By Philip Amiola |
I am yet to recover from the shock of a posthumous sex scandal that involved the head of a global organisation founded in Canada and headquartered in the United States.
A report made available by the organisation says that, “witnesses described encounters including sexting, unwanted touching, spiritual abuse, and rape.” Expectedly, the development has caused pain to many families and threatens to wipe out the legacy of the deceased.
In a similar development, the Foundation for Investigative Journalism recently reported the story of a medical student at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, who was raped twice on her 21st birthday by a resident doctor at the hospital.
While I am not in a position to comment on the facts of these incidents, I think the overall situation raises practical issues that warrant contemplation.
A 2019 study by NOI Polls found that three out of 10 respondents know someone who has been raped in the past and 72 percent of the victims are minors (1-15 years) while 24 percent are young adults aged 16-25 years.
Earlier in 2017, the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics had reported 2,279 cases of rape and indecent assault. But the actual figures could be much higher since many cases are not reported.
All of these point to the need for urgent and decisive action to not only bring perpetrators to book but also challenge the entire system that supports the prevalence of this menace.
There is no simple solution to the problem of sexual predation. And candidly, even the most respectable persons can get entangled in either side of the problem, given the right circumstances.
This reflects the insight of first-century preacher, Saul of Tarsus, in a letter to his followers: “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.”
Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase is even more incisive: “Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else.”
A lot of advocacy on sexual predation and gender-based violence has been geared towards punitive measures. While it is indeed important to punish offenders and seek justice for victims, we must not neglect the fact that we can begin to make immediate gains by implementing preventive and protective measures.
In many cases, acts of sexual predation and abuse don’t just happen. They are the culmination of personality problems, wrong values, media violence, sexual innuendos, grooming and various kinds of inappropriate behaviour that have been overlooked or explained away.
If we commit to addressing these underlying issues through a deliberate process that enforces proper behaviour and reinforces the right values, we will see significant gains in our fight against sexual predation and abuse.
One practical way to start moving in the right direction is to create and conscientiously implement a safeguarding policy in every organization, especially schools, religious organizations, hospitals and other institutions that care for children and youths.
A safeguarding policy expresses the organisation’s commitment to protect vulnerable individuals from abuse, harassment, neglect, violence or any form of harm. It also assigns responsibilities and outlines procedures for dealing with issues that may arise.
To this end, organizations should train all members of staff to identify violations and take appropriate action. A simple framework for achieving this is to align with the 5R’s of safeguarding as recommended by experts:
Recognise: Everyone must be aware of the organization’s high standards and zero tolerance for sexual misconduct. All members of staff must also be trained to recognise behaviours that may indicate violation.
Respond: Regardless of your role or position in the organisation, do not ignore any concern or report of any untoward behaviour. Listen attentively, take note of the details and respond appropriately.
Report: The details gathered from complainants should be reported to a designated officer who has been assigned the responsibility to take further action.
In a situation where reporting to a particular designated officer may not be appropriate for any reason, hold back and report to another designated officer, or a member of senior management.
Record: Designated officer should record specific details of the allegation, quoting the complainant as accurately as possible.
Refer: This is a responsibility of the designated officer who should launch a thorough investigation into allegations, complaints and suspicions of sexual predation and abuse.
What we don’t challenge will not change. As individuals and organisations, we must take responsibility to create a culture that prevents misconduct and protects those who uphold the right values. Without this, abusers may intimidate victims into shame, submission and silence.
Amiola, a teacher, writer and spiritual entrepreneur can be reached at Twitter: @PhilipAmiola and www.philipamiola.org