Action against rape: The starting point

Apart from the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, nothing is of more concern to Nigerians today than the upsurge in the cases of rape across the country. Though the figures would be much higher, the revelation made last week by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammad Adamu, that Nigeria recorded 717 rape incidents within the past five months was sordid and shocking. IGP Adamu further disclosed that the police arrested 700 rape suspects, with 631 cases investigated and charged to court and 52 others being investigated, during the same period.

Why is Nigeria slipping to the unenviable position of the world’s rape capital? There is an urgent need for a national rethink to determine where the rain started to beat us. It is gut-wrenching that our society has so much lost its moorings to the extent that we have rapists and criminals on the prowl among us seeking the best opportunity to show that they are beasts.

Like many things Nigerian, there have been reactions fueled by angst and the mood of the moment. While some analysts canvass death for rapists, others want them castrated while some people want them jailed for a longer period of time. Such reactions or medicine after death soon fizzle out of public debate until another disaster happens and the noise level is raised to the highest decibels again, with cosmetic awareness campaigns and emergency social advocacy.

In other words, without proactive measures in place, we all wait until we have another ‘rape in the cathedral’, as it happened to Uwaila Omozuwa, the 22-yeal old undergraduate student of the University of Benin, who was raped and murdered at the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Edo Province 10, Benin City, about a month ago, or something else as gory and unimaginable.

Let’s face the matter, the Nigerian environment is an enabler of sexual violence and there is an urgent need for moral revolution. While it is difficult for many people with warped thinking to see the correlation between sexual harassment, including rape, and indecent dressing, there are many advocates of unrestrained freedom who confuse license with liberty. They claim that a person may dress anyhow they want. However, those who peddle such arguments fail woefully to see the big picture, which this series begins to show.

A starting point for taking action against rape is the need for a comprehensive policy on sexual harassment and all forms of sexual misconduct by the Nigerian authorities. This policy should then be domesticated, adapted and circulated among stakeholders, employees and workers in our various establishments, institutions, organisations and work places.

There is a lot of ignorance and confusion about what constitutes rape within and outside marriage. Many people are not aware that sexual harassment, which is defined the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours and other verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature”, is highly prevalent in our society.

It is noteworthy that sexual harassment includes actual or attempted rape or sexual assault, unwanted pressure for sexual favours, unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering or pinching, unwanted sexual looks or gestures, unwanted letters, telephone calls, or materials of a sexual nature, unwanted pressure for dates, unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, remarks or questions, referring to an adult as a girl, hunk, doll, babe, or honey, whistling at someone, cat calls, sexual comments, turning work discussions to sexual topics and sexual innuendoes or stories.

Other forms of sexual harassment common in our society, which are big issues in other places, are: asking about sexual fantasies, preferences and history, personal questions about social and sexual life, sexual comments about a person’s clothing, anatomy or looks, kissing sounds, howling or smacking lips, telling lies or spreading rumours about a person’s personal life, neck massage, touching an employee or student’s clothing, hair or body, giving personal gifts, hanging around a person, hugging, kissing, patting or stroking, touching or rubbing oneself sexually around another person, standing close or brushing or brushing up against a person, looking a person up and down (giving elevator eyes), starring at someone, sexually suggestive signals, facial expressions, winking, throwing kisses or licking lips and making sexual gestures with hands or through body movements.

It is clear from the foregoing that sexual harassment may be verbal, non-verbal or physical. The verbal and non-verbal types are often condoned, though they are terrible, it is the physical that often gets attention. There is a need to appraise the phenomenon holistically.