Friday 6 April 2012

Nigeria: How not to deal with the rape of children

The difficult issues
I find myself writing on the issue of our attitudes to rape in Nigeria for the third time in a week because some pertinent matters fail to be addressed between the stigmatisation that bedevils victims of sexual violence and the critical need to see rape as well beyond physiological damage to the emotional scars that result from such traumatic experiences.
In a report that appeared in the Vanguard Nigeria newspaper yesterday, whilst I could see the anger of the parents that was about to be expressed in taking Ekene Dili Chukwu Transport Company Limited to court, which I think they should along with other prosecutions of the nabbed criminals that visited untold terror on the girls, what is most palpable is the denial of the parents of certain detail that has emanated from the ordeal.
Maybe there was no rape
The said students were between the ages of 11 and 16, even though they were attendees of an apparently convent school with the name Holy Rosary College and a principal who happens to be Reverend Sister, it is utterly naïve to suggest that the girls will not know if they had been interfered with, suffered an ordeal or had been subjected to the grossest humiliation by being asked to take off their clothes under threat of harm and menace.
We have been deflected with the notion that one of the girls escaped rape by reason of her menses and another who happened to be a parent was able to convince the hoodlums that she was pregnant and by reason of that the sexual appetite of all the men was fully sated. That stretches my imagination no end, even if I am to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
It is strange that as the transport company is in search of exculpation daring the parents to provide any evidence of rape having taken place, the parents who have vehemently denied that rape had occurred at all are painfully vocal to dispute rape whilst behaving as if they are beyond consolation by reason of their daughters who might have really been raped.
Unseemly notions
It transpired that the girls were asked if they had been raped and none answered in the affirmative and that could have been for all sorts of reasons from having not being raped or the fear and stigmatisation that might ensue from revealing the fact that they had been violated.
However, that is not what really bothers me as much as what the parents themselves have to say of the alleged rape and most especially, a man and no doubt a father of at least one of the girls.
I don’t think any of the children was raped because if an armed robber rapes a 10 or 13-year-old child, I don’t think that child would be able to walk for one week. And if they were raped, there  would have been blood stains, but when we saw them after the incident there was no blood on their body.  We have asked all of them and none said she was raped and these children cannot lie. We have also taken most of them to Island maternity where doctors who treated them confirmed that they were not raped and we have our medical report to that effect.
This parent who is the Chairman of the Lagos Branch of the Parents Teachers Association made some incredible assertions.
  • That the rape by an armed robber will present in certain incapacitation – This man must have a concept of rape that is fearful in context and in denial of reality if it did occur without presenting the expected symptoms.
  • That blood stains always accompany rape – This might be by reason of his assuming all the girls were virgins and there is nothing to say they weren’t but I really worry about this alarming conclusion.
  • That these children cannot lie – I cannot vouch for the sainthood of the children, neither will I question their honesty, but to expect children to come forward as if they were answering a question in class in the presence of their peers is to misunderstand the context, the setting, the situation and their children. I cannot say that I am not utterly saddened by the lack of sensitivity and empathy necessary to address this all in the attempt to deflect the stigma that accompanies rape.
  • The more worrisome element to this is that most of the girls were medically examined; however, I do fear that medical validation might have been used to ward off suspicion of rape than to address it such that the man is asserting that there are medical reports to prove the girls had not been raped.
It gets worse
He goes on to aver that, “Although the armed robbers asked them to pull off their dresses when they were searching them for money but when they couldn’t find any money, they asked them to put on their clothes and pushed them into the bus.”
I find that utterly incredible. The armed robbers asked the girls to pull off their dresses in search of money? By which time I had lost all sympathy for the man as I agonised about what the poor girls might have gone through much of which has now been denied, dismissed and made little of by parents hoping to protect their girls from an immediate stigma without addressing the long term consequences of their ordeal.
Are we helping the children?
It again leaves one rather disgusted by the notion that children soon forget what happened to them and time will eventually put this all behind them especially when no one addresses the trauma by ignoring it, in the misguided view that time heals.
It just does not work like that and the earlier we begin to address the matters of rape as having real victims who could well be our daughters and ensuring perpetrators face the full wrath of the law for their unforgivable acts of unimaginable cruelty and violation of our loved ones, more victims will remain voiceless and rape will just be the norm we are ready to tolerate, condone, ignore and deny because we do not have the courage to help victims find a semblance of closure that involves the truth, the therapy and the regaining of confidence and self-esteem to be themselves before the experiences they suffered.

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