As a Nigerian who is concerned about the rights of women and children, you never catch a break. In October alone, we have had to sit as a nation and discuss the religious institutions that allowed an alleged predator like Biodun Fatoyinbo perpetuate crimes of violence, coercion and sexual assault against young, vulnerable women who looked to him as a leader. We have also had to, once again, reckon with the scourge of #SexForGrades, a system where university officials subvert their power to coerce girls into having sex with them in exchange for a passing grade. And today, we hear from a non profit organization in Kaduna state that the state’s sexual assault referral centres have recorded 662 cases of abuse targeted at women and children since 2016 when the non-profit began to record incidences.
Kaduna state is better than most of the states in the country in its fight to eradicate gendered violence. with its state assembly and executive both invested in providing health infrastructure to help victims of assault and strengthen its law enforcement agencies to deter this kind of violence. While this number might seem smaller in comparison to Lagos’s staggering 4032 reported cases in a year, there is context. Violence continues to happen because there is a deeply entrenched culture of shame and silence. According to Save The Children spokesperson Isah Ibrahm, less than 10% of children and women sexually assaulted report to the appropriate authorities, so these numbers while alarming, are only a microcosm of a much larger problem. But having referral centres is the first step in de-stigmatizing sexual assault and encouraging more people to come forward.
The myth that sexual assault is somehow the fault of the victim needs to combated and dispelled. It needs to be dispelled when the victim is a university student trying to sort out her academic records, it needs to be dispelled when the victim is a religious church worker. It especially needs to be dispelled when it involves innocent children who cannot defend themselves. It must start from the government introducing preventative measures and swift punishment for those who default and sensitization to break down the cultural myths that are used to justify these acts.
662 women and children assaulted in 2 years is 662 people too many. We have work to do.