Eze-Anaba: Why Sexual Offenders’ register’ll solve rape, abuse cases

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Itoro-eze-anaba1

Itoro Eze-Anaba is the Executive Director/Managing Partner, Partnership for Justice- an organisation managing the Mirabel Sexual Assault & Referral Centre domiciled at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital in Lagos (LASUTH). Eze-Anaba in this interview speaks on the prevailing sexual assault, rape child abuses among others. APPOLONIA ADEYEMI met her.

From your experience, can you say cases of sexual assault in the country is increasing or decreasing?

Whenever I am asked this question, I always say that we live in a society that doesn’t have verifiable data. So, for you to be able to say whether sexual assaults have increased in the past two years or five years, you must have a reliable data that you can compare it with and because we do not have such verifiable data of the past ten years, it is difficult to say it has increased in the last two years.

What I can confidently say that there has been increase in the reporting of these cases because you can compare, it is easy to compare what media report has been like for the past three –four years to what it has been like in the past two years but in terms of incidents it is difficult to say because there are no statistic to compare.

What are the milestones that have been achieved by the Mirabel Sexual Assault & Referral Centre?

One is that we are part of the pressure group, the child protector agencies that advocated for sexual offenders register and the former governor signed an executive order to that effect. Now we have a sex offenders’ register, coupled with the fact that we also have a mandatory reporting of cases. That is one.

Secondly, the Mirabel Sexual Assault & Referral Centre has been able to create awareness about rape and sexual assault and the main fact that the centre has seen 865 clients so far including 20 males is also a major achievement. Over 80 per cent of the victims are minors, below the age of 18.

If Mirabel Centre was not in existence those 865 clients would have just disappeared into the society and we will not be able to track and know what has happened. We have been able to help our client who became pregnant as a result of rape to have a baby and we have reunited her with her family.

We have been able to go to schools to talk about rape and sexual assault. Working with the Lagos State Government, there is more coordination of institutions that deal with child sexual abuse. For instance, the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Response Team is made up of the police, social welfare, Ministry of Women Affair & Poverty Alleviation (WAPA), and all the agencies that have one thing or the other to do with child sexual abuse.

It is now more coordinated such that if something happens and I need somebody from social welfare I don’t need to go there; I know who to call and they are always there. The Office of the Public Defender, office of the Attorney-General are doing fantastic job. So, now there is a more coordinated approach to it and Mirabel Sexual Assault & Referral Centre is very happy to be part of that process.

What are the things the family, community and the government should do to check incidence of sexual assaults?

First is to end impunity. People that have been accused of rape should face the law. Should they be convicted, they should be sent to prison. If the law says the penalty for rape is life imprisonment then they should face life imprisonment. Once you begin to count hundred or two hundred people that have been convicted of rape then it will serve as a warning to others but in a situation where you report a case and you are asked to go home and settle then you are encouraging the person (rapist) to go home and continue what he had done. Hence, there is need for prosecution and conviction to serve as a deterrent. There is also need for us to understand that rape is not something for the government.

For us to end rape and sexual assault, every member of the community needs to stand up because if we do not stand up as a community and say no to rape, it will continue to flourish in the community. Then within the community we need to change our focus; we should stop focusing attention on the woman that was raped. Talks like:

“That woman was raped; she is no longer a virgin, should stop. What we need to start talking about is: “David is a rapist.” It is David that needs to run out of the community; it is not the survivor that needs to put her head down and relocate because of what David had done. So, we need to change the way we look at rape as an issue.

We also need to understand that rape has nothing to do with the way women dress and so we cannot blame a rape survivor when it happens. No matter how she dresses the perpetrator is the perpetrator; he is the criminal. We have had instances of a ten-monthold baby being sexually molested.

What was she wearing? Was it just the diaper that was the attraction? So, it has nothing to do with what we wear; it has a lot to do with the perpetrator and the perpetrator will always be the criminal. In the home, mothers and fathers need to be aware of what is going on with their children. We go to work and probably leave the home by 6 a.m and we get back home from 9 to 10 p.m.

What has happened to our children within that period of time? Whether the child is in school, the school teacher is a threat to the child;the driver that takes the child to school is a threat to that child. So, we need to be on the lookout for warnings signs. We need to believe our children, and we need to make sure that the line of communication between the parents and the children is open.

The child of one of our clients went to the mother and asked her: what is blow job? The mother’s surprising reaction was: where did you get that from? She kept quiet. She also went to the father and asked: what is blow job? Nobody talked to about it. Nobody asked her where she got that from.

The driver employed in the family was busy teaching her the ‘blowjob’. So, we need to pass information to our children. Let them know that the people that we see, not strangers – that uncle, that teacher, that driver, that security man, can be dangerous. So, we need to teach them the danger signs; we need to teach them what to look out for, we need to teach them that when they go out with friends they need to look out for one and another.

You cannot leave your drink and walk away in a bar or at a party. Somebody can drug you and anything can happen afterwards .You need to have a plan B. If you go with your friend to a party, you need to have a plan B. You need to know that if you are uncomfortable in this party, you should promptly call your mummy or daddy to come and pick you up.
We need to teach our children to protect themselves. We need to teach our children their body parts the way it is. You don’t teach about the eye and then when it comes to teaching them about their private parts – the vagina, the penis, you give different names.

Empower your child to know that when somebody touches their vagina and penis, it is wrong. When such happens, the child should shout and talk about it. When we begin to put all those measures in our home in the community or the society adding to the fact that impurity is reduced to the barest minimum we will begin to see evidence of reduction in cases of rape and sexual assault.

What are the major challenges hindering the fight against sexual assault?
We have a major challenge with the funding. The Mirabel Sexual Assault & Referral Centre is funded by Department for International Development (DFID) and the Partnership for Justice Programme of the British Council. That funding cannot go on forever. So, it will no doubt come to an end one day.

Hence, we need the government, corporate organisations and individuals to come in and provide assistance and help so that the Mirabel Sexual Assault & Referral Centre can continue to provide services without which the centre might be forced to fold up.
Another challenge that we have is that the people in the community who consider themselves as opinion leaders encourage clients to settle the matter (cases of sexual assaults) out of court They tell rape survivors and members of their families that to forgive is divine and to forget the consequences of what had happened to the child or to the woman that was sexually assaulted. We are saying that for everybody person that encourages survivors to settle the matter out of court, we will go after that person because you are also committing an offence. So, we should stop asking them to settle.

Is it legal to go after those encouraging matters to be settled out of court?
Yes. It is obstructing justice because they are intimidating the survivors and obstructing justice, which is a critical aspect of justice.

What is the state of the sex offenders’ register in Lagos and the current figures?
The sexual offenders register is domiciled in the office of the Attorney-General and they have over hundred names on that list. It is a public document; you can walk in there and request to see that list. They actually encourage people to walk in there and see that list.

If you are employing a driver, teachers, security man, you need to be sure that he or she is free and clean because somebody might commit an offence in Festac town and run away to Ketu and if you are not careful he is starting life afresh in Ketu but if his name is on that Sexual Offenders’ Register, you can track it and then you know that this person is here. If you know there is an offender in your community let others know.

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