Adolescents worldwide often face tremendous sexual violence; a growing problem and a leading reproductive health concern. The prevalence of this violence ranges between 11 and 55% in Nigeria. In this report, DOOSUUR IWAMBE x-rays the psychological and mental effects of rape.
Esther Anu (not real name) was 13-years-old when her uncle raped her. According to her, she was spending the holidays with her grandmother when the incident occurred.
Now 33, she said: ‘’I was raped by an uncle of mine when I was 13 years old. I was spending the holidays at my grandmother’s house. It was on a very hot afternoon and I was playing in her lawn, and he was watching me while I played.
‘’Later that day when my grandmother and I were both having afternoon naps, he came into my room. I didn’t realize he was in with me until I felt him pressing down on me.
I can still remember the smells of alcohol, stale cigarette smoke and rancid sweat. He jerked off my panties before I was really awake and began fondling me.
‘’I remember being afraid and whimpering, but he told me that if I made any noise or told anyone, he would kill me and my baby brother. Something cut my upper thigh, his zipper maybe, or his pocketknife.
I still have the scar. I was terrified. He told me that he could tell that I wanted it by the way, as I had been acting earlier in the day. He pressed my face down into the bed pillow and raped me.
‘’Through it all, and for a while after he left, I stayed quiet. I went into the bathroom and saw blood on my gown, on my legs. I wiped it off and put on some underwear, then crawled back into bed.
I felt so very small and sad. My grandmother sent me home a few days later because I was crying all the time and running a fever. I wish that was the only time I had been raped. I was so young then, and my memories of it are hazy around the edges,” Anu narrated her ordeal.
For Mrs. Dooshima Iorfa, she was very confused when her stepfather raped her when she was just 14-years-old. “It was the most horrifying experience, especially for an already confused 14-year-old’’, she said.
According to her, after the rape her brain shut down, she felt numb like a shell. ‘’All my feelings the hurt, shame, anger, guilt, sadness, and confusion were all locked away.
‘’I felt like I was seeing myself as an outsider. I watched myself smile, laugh, and have fun, but I didn’t feel any of it. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t know the face that stared back at me.
That is when I started cutting. It allowed me to feel my existence, and feel pain, but a different kind of pain. A controlled pain that I was in charge of, I had some sense of control over my out of control life.
‘’My parents found out about the cutting and were shocked and confused. I refused to talk to them about it or tell them anything. I could not talk about the rape.
If I talked about it, I would feel it, it would be real. I wanted to pretend like it did not happen and if no one knew it was easier to pretend’’, she added.
Just like Anu and Iorfa, so many women and girls suffer in silence and shame because they are worried about their family’s reaction and social stigma.
Like the woman in Sokoto, who was assaulted by her husband whilst in purdah and denied access to critical support; or a woman in Lagos who was raped and impregnated by her neighbour and forced to leave her home for fear of stigmatization.
Countless women and girls who either are ostracized or in community seclusion and at risk of violence still need to be reached.
Across Nigeria, women and girls are standing up; reporting their horrible experiences, and demanding local solutions to the problems of violence, including rape and sexual exploitation.
A case in point is that of Blessing, a 13 –year-old resident in Abuja. Blessing whom her neighbour raped last year kept quiet because the alleged perpetrator threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone about it.
When she finally summoned the courage and disclosed to her parents about her ordeal, they pressed charges and the rapist was arrested but released on bail.
The rapist lives near the family and threatened her mother to drop the case. However, her irrepressible mother continued to seek justice in the law court.
“I want to be a lawyer because I don’t want other girls like me to go through a similar experience,” Blessing told our correspondent. “I want to stand up for them, be there for them and fight for them – that is why I want to be a lawyer.”
Breaking the silence on violence against women and girls has created a momentum and encouraged more families to come forward and report cases of rape and other forms of violence or abuse.
This increase in reporting is ringing the alarm bell for clear political action. Nigerian communities and leaders are increasingly coming to terms with the scale of the problem and promising support to find solutions.
A statement jointly signed by Pauline Tallen, Minister of Women Affairs ,Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Nigeria Representative and Comfort Lamptey, United Nations Women Nigeria Representative, emphasized that the government has a critical role to play in leading the way, providing the necessary systems and removing the obstacles to accessing services.
They described as unfortunate that violence against women and girls in Nigeria has remained a pandemic-sized problem.
‘’The government has a critical role to play in leading the way, providing the necessary systems and removing the obstacles to accessing services. However, the government alone cannot solve this problem.
‘’It is the small but momentous changes at the family and community levels – the changes we are starting to see now – that will drive the real change and finally make Nigeria a place that is safe for women and girls.
‘’There is a long way to go before we realize the dream of a Nigeria where women and girls do not live in fear of being abused or raped. We must not squander this moment to make a lasting transformation – for Blessing and for millions of other girls and women like her.
‘’Ending the pandemic of violence against women and girls in Nigeria begins with encouraging more reporting, there is also the need to include a comprehensive review of the system from the girl’s and woman’s point of view.
‘’Resources and training are required to improve services so survivors of violence can get free medical care, legal support and long-term counseling and support’’, they added.
Meanwhile, the National Coordinator, Africa Budget Health Network, Dr. Aminu Magashi Garba has said that the government is not yet ready to grapple with the problem of rape and sexual assault on women.
Dr. Garba who lamented that even though the laws had been there to punish perpetrators, said the level of implementation has remained poor.
Speaking on the implications, psychological and health implications of rape on minors, Dr. Garba said that the experience of sexual assault or abuse at any age whether male or female can have devastating effects on every aspect of a person’s being and life, mind, body, behaviour, thoughts and feelings.
He said, ‘’the consequences of rape to the woman or man can be classified either as physically, mentally or emotionally traumatic.
Among the physical effects, include unwanted pregnancies, diseases or health problems, and certain disruptions on the woman’s natural bodily functions, Hepatitis depression, fear and other Infectious diseases like tuberculosis amongst others.
‘’On the other hand, psychological effects range from self-pity to the more striking suicidal tendencies.
“Since rape is a form of forced intercourse, the victim’s body usually suffers physical injury particularly to the vagina, uterus, and other parts of the reproductive system. The risks are greater if the rape victim is a child or a very young teen.
‘’The foremost psychological effect of rape will be emotional trauma and paranoia. At times, the victim will exhibit symptoms of mental and emotional trauma through solitude and exclusion.
They also develop fear in mingling and socializing with strangers and other people especially men. These effects can last for the duration of the victim’s lifetime’’.
While calling on government at all levels to do more in protecting the lives of Nigerian children, Dr. Garba stressed the need for more sensitization, adding that the campaign would also raise awareness among young boys and girls on the negative effects of sexual abuse alongside other forms of gender-based violence.
‘’Public enlightenment has been shown to be a critical tool in changing behaviour, attitude, beliefs and value system of people.
Therefore, there should be intense public enlightenment and education at schools, social and cultural group gatherings and through the media, to first of all, expose the myths about sexual assault.
‘’These myths inform the way many people think about sexual assault, and because they are in the background unconsciously influencing people’s thoughts, the false assumptions may be seen as being true’’, he noted.