Princess Olufemi-Kayode has for many years fought the cause of sexually abused women and children through her organisation, Media Concern for Women and Children (MEDIACON). She shares her story with CHINYERE FRED-ADEGBULUGBE
For those who are not very familiar with her past, Princess Olufemi-Kayode is likely to come across as a fanatic; when the issue about sexual abuse, that is.
However, those in the know surely understand where this woman is coming from. "As a survivor of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA), I realised the consequences and impact of CSA on the Nigerian society which undoubtedly has a large number of untreated young people in similar situations. This led to my raising public awareness and seeking institutional support to meet the needs of sexually abused children and prevent the long-term effects of abuse from seeping into the health, safety, and productivity of the Nigerian society," she says.
But deciding to abandon all else for this cause didn’t come easy. The final push, she says, was God’s call. This happened in December 2002 at the gathering of WINNERS at SHILOH, where she was seeking God’s face on the next stage of her life. "I heard God call me, ‘SEXUALITY MINISTER,’ and that was the beginning of my work in bringing hope and healing to women and children. Although, I was a survivor of child sexual abuse, that had nothing to do with it. I actually fought God that I was not adequately equipped to take this task. When I was resigning from my job then, my employer asked me if I needed a raise," she recalls.
Now, she cannot ever imagine doing anything else. "This is the only thing that gives me fulfillment and joy. I am at home in this work. It is making me the very best and an expertise in what I am doing," she enthuses.
Since inception in 2000, MediaCon has handled many cases. According to the child sexual rights activist, in 2010, 3977 reports were taken through the three help lines alone, out of which 48 per cent were sexual violence cases. She adds, "Currently, we have over 20 cases in different courts including the family courts in Lagos State and other neighbouring states."
But this success has come with a good dose of challenges too.
She laments the inadequate implementation of the laws and policies regarding human rights violations including sexual violence in Lagos. "This has led to intense advocacy efforts geared towards mobilisation and engagement to ensure community participation in the prevention and response to sexual violence against women and children in our society. The judicial process most times goes on for many years which prove very discouraging and further traumatise survivors and families who want to put the incidents behind them. This among other things like finances may lead to them stopping court attendance which in turn may cause the case to be struck off," she explains.
One other factor her organisation has had to wrestle with is family intervention, which she describes as a huge setback. According to her, when there is a violation such as sexual abuse of a child, the case is a state criminal offence and the prosecution is handled by an assigned state prosecutor such as a police prosecutor or a prosecutor from the Directorate of Public Prosecution from the Ministry of Justice. She notes that even though it does not cost a family any legal fees except for transportation to court for appearance and time, many families still have the wrong impression. This impression, she says, is fueled with myths and misconceptions, proclaimed stigma for the child victim such as the girl child will not be able to marry when she becomes older if the family and man knows that she was violated as a child. "Family name and honour supersede the needs of the child victim," the activist bewails.
Hers is indeed an interesting world; a world of litigations, protective custodies and the likes. She explains, "A unique feature of sexual violence is that it rarely presents alone, investigation normally shows that other forms of needs are involved. This may include emergency protective custody, immediate evacuation of the survivor or the whole family from the environment where the incident happens due to threat, shame and others. This sometimes proves quite difficult for one NGO to handle as there is no government or private provider for evacuating a whole family or responding to their financial needs. We have to bear some cost and most times we have good Samaritans donate in support of such times which are very often."
Princess, who is 47 this year, is married with eight biological children. "I have all the age range from adults to adolescents," she quips in.
Her work has also come with its share of accolades. For instance, she has received several awards such as the ASHOKA fellowship by ASHOKA for Public Innovators and an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Public Health by the University of Western Cape, South Africa (2010).
Asking her to isolate a particular case that made the deepest impression is akin to urging her to choose a favourite among her eight children; a tough call. "Our work is a traumatising job. You hear cases of violated children, adolescents, women and even men who have faced different forms of sexual violations. People share things with us that they don’t find easy to share. Just when you think you heard the worst, another new one comes through; too many cases," she replies.
Having been sexually abused as a child, she has a word for victims. "The lack of Knowledge of the short and long term consequences of sexual abuse and understanding of the dynamics of sexual violence has helped abusers to an enabling environment. Most adults do not have this information or knowledge and that affects plans for prevention and crisis response provision. To adult survivors, I say; forgive yourself and your abuser (s). Healing is a process, so take a step at a time," she counsels.
Princess is not about to finish this conversation without a line on her husband, who she calls her blessing in cool disguise. She says, "My husband is my ‘Pay Back.’ My God paid back the years that the canker worm, palmer worm and all the worms had eaten. No man could have fit the trousers. He is my best friend, partner and chief supporter."