Are you a rape victim in Nigeria, this article gives you the information you need.
What is rape?
Rape is a penetrative sex against the will of a person or under threat of harm. When a person has sex with another without obtaining consent or with incorrectly obtained consent, that is rape.
In Nigeria, the Violence against sexual prohibition act (VAPPA) enacted by the national assembly in 2015 defines rape as intentional penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with any other part of his/her body or anything else without consent or with incorrectly obtained consent.
Consent is considered incorrectly obtained if it is obtained by force, threat or intimidation of the victim. Threatening with a knife, gun or harmful object or threat to harm a person or their loved one if they do not give consent are all ways incorrect ways of obtaining consent. Consent from an under aged person (defined as age less than 14 in Nigeria) or a mentally unstable person are also considered incorrectly obtained consent. This is because the under aged and mentally unstable are considered not to have capacity to give consent. Going by the VAPPA definition of rape, a man can be a rape victim as well.
Rape versus sexual assault versus sexual harassment
These are distinct sex offences which are punishable by law. There are differences between these three terms. Sexual harassment is when a person of any gender sex makes remarks about your body or physical appearance in a sexual way that makes you feel uncomfortable and this may be physical or virtual. Sexual assault is inappropriate physical touch with or without clothes on. Once a sexual assault involves penetration of the vagina, anus or oral cavity, it is termed rape.
Emotional reaction after a rape incident
If you have been raped, you need to go report the incident immediately, submit evidence and start medications to avoid getting sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.
It is very common for the rapist to issue threats that may keep you paralyzed with fear. You may also feel numb after the incident so much so that you are blank and not thinking of the next best step to take. If you feel this way, call a trusted friend that can accompany you to report the incident.
It is common knowledge that some rape victims feel so ashamed that they choose to be silent. Men who are rape victims also feel ashamed because of the fear of being mocked and seen as weaklings that cannot defend themselves. This silence is also peddled by culture of blaming the victim and the fear of isolation from friends and even some family members.
The fear of rape victim blaming has silenced many rape victims and led to preventable sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. It has resulted in emotionally damaged women and children who are products of rape.
Questions like: ‘What were you putting on when you were raped?’ ‘Where did you go?’ ‘Why didn’t you fight?’ ‘Why didn’t you kick or scream?’ tend to imply that the victim was at fault or didn’t put in enough effort to avoid the incident. Shifting the blame back to the victim and absolving the rapist is what you are doing when you ask these kind of questions.
What to expect when you report a rape incident
First thing to know is that when you report a rape case to law enforcement agents, evidence has to be collected for further investigations. It is understandable that you feel dirty and you want to clean up as soon as possible. Please resist the temptation to do so.
Just as a crime scene should not be tampered with before arrival of law enforcement agents, so should the crime scene of a rape, in this case your body not be tampered with. This is because important strong evidence of the crime can only be obtained if the crime scene hasn’t been cleaned up.
When a forensic medical examination is carried out, vaginal, anal or mouth swab is taken which contains the semen or body fluid of the rapist. Other evidences such as pubic hair of the assailant and clothing with blood stain from injury to the rapist are also obtained following examination. The finger nails of the victim may also be taken if there was a struggle and scratching of the rapist during the act. These are sources of DNA which would be used during investigations to confirm that a suspect is truly the rapist.
Some important tests to be done immediately include HIV, Hepatitis and pregnancy tests to confirm that you were neither pregnant nor infected with HIV, hepatitis B or C before the incident. You will receive emergency contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancy and HIV post exposure prophylaxis would be prescribed and you should start taking this immediately. If you are not yet fully vaccinated against hepatitis B virus, the immunoglobulin may be offered and the first dose of the vaccine would be given as well. Subsequently, you would receive the second and third doses of the vaccine.
You will be interrogated many times in the course of investigation to find the criminal who committed such a heinous crime. In as much as you want to put the incident behind you, you also need to get justice, so you have to try your best to recall every detail that would help the law enforcement agents to find the offender as soon as possible.
Being raped is a painful and emotionally draining event therefore you need psychosocial support: either virtual or physical, one on one or group therapy. This can be accessed at same hospital. NGOs also offer psychosocial support for rape victims to recover their self-esteem and for optimal mental wellbeing. This support is particularly helpful during the long court case proceedings after the rapist is charged to court.
You will need a lawyer to represent you once a suspect is identified and charged to court. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you would be assigned one from legal aid or a non-governmental organization (NGOs) may help get a lawyer to offer pro bono services.
Suspects who are found guilty of the crime in Nigeria would get jail terms ranging from 14 years to life imprisonment. The offender’s name would also be added to the sex offenders’ register. NGOs and State Ministry of women affairs play a great role in offering support to the victims during court case for justice to be served.
Step-by-step guide on what to do after rape incident
- Report the rape case to the nearest police station: Here request to see the gender desk officer and file the case. A police officer will be assigned to accompany you to a government owned hospital where you will be examined and relevant samples for tests taken.
- Alternative places to report a rape incident include a police clinic and a sexual assault referral center. An example of a sexual assault referral center is the Mirabel center with their office in Lagos University Teaching Hospital.
- Go to a hospital on your own to see your doctor and for referral to a mental health physician or psychotherapist or a clinical psychologist.
- Start HIV post exposure prophylaxis within 72 hours of the incident.
- Take an emergency contraceptive drug also within 72 hours.
- Get a lawyer to represent you once one or more suspects are identified.
In conclusion, let’s stop the silence culture. Even if the offender is a friend or family member, report the case because in so doing, you protect others from falling victim. In addition, it deters others from committing such crime.
Grace is an internist currently practising in Nigeria. She has gained experience practising both in the private and public health sectors over the last ten years. She is passionate about giving patients adequate information about their health conditions. She believes that a large part of the management of chronic diseases lies with patients' understanding of their illnesses and the need for lifestyle modifications and medications.