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UPDATE 1-Nigerian women take action as rape, assault cases surge during pandemic

GlobalApr 28, 2021 21:30
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(Adds ministry response in paragraph 7)
By Libby George
LAGOS, April 28 (Reuters) - When Kehinde Osakede's
university closed due to COVID-19 last year, the visual arts
student returned home to Lagos. A visit to a family friend
nearby turned into a horrific ordeal.
The friend began touching her, she said, and became violent
when she asked him to stop. He then raped her, she said.
"The guy was hitting me, beating me," said Osakede, now 21,
"The last notion I had was to commit suicide."
Reuters was not able to confirm her account independently.
Osakede did not share the name of her alleged assailant and said
she did not want to get involved in the legal case.
Osakede is one of hundreds of women across Nigeria who have
reported being raped or sexually assaulted in a surge since the
pandemic began, according to police and officials. Some experts
say this represents only a fraction of cases.
The president's office referred Reuters' questions to the
Ministry of Women Affairs.
The ministry said it had helped coordinate the nation's
response to rape and gender-based violence, including by setting
up a national response team and meeting different ministries and
non-governmental organizations.
Around the world, police and prosecutors, victim support
teams and women's movements, as well as the United Nations, have
reported rising domestic violence during coronavirus-related
lockdowns. Lagos state, where Osakede lives, saw a nearly 40% increase
in rape and domestic and sexual violence in 2020, official data
showed.
After a string of high-profile attacks, including the gang
rape of a 12-year-old girl in northern Jigawa state, President
Muhammadu Buhari declared a nationwide state of emergency in
June last year to tackle the crisis.
Police did not respond to requests for comment for this
article, but in June last year they said reports of rape had
risen during the pandemic and introduced measures to improve
police response to gender-based violence.
Some Nigerian women are now acting to address the problem of
sexual violence, saying that cases have ended in few
prosecutions, widespread stigmatization and a tendency to blame
victims.
The National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in
Persons and the police did respond when asked how many
prosecutions of rape cases in Nigeria there had been.
Activists have launched centres to support women, an app to
report attacks and a push to protect girl victims from being
traumatized again in the legal system.

DIFFICULT PATH
They face a difficult path. Polling group NOIPolls found
that 47% of Nigerians blamed rape on indecent dressing, and
fewer than half thought offenders should be punished.
The 2018 official Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey
found that 30% of girls and women aged between 15 and 49
reported suffering sexual abuse.
The government has declared a state of national emergency
over rape and gender-based violence and says it has directed the
police and the states to do everything they can to tackle it.
Some activists and lawyers have described child rape cases
settled for just 10,000 naira ($26), and courts where cases
languish for years.
"This is such a systemic problem - such a magnitude, that
you're very quickly overwhelmed," said Kemi DaSilva-Ibru, a
gynaecologist who founded the Women at Risk International
Foundation (WARIF), a donor-funded non-profit organization that
treats rape victims and helps police gather physical evidence.
DaSilva-Ibru launched WARIF, which helped Osakede with
counselling and group therapy, after years of treating rape
victims as young as two.
In Lagos, senior lawyer Boma Alabi is rallying others in her
profession to protect underaged victims when cases go to trial.
"Children being cross-examined like adults, children who
have been traumatized by defilement ... it shouldn't be
happening," she said.
The attorney general did not immediately respond to a
request for comment on how the children were treated in court.
In northern Kano state, tech entrepreneur Sa'adat Aliyu in
August launched an app, Helpio, for women to report assaults.
She said it matched users with organizations who help them
approach the police.
"These victims don't know there are actually organizations
that fight for their rights and give them legal support, also
medical or financial support," she said.
Osakede says she has stopped blaming herself with the help
of counselling at WARIF, and wants others to take courage from
her story.
"I came to this place, and I started feeling okay," she
said.

UPDATE 1-Nigerian women take action as rape, assault cases surge during pandemic
 

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