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At this point, we need to be more informed on sexual violence in Nigeria (READ)

In the wake of the prevalence of sexual abuse in our environment, the need to be more enlightened about the issue as well as necessary actions to take in the event of such has become necessary, with the goal of carrying out actions that would inform policies, empower parents, researchers and so on. With accurate information, that we can all work together to put an end to this crime.

In this light, we had an interview with Ijeoma Ndukwe, Founder of Share Anonymous, a project which provides a safe and open platform where victims and survivors of sexual violence can reclaim their voices and share their stories anonymously.

The organisation also plans to use information from these experiences to generate accurate data on sexual violence in Nigeria, which will in no small way help in understanding the extent of this crime in our community.

Read the interview below:

When someone becomes a victim, what is the first thing that should be done? Considering the stigma and prejudices towards victims. 

The first thing is to find somewhere safe and go there, but the victim shouldn’t only consider physical safety but emotional safety as well, that is why a trusted friend or relative’s home is the best choice. However, because of how confusing and pervasive sexual assault can be, it may be the last thing the victim would feel like doing but choosing to tell someone they trust who has their best interest at heart is one of the most important things they can do for themselves.

Another thing is to try to resist the urge to take a bath or wash the clothes they were wearing until they have decided whether to seek medical help or report what happened to the police. Not washing their cloths or taking a bath would help preserve the DNA evidence that would give the police a better chance of identifying the perpetrator and successfully prosecuting the crime in the law court.

For trusted helpers, it is important to resist the urge to question the victim – not about what happened or the choices they made.

The best thing to do is to follow their lead, listen when they do decide to tell you what happened, tell them that you believe them; ask how you can support them and offer to help them figure out options for reporting or medical/psychological intervention; offer to go or be with them through any process that may arise and just show up and be there.

You have been on this probably for a while now, what common feelings/effects do these victims have or experience? 

Yes, close to 2 years.

The time immediately after a rape incident is confusing, emotional and charged with anxiety because even as the victims are the ones who have been harmed in very intimate ways, they are most likely thinking about their experience in relation with how their closest and dearest would see them moving forward should they decide to tell. And because rape culture gaslights people into thinking that sexual assault can only happen in one way, people who are victimized blame themselves and internalize the pain instead of telling someone they know and trust and getting help.

Not talking to someone and receiving immediate help is the reason the effects from sexual assault linger as long as they do, because trauma has very little to do with the actual incident but everything to do with the imprints that incident left on the mind and sensations of the victim.

They experience physical effects, such as: changes in eating or sleeping patterns, increased startle response as a result of hyper arousal, concerns about physical safety which can cause hyper-vigilance, physical injury, etc. then emotional effects, such as, guilt, shame, self-blame, fear, distrust, sadness, vulnerability, isolation, lack of control, anger, numbness, confusion, shock disbelief, denial, etc. there’s also psychological effects; nightmares, night-terrors, flashbacks, depression, difficulty concentrating, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, eating disorders, substance use or abuse, phobias, low self-esteem, etc.

How does one bring children into the equation when we talk about sexual violence? 

Sexual violence comprises child sexual abuse, rape, sexual harassment, etc. You can’t talk about sexual violence without talking about children. It is important that children are taught comprehensive sexuality education.

They don’t only need to learn how the organs of the body works but they need to learn about their body parts and how it works, safe and unsafe touches, how to set boundaries and the need to respect other people’s boundaries, what an unhealthy relationship with an adult or their peers look like; parents, teachers and the children need to learn what grooming is and what the process looks like, it is important that children are empowered to be assertive, that they own their bodies and they don’t need to keep secrets, also about teenage relationships, sex, virginity, contraceptives, etc.

But most of all parents need to make their children understand that they love them unconditionally, they would believe and support them should they ever feel uncomfortable or threatened by any relationship with an adult or their peer, and they can count on them even when they grow up.

Should we be trying to identify perpetrators of sexual violence and if yes, what are the sure ways to identify them?

Yes, I believe that not only identifying perpetrators is important but keeping a good record of perpetrators because it’ll help the authorities identify serial offenders, it’ll also help them monitor convicted offenders have served their complete sentences and are back into the society. We can do this by having a sex offenders registry.

The justice system is in dire need of serious reforms to redress the balance in a system that is stacked against victims, having the right system in place will encourage victims to report the crime and seek justice.

How do we know when someone has been wrongly accused of sexual violence?

The weight and importance given to the issue of false allegation is surprising given how prevalent sexual violence is. It is true that there is a public impression that false allegations are common, and that innocent people suffer because of being wrongfully accused. However, the evidence on false allegations vary and they are invariably and consistently low.

Research suggests that the majority of false allegations do not name an alleged perpetrator – they’re more likely to be relatively vague accusations about a stranger. False allegations tend to be identified very early on in the investigative process, often by the victims admitting that they are false.

The importance given to the issue of false allegations diverts attention away from questions that are ultimately more instructive for preventing sexual violence. In fact, asking why reports of sexual harassment and violence are treated with suspicion may bring us closer to understanding what we can do to lift the barriers to reporting and seeking successful redress.

Can anyone truly recover from sexual violence?

Yes, it is possible to recover from sexual violence. One of the reasons sexual trauma persists is because of lack of early intervention.

If victims were to seek help immediately after a sexual assault, then they can have the opportunity to process the experience and move on with their lives with little or no effect. Early intervention and support are keys to beating trauma.

However, in a situation where that is not the case then committing to the recovery process with the help of a therapist is the best way to not just recover but thrive.

How do you reach out to these people considering societal negatively inclined ideals will always hinder them from speaking out?

We run campaigns on social media and we encourage survivors to speak out and seek help, we also offer to help anybody whose story we come across on social media. Survivors also contact us on their own or are referred to us by their friends or family.

How do we understand the difference between sexual violence, sexual assault, rape and sexual harassment?

Sexual violence and sexual assault are often used interchangeably, though it may be more common to hear one term versus another in certain circumstances.

Sexual violence is commonly used when referencing violence on a global scale or talking about the continuum of sexual violence. Sexual violence/assault comprises child sexual abuse, rape, sexual harassment, etc.

There’s so much talk about consent, what really constitutes consent?

Consent is when someone says “yes” to sexual activity with another person. Consent is freely given and everyone involved in a sexual activity must feel that they are able to say “yes” or “no” or stop the sexual activity at any point.

At the heart of consent is the idea that every person has a right to personal sovereignty – the right to not be acted upon by someone else in a sexual manner unless they give that person clear permission. It is the responsibility of the person initiating the sexual activity to get this permission.

Consent may be given to one sort of sexual activity but not another, e.g. to vaginal but not anal sex or penetration with conditions, such as wearing a condom. It can also be withdrawn at any time during sexual activity and each time activity occurs. Affirmative consent is not just about permission, but about making sure sexual encounters are based on mutual desire and enthusiasm.

Then the talk mostly drifts towards women, is it a societal prejudice or the case is that men are not usually abused? Is it lack of data?

I believe it is because sexual violence against men and boys is very much under-reported compared to sexual violence against women and girls.

Male survivors of childhood sexual abuse, rape and sexual harassment are less likely to report the crime and seek help because of society’s emphasis on the role of men and boys, therefore toxic masculinity which emphasizes on men as aggressive, emotionally stoic and dominating leaves little room to express emotion, acknowledge pain and seek help.

Because of this, male victims often feel ashamed because they were probably overpowered or dominated during the assault, and shame may contribute to feelings of isolation and a hesitation to seek help.

Also, there’s the issue of data on sexual violence against men and boys which is the gap where looking to bridge at Share Anonymous.

We call on victims and survivors to participate in this project by filling the data form on our website, so that we can show what is really going on out there, the extent of sexual violence in Nigeria and how it affects victims.

Our website address is www.shareanonymous.org

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