By Paul Adepoju
My shift was almost over and to say the truth, I couldn’t wait to leave the hospital. But as I gazed fully at the ancient slowly chiming wall clock, series of events happened in the split of a second. Blaring police sirens serenaded the once peaceful dead silent hospital. I looked outside to know the number of criminals that had been shot dead, as usual, only for one of the officers to accost me at the door and followed me back into my laboratory. It was like I was the one they wanted to spend some quality time with. Even with the national work-to-rule exercise enforced by my national union, I couldn’t say no to a rape case involving a four-year old innocent looking little girl. The reason is simple; she could have been my daughter.
My hospital has been recording higher-than-usual cases of rape in recent times. This might be said to be in line with the recent Abia state university rape tape that found its way onto the internet. But the difference however is the fact the victims that are being brought to my center are mostly very young.
The parents of this particular girl are poor, just like most of the cases we now handle, and they live in a dangerously remote area. On a Monday afternoon, she was heading home from “lesson” when two unemployed youths in the area greeted her on the way. They told her the father was waiting for her in an uncompleted building and since she knew the two young men, and trusted them with her safety, she followed them. But when they got to the uncompleted building, she was severely raped. She bled and sustained serious injuries – physically and psychologically. When she got home dripping in her own blood, her father couldn’t believe his eyes. He went to the police, and police’s interrogation of the girl led to the arrest of the suspects.
I asked the police officers what would then happen to the girl and they told me it is not their duty to look after the girl, they are only interested in ensuring that the perpetrators of the dastard act are severely punished. I asked the mother for their care plan; she said they would take her to a man of God for deliverance after which she would be back with them in the same neighborhood where she was raped in the first place.
On our own at the hospital, we recommended some tests including HIV assay now and few months later. As I reached for her fore arm to get some blood samples, she screamed and began to cry, begging me not to harm her. Her father shouted on her thinking she was scared of the hypodermic needle but I knew right away that the girl is psychologically traumatized; in need of help and will never be the same again after the incidence.
#ABSURape trended on Twitter and Facebook, it subsequently became a media issue since every one sought to be identified as celebrities against rape. Fela Durotoye, Toyosi Akerele and several others did ads and wrote status updates preaching against rape, even the two chambers of the National Assembly set times aside to see the video and to discuss the ABSU rape case. Even foreign media like the Washington and Huntington posts joined the rest of the world in calling for serious actions by law enforcement agencies, and stiffer laws ranging from longer jail terms to a date with the hangman’s noose. But these actions couldn’t be said to have yielded any landmark results as it would have been elsewhere. For instance, only few weeks after the ABSU rape saga, another rape tape surfaced on the internet but so far, it has not attracted similar media attention like ABSU’s which tend to substantiate the assertion that the ABSU rapists were just unlucky.
Rape is a serious crime; even the Nigerian constitution sees rape as a criminal act. According to the Criminal Code Act, any person who has unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or girl, without her consent, or with her consent, if the consent is obtained by force or by means of threats or intimidation of any kind, or by fear of harm, or by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act, or, in the case of a married woman, by personating her husband, is guilty of an offence which is called rape. Punishment for rape and offences related to rape (including attempts to rape, sexual assault, harassment, forced underage elopement) range from two years for indecent assaults misdemeanors to a life sentence for actual rape convicts. But the ever rising incidence of rape in Nigeria suggests that laws alone are insufficient; even the current laws are deficient, incongruent, confusing, shallow and conflicting. For instance, many states and communities have or plan to enact their own laws on how rapists should be punished with varying degrees of punishments. But none of them has provision whatsoever for the rape victims.
Better Care of Nigerian Rape Victims
While everyone is talking more about how to take rapists to the firing squad, the rape victims, especially those who have no one talking or fighting for them, are plunging into an emotional abyss and social alienation which current policies are doing virtually nothing about. Yes, there are numerous non governmental agencies and the various government social welfare departments that are in charge when there is a rape case; but currently, there is no standard victim care package or program. In other words, it looks like when you are raped in Nigeria, you are on your own. We need to change that.
The first step in helping rape victims is to ensure that perpetrators are apprehended and made to face justice. This will show that the bad guys don’t always get away with their crimes in Nigeria – not raping an underage. Researchers elsewhere discovered that arresting the rapist could help the rape victim to speedily regain their eroded self esteem. This is the task for law enforcement officers and other professionals involved in rape cases.
We need to do more in ensuring that rape cases are not reduced to nothing but mere newspaper cover stories. Every time I read about rape cases on the cover of our newspapers, hear on radio and see on TV channels, I get concerned about the privacy of the ladies involved. The standard picture blurring broadcasting policies for airing rape cases should be totally enforced since some mushroom stations are still unprofessional about their broadcasts.
It is also critical that sexually assaulted individuals and rape victims receive appropriate confidential health care and counseling at no cost to them but to the government. This should be a way of apologizing that the society couldn’t help or protect them from the dastard act. Most of the rape victims that I encounter in my health center are poor and lack assistance; they cannot afford to adequately take care of their children who just got raped. Healthcare providers in many health institutions like mine often try to help after persuasions and appeals by the victims’ relatives but we need to establish some ground rule healthcare services that are not negotiable and are absolutely free. That way, the victims would be able to access them. And those that are unaware of the existence of such free healthcare package would be guided by the police officers who are handling the rape cases.
The girls should have free reproductive health services leading to the diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and the diagnosis and care of resulting pregnancy as the case may be. This is the core ethical dilemma health professionals battle with while handling rape cases. The core ethical obligation in light of the pressures exerted by current arrangement is to ensure that their patients are protected from harm and that they will receive essential health care and support at present and in the future. With a law that describes what should be done to the rape victims, we can make it a lot easier for health professionals to help because we are willing to help, just restrained by law.
The long-term consequences of current no policy that limits access to health care for those who are sexually abused may include an increase in the prevalence of STIs, a rise in unintended teen pregnancy, and escalation in the number of mental and behavioral health issues, including the potential of partner violence and future reoccurrence due to lack of adequate information.
Rape victims can have a range of problems, including some of such severity as to jeopardize their development and health, their future opportunities, and even their lives. These issues may be independent of, or related to, the forced sexual activity. I therefore recommend free services which should include emergency contraception, counseling to decrease posttraumatic stress disorder, and prophylactic treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
Societal Obligations To Prevent/Reduce Rape Incidences
I know the popular notion is that punishing rapists would serve as lesson to others thinking of raping the girl next door. But that is no longer the case, especially in the current dispensation that is characterized with less appreciable respect for the rule of law. The fact that many law breakers are successful in the society further makes punishing others a less effective approach in preventing others from committing the same offence. Hence we need to re-strategize, and think like the rapists.
We need to answer questions like why rapists rape their victims. Answers include ritual purposes, sexual obsession, perversion, pedophilia, paucity of funds to pay commercial sex workers and the safer nature of their victims considering the fact that most of the young ladies are maidens. However, I am not sure that we can ask herbalists to find another way for making their rituals work without having to rape someone, nor can we ask commercial sex workers to lower their prices or do bonanzas, although these are great ideas; but we can do a lot about those who rape just because they have time on their hands, are unemployed hence they see rape as the only opportunity they have to be in charge, to be a man, and to be the boss.
Few months ago, Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo proscribed the National Union of Road Transport Workers Union thus increasing the number of unemployed youths in the state by several thousands. But these thousands are quite unique because they are armed, can harm and once lived life to the fullest as unionists. But after losing control of the parks, they were improperly reintroduced into the humble society. They now harass drivers and threaten passers bye by demanding for money. Some of them assault ladies on the way and according to the police officers that often bring the rape victims for medical examination, most of the suspects were former members of the defunct union. This is quite understandable considering the fact that the unemployed able bodied young men have time on their hands and unused energies to dissipate. It will therefore be a step in the right direction if governments at all levels step up their job creation strategies. As long as there are unemployed strong men around our innocent maidens, the threat of rape will still be there.
Every time a raped girl tests negative for pregnancy test and the parents are happy, I think about the change of lifestyle and reorientation of personal goals that would have happened if she had been pregnant. More importantly, I think about the close shave experience the girl just had with contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. While some of my patients are lucky, others aren’t. The unlucky ones have everything to blame – the system, the government, the rapists, the parents and healthcare providers like me because we couldn’t protect them from previous setbacks and arm them to tackle obstacles ahead.
Although rape is a medical injury to the lady involved and psychological trauma to her family and friends, the criminal act remains a national issue. It is the aftermath of uncontrolled unemployment, unstable policies, malnourished laws, decadence in the social structure and imbalance in the natural homeostasis. It is an individual act that can bring down an entire nation. The rape of noblewoman Lucretia was a starting point of events that led to the overthrow of the Roman Monarchy and establishment of the Roman Republic. As a direct result of rape, Lucretia committed suicide. Many artists and writers were inspired by the story, including yours sincerely, Shakespeare, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Dürer, Artemisia Gentileschi, Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Heywood and others.
It is therefore an issue of paramount urgency for everyone concerned to act in the best interest of vulnerable ones like the four-year old girl I had to sacrifice my off-duty time to see before I could leave my shift. She could be my daughter, she could be yours. While there is very little we can do to stem natural disasters, there is a lot we all can do to solve this national inguinal crisis. Only commercial products need adverts, serious issues like rape need serious collaborative actions from everyone.