As cases of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) become more rampant in the country, stakeholders have continued to emphasise the need to fight the culture of silence that allows the perpetrators to go free while the victim is left to suffer in painful silence.
The stakeholders have continued to emphasise the need for victims to cry out so as to get justice and also ensure that culprits are severely punished.
Globally, many organisations engaged in campaigns against GBV have always decried such culture of silence by women who had been violated, and say that it had undermined their efforts and emboldened rapists and perpetrators of similar crimes.
Some of these organisations have worked tirelessly to make vulnerable group speak up and access help where necessary, and have tried to challenge primitive cultures and traditions that tend to frustrate their efforts.
Speaking on the situation recently, Mrs Rose Akor, a mother of two girls, said that the cost of hiring a lawyer, going around to look for justice and also exposing the child to future stigma was more capital intensive than keeping quiet.
“It is a tough situation when one is violated, but seeking justice is even tougher,” she stated.
Another woman, Mrs Halima Sule, a widow, who said her 12-year-old daughter was once violated, said she kept quiet because she lacked the financial power to fight for her daughter.
“It was painful; we kept crying, but we were helpless,” she recalled.
Worried by this culture, an NGO, Women Voice and Leadership in Nigeria, recently organised a training workshop to sensitise 50 women against GBV. The workshop was held in Riyom Local Government Area of Plateau.
The workshop, according to the organisers, was targeted at encouraging women to speak up when violated.
The Project Officer of the group, Noklem Parsohot, in a speech, encouraged the women to speak up whenever they were abused so as to access help and ensure that justice was served.
In another workshop held in Barkin Ladi Local Government, also in Plateau, CWEENS, an NGO, in partnership with Action Aid Nigeria with support from Global Affairs Canada, trained women to speak up so as to get prompt help from every form of violence against them.
At the workshop, Mrs Olawumi Okupe, the NGO’s Public Relations Officer, spoke on the great danger of silence in any abusive relationship.
Okupe urged the women to use their innate ability as agents of change in community to talk and speak up when violated, adding that the issue could no longer be swept under the rug as a family problem.
“Most of the women are always worried about the shame, stigma and prejudices that are associated with sexual assaults.
“They are worried about tradition that frowns at women reporting violence against them by their spouses. It is dangerous to keep quiet until it is too late,” Okupe said.
A Jos Upper Area Court Judge, Yahaya Mohammed, has also decried a situation where most victims and their families drop charges and beg to settle out of court.
Yahaya urged rape victims and their relations not to drop out of cases but ensure that the suspects are prosecuted.
He urged victims to ignore stigma and speak up promptly so as to get justice in the courts as they would be helping the society to curb the crime.
”Many victims are afraid of stigma and shame from the society. Many others are afraid to report the crime because of cultural opinion, shyness and fear. This is killing prosecution and encouraging perpetrators,” he pointed out.
The Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Plateau Chapter, in collaboration with the Nigeria Police Force, Nassarawa Gwong Division, recently embarked on a three-day awareness campaign towards ending sexual and GBV in the area.
Jennifer Yarima, NAWOJ chairman, said that the campaign was aimed at sensitising the communities on the negative impact of the culture of silence by vulnerable women in the society.
NAWOJ noted that it had become imperative for communities to stand up against the trauma experienced by women in the midst of recent statistics which indicated that about 80 million Nigerian women were victims of GBV.
The association, however, urged community leaders and the violated to immediately report such cases to the nearest police station so that culprits could be made to face the law and also to serve as deterrent to others in the society.
Similarly, the Chairman of NUJ, Plateau Council, Mr Paul Jatau, said that there was an urgent need to sensitise people to speak out to expose offenders.
Jatau said that the incidences of rape were under-reported, mainly because of stigmatisation, noting that family members often demanded the withdrawals of such cases from the police.
Vivien Abara, the Chief Executive Officer, Peace Advancement Action Against Violence and Rape Foundation, said that of recent, a mother of three children was beaten by her husband and suffered internal bleeding and died.
“We told the deceased’s mother to take up the case but she refused. She said that it was a family problem and the man has freely moved on with his life,” Abara said.
Abara said that there was another incident at Jenta Adamu in Jos, where a man killed his wife and was arrested, but so many family interventions to set him free were made.
‘’There was another woman at Apata in Jos, whose husband has been beating her for the past 15 years and she has been enduring, hoping for a change, she eventually spoke and we intervened,” said Abara.
She said that women must learn to look beyond family bond to do the needful as battering was not culturally allowed and should never be tolerated.
Abara said that the solution to the problem was for women to be determined to report promptly all forms of violence against them, to relevant authorities.
The International Federation of Women Lawyers Nigeria (FIDA), Plateau chapter, has also urged the Plateau State House of Assembly to domesticate the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPPA)
The Chairperson of FIDA, Mary Izam, told newsmen recently that it would help curb the rising cases of rape and domestic violence in the country.
She explained that the silence culture was as a result of family pressure.
“Family members want to protect their family name and do not want to be made a reference point.
“We have suffered several frustrations in the discharge of our duty with family members just withdrawing cases from court.”
She decried such intervention, regretting that religious leaders most times advise victims to settle amicably out of court.
She added that youth leaders also promote the silence culture to protect members and sometimes threaten victims.
“Such threat is the reason why most people keep mute as they are threatened with death,” she said.
She advised those persuading victims to settle out of court to desist from doing so.
Izam pointed out that sexual violence had become a capital offence with President Muhammadu Buhari declaring recently that it now attracts death penalty.
She also warned family members and those who conspire to settle cases of rape out of court that it would be counted as offence against them by the law. (NANFeatures)