It was an evening of tears and testimonies in Lagos last week as rape survivors, mostly minors, narrated their nightmarish experiences at the hands of rapists. The occasion was the launch of Friends of Mirabel, held at the The Social Place, 33 Sinari Road, Victoria Island.
It was on a day the Mirabel Sexual Assault Referral Centre, Lagos State, said thank you to Nigerians and other partners who have been its pillar of support in the effort to reduce the financial and emotional burden of 1, 074 rape and other sexual violence victims it has helped since it started two years ago.
Some of the victims betrayed emotions while narrating their various experiences. The atmosphere became charged and guests who were initially in a celebration mood in the colourful hall became moody. From the Master of Ceremony to the last guest, tears flowed freely.
The victims narrated how they suffered and lost their pride of womanhood. Their stories broke emotional barriers and many wept profusely in solidarity with the survivors. Despite the counselling and motivation these victims may have received, they remain distraught and heartbroken.
Narrating her heart-rending story, Mercy, who was raped at the age of eight said it was a day she would never want to remember. Her case could be described as pain after pain because she was later diagnosed with Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF), a diagnosis that compounded her agonies.
An abnormal fistulous tract extending between the bladder and the vagina, VVF allows the continuous involuntary discharge of urine into the vaginal vault. Apart from the medical complication, VVF has a profound effect on the patient’s emotional well-being.
“I was eight-years-old when a man raped me. If his action ended there, it would have been better for me but, it was the beginning of many problems ahead of me till today. After the rape, I was taken to the hospital for treatment. It was after many tests that the doctors said I had developed VVF. I have been operated twice as a young girl.
“At a point, nobody was willing to help me to the extent that I was using piece of cloth to clean the discharge from my body. When Mirabel Centre took up the case, my shame was taken away because they provided me with lots of medical and psychological support.
“In all, I thank God that I didn’t die in the process and I am alive today to share the testimony. I want government to work harder to get rapists punished and eradicate sexual violence in Nigeria.” Janet was barely two years when she was raped. She was so young that her story could only be told by her mother. She was assaulted by two men. The violation occurred while her mother, Nkiru, was away from home to eke out a living.
A single mother, Nkiru, said it all started when she noticed her daughter was frequently falling ill. “The father abandoned me when I became pregnant so I had to work to support myself and my baby. As a single mother, I was working at a factory to cater for my family. Since I was not allowed to take her to my place of work; my neighbour offered to assist me to look after her while I was off at work.
“Initially, I was reluctant to place her under the woman’s care but she assured me she would be safe with her. I later learned the woman allowed her to play in other neighbours’ apartments and the men were buying things to entice the innocent child.
“One a day I returned from work and I was discussing with her when she said something about sex and I was shocked, considering her age. I did not really suspect she was raped; I only thought she might have watched pornographic films or seen such pictures. But when she repeated it some other times, I told one of my sisters, who then advised me to ask her other questions and to take her to the hospital.
“When we took her for test, medical examinations showed that she had been violated. I was furious and heartbroken. I cried. The men might have raped her many times because I was keeping her with the woman for about a year. My daughter started having discharges and itches in her private part. It was very embarrassing to me and I saw the girl was in pain”, she said.
Based on the information supplied by her daughter, Nkiru went to the Police Station to complain. The Police arrested the two men accused of the act. They were later charged to court and prosecuted. “The rapists threatened to deal with me on several occasions. They told me that I would soon abandon the case since I had no money to hire a lawyer to defend my daughter in court,” she added.
Jenny’s case was in court for four years before judgment was given. The perpetrators were convicted of the crime and sentenced to jail. Miriam’s case was also highlighted. She was raped by a Customs Officer at Apapa, Lagos. She alleged conspiracy by the Police and expressed disappointment and pain that the perpetrator walks freely on the streets of Lagos.
“A Nigerian Customs officer raped me on August 3, 2015. It didn’t end there; when he saw that I opened up, he was sending people after me and threatening to deal with me. His threats lasted about two months. I reported at the Police Station but nothing has been done to him to date.
“After he had carnal knowledge of me, I was frustrated and became very angry at the slightest provocation. Many times, I felt like committing suicide. When I got to Mirabel Centre, the staff counselled and comforted me that it was not my fault. We need more centres like Mirabel in Nigeria,” she said.
In her contribution, the Managing Partner of the Centre, Mrs. Itoro Eze-Anaba, who expressed appreciation for the United Kingdom’s Partnership for Justice, an arm of the country’s Department for International Development, DFID, for funding the Centre in the last two years, appealed to Nigerians not to allow the Centre closed down.
Eze-Anaba, who acknowledged that challenges at the centre were increasing, said they now receive an average of 100 victims per month. She urged all stakeholders in the society to devote their time and financial resources in campaigning against rape and other social vices in Nigeria as the issue of rape is not a joke.
Also speaking, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, who was also decorated as an Ambassador of Mirabel Centre, said Nigerians should see the fight against rape as everyone’s responsibility. Odinkalu faulted a portion of the law on rape, which places stiffer penalty on a rapist of an adult and lighter punishment on those that rape minors. She lamented it was the reason the number of female children being sexually molested is increasing.
“It is unfortunate that it is only Lagos State and the FCT, Abuja that have criminalised rape in Nigeria,” he said. Continuing, he disclosed that a recent government sponsored survey showed that 25 per cent of Nigerian girls would be raped before they are 18, and nine million children would be exposed to rape annually, except something is done urgently to correct the ugly trend. “The issue of rape is not a joke. We need to look into families that are suffering some forms of domestic violence,” he said.