoregbeji writes on the role of rights awareness campaigns and reporting towards winning the war against sexual violence in Nigeria.

Sexual violence is a serious public health and human rights challenge with both short and long-term consequences on victim’s physical, mental and sexual reproductive health. Isa Best Omoregbeji writes on the role of rights awareness campaigns and reporting towards winning the war against sexual violence in Nigeria.

In whatever context sexual violence occurs, it leaves a deep trauma and pain on the victim. In Nigeria, not only is there limited knowledge of rights on the part of victims of sexual violence; a few who are aware of these rights do nothing towards addressing the violations, either due to fear of stigmatisation from the society, fear of retribution that may follow for daring to report or seek redress or, even, because public confidence in the government’s willingness to tackle sexual right violations has been eroded.

In one of such cases of violation the victim showed how completely overwhelmed she was and yet did not attempt to officially report the crime.

“Kill me, kill me, you people should just kill me.” Those were the words of an unidentified woman as she was being gang-raped by five men and her ordeal was filmed with one of their mobile phones. The crime was said to have taken place at a private off-campus hostel near Abia State University, Nigeria, in August 2011.

According to the UN Women Campaign Against Gender-based Violence, between 13 per cent and 45 per cent of women in sub-Saharan Africa experience assault by an intimate partner during their lifetime and most of the time these violations go unreported, either by the victims or the media. The victims, most times, prefer to stay mute, but this has not only worsened the situation both for the direct victims and for the society but has also denied them justice and the right to obtain the right psychological or medical care after the abuse.

The World Health Organisation had submitted that more than 35 per cent of women experience physical and sexual violence throughout their life-time, making them more vulnerable to sexual violations.

The issue of rape, sexual assault, violence against women and even torture of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and intersex (LGBTI) group are severe rights violations, yet they remain widespread around Nigeria mostly because Nigeria do not recognize gay rights. This is even made worse by the increasing space of non tolerance for gays and lesbians in the public space in Nigeria using torture, arrest and sometimes quick jungle justice on this set of human beings despite the fact that International law makes it clear that ‘no national emergency, however dire, ever justifies torture’.The Nigerian same sex marriage (Prohibition) Act 2013, which criminalizes same sex relationships and conduct in Nigeria, has been a trigger to the violation of the rights of these populations. Lawyers alert had argued that this has largely accounted for the high percentage of violations in its recent report.

The role of raising awareness about these violations is however very critical to activating a sense of seeking justice and redress in victims or survivors of sexual violence, thereby leading to reporting of these violations to authorities with the hope of getting justice done, but it becomes very challenging when the same authorities who are expected to deliver justice become the once guilty of perverting it or backing violators in other to become either politically or religiously correct and perhaps morally wrong for daring to snatch the fundamental human rights of these set of persons even before there are given a right to defend themselves in the courts.

Average lesbian, gay, bisexuals, transgender and intersex (LGBTI)  persons living in Nigeria faces unique legal and social challenges not experienced by non –LGBTI residents since the highly conservative country of largely Muslims and Christians do not recognize LGBTI rights, these set of people are in the brink of having no protection at all – not even as human beings, a situation that has made it more difficult for people to be open about their sexual orientations for fear of both retribution and stigmatization and a situation which has further worsened the prospects of sexual reproductive health in Nigeria.

In traditional Nigerian societies, the issue of rape, female genital mutilation and some other anti-women cultural acts categorised as violence against women and girls still persist but the problem has always being that most of the time the victims of abuse are not aware of their sexual rights, avenues to pursue them and in other cases these victims of abuse are completely overwhelmed and cannot report.

Talking about awareness, our correspondent learnt from a victim of female genital mutilation in Edo State (name withheld) on the effect of the action on her life.

“I am suffering in my marriage, as I cannot enjoy sex. I bleed whenever I attempt to make love and this is affecting my marriage. I am considering taking legal actions against my community; not only for myself but for others they maybe violating as I speak through this evil practice on the excuse that they may become promiscuous.”

More so, is the absence of regular data on sexual reproductive health rights violations in Nigeria (SRHR), viable data as we have learnt could strongly guide government policies.

Although rights groups have expressed concerns about the government’s failure to develop a national strategy to combat the high rate of sexual reproductive health violence and their continued underreporting.

Rights group like Lawyers Alert have recently played an enviable role in this regard leading to recent findings on sexual reproductive health violations in Nigeria for the period of January to July 2017. The document quantifies sexual reproductive health rights violations in Nigeria in percentages and also highlights the dangers that vulnerable groups are exposed to. This is for the ordinary Nigerians and elites to appreciate the enormity of the problem at hand that goes often non-reported to the extent that it begins to guide public discussions toward more informed policies in the Nigerian Public space.

Speaking on behalf of Lawyers Alert, the president, Mr. Rommy Mom stated that principal amongst the findings is that “Nigeria’s capital has the highest violation rates out of the 36 state and the FCT considered; the FCT recorded a massive 49 per cent (almost half of all reports received). A distant second is Benue, with about a quarter (26 per cent) of the reported violations. The third is Lagos, coming in at 8 per cent, while Anambra presents the least number of reported violations. Going by the percentages presented in the report, the Northern states alone represent a whopping 82% of the entire number of the reported cases. Partly responsible for this could be the FCT (49%), Benue and Nasarawa. Another factor is the lack of intensive legal literacy carried out and, as a result, lack of empowerment of vulnerable groups with knowledge of their rights. This has the effect of citizens actually recognizing violations

Further probing into the report revealed violations based on various vulnerable groups of those affected. It revealed that “persons living with HIV (PLWH) have reportedly the highest number of possible right violation with 38%, followed by female sex workers (FSW) with 30% violation. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) group comprise 21%. Also it is pertinent to know that violence against women and girls (VWG) has remained at an uncomfortable high percentage of 11%. Were female genital mutilation and some violence against women cultural acts are also classified as violence against women and girls, the percentage would be much higher”.  However, rape and sexual molestation, on the other hand, are often not reported owing to their attendant stigma.

Going by the level of rights awareness, Mr. Rommy maintained that “it should be noted that of all these groups, PLWH may be the most proactive owing to years of interventions in the HIV sector which have given rise to a highly sensitized group of persons whom these rights violations concern.”

This simply means PLWH may be reporting the highest number simply because they are the most aware.

Again female sex workers’ rights violations is a recent trend simply because, ordinary sex work is not an offence in Nigeria. Some justifications however, especially the federal capital territory has undertaken deliberate acts of ‘ridding Abuja city of prostitutes’ this has resonated with several states, notably AkwaIbom. This partly accounts for 30 per cent violations against female sex workers.

Raising human rights awareness typically focuses on those who have blood on their hands or should have used their power and authority to prevent injustice. But in situations where exposing abuses alone is not enough to effect change, advocates need to consistently adopt a wider lens and devote more energy to better understanding the expansive networks of backers who enable abusers to continue their wrong-doing. Putting an end to sexual right violations require simply more than just shaming the violators but should go ahead to require deterring punitive measures that will discourage future abuses.