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Addressing sexual assault

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Akindotun Merino. Photo: Arisetv

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), violence affects millions of women in Africa. In a 2005 study on women’s health and domestic violence, the WHO found that 50 per cent of women in Tanzania and 71 per cent of women in Ethiopia’s rural areas reported beatings or other forms of violence by husbands or other intimate partners.

The “It takes a village” concept is a two-edged sword for African girls and women. Homes are usually welcoming to aunties, uncles, and others such as neighbors, parents’ friends or business partners, or religious leaders. Constantly girls are harassed, breasts pulled, buttocks slapped and sometimes boys are also susceptible to uncles asking them to undress. Sexual assault of these children is pervasive – for either girls or boys. Most cannot report these assaults because of the innate power differential. We also live in a country that will ask the abused, “what did you do to cause this?’ Families would rather protect the family name than have it dragged through the mud.

The term “sexual violence” refers to a specific constellation of crimes including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. The perpetrator may be a stranger, acquaintance, friend, family member, or intimate partner. Researchers, practitioners, and policymakers agree that all forms of sexual violence harm the individual, family unit, and society and that much work remains to be done to enhance the criminal justice response to these crimes.

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Sexual assault covers a wide range of unwanted behaviors—up to but not including penetration—that is attempted or completed against a victim’s will or when a victim cannot consent because of age, disability, or the influence of alcohol or drugs. Sexual assault may involve actual or threatened physical force, use of weapons, coercion, intimidation, or pressure and may include—

• Intentional touching of the victim’s genitals, anus, groin, or breasts.

• Voyeurism – the practice of gaining sexual pleasure from watching others when they are naked or engaged in sexual activity.

• Exposure to exhibitionism -exposing one’s genitals in public.

• Undesired exposure to pornography.

• Public display of images that were taken in a private context or when the victim was unaware.

Most statutes currently define rape as non-consensual oral, anal, or vaginal penetration of the victim by body parts or objects using force, threats of bodily harm, or by taking advantage of a victim who is incapacitated or otherwise incapable of giving consent.

Here are four laws that deal with rape in Nigeria (From Law Pad):
1. The Criminal Code – this is applicable in all the Southern States

2. The Penal Code – this is applicable in all the Northern States

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3. The Criminal Laws of Lagos – this is applicable only in Lagos State

4. The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act – this is applicable in only the FCT Abuja.

5. The Child Rights Act – this is only applicable in the States, which have domesticated it

1. Criminal Code (CC): Under the CC, rape is when any person has sexual intercourse with a woman or girl, without her consent, or incorrectly obtained consent. Consent can be incorrectly obtained where it is obtained:

• By force/threat/intimidation

• By means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act,

• by a person impersonating a married woman’s husband in order to have sex
Under the CC, sexual intercourse with under aged girls or people with unsound mind is the offence of defilement, and so technically a person could be charged for rape and defilement.

2. Penal Code (PC): Under the PC, rape is when a man has sexual intercourse with a woman against her will, without her consent, or with incorrectly obtained consent. Consent can be incorrectly obtained where it is obtained:
• by putting her in fear of death or hurt

• by a person impersonating a married woman’s husband in order to have sex

Further under the PC, sex with a girl less than 14 years of age or who is of unsound mind is rape, irrespective of whether there is consent. Also the PC explicitly states that sexual intercourse by a man with his wife is not rape.

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3. Criminal Laws of Lagos (CLL): Under the CLL, rape is when a man has sexual intercourse with a woman or girl without her consent, or with incorrectly obtained consent. Consent can be incorrectly obtained where it is obtained:
• by force, impersonation threat or intimidation of any kind
• by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act,

As with the PC, the CLL explicitly states that sexual intercourse by a man with his wife cannot be unlawful, and therefore a man cannot rape his wife.

It is important to note here that in all three laws; rape can only occur when the vagina of the woman is penetrated. However, this does not mean that anal unlawful sexual intercourse is allowed. This is a crime and is covered under different descriptions in each legislation. The penalty for rape across all the laws is life imprisonment (however this is not a mandatory sentence in all of them).

4. Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPPA): The VAPPA defines rape as when a person intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with any other part of his/her body or anything else without consent, or with incorrectly obtained consent. Consent can be incorrectly obtained where it is obtained:
• by force/threats/intimidation

• by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act,

• by the use of substances capable of taking away the will of that person

• by a person impersonating a married woman’s husband in order to have sex

The VAPPA seems like a very progressive piece of legislation that’s only currently applicable in the FCT, Abuja. It does not apply in of the other States of the Federation.

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5. Child Rights Act (CRA): The CRA provides that sex with a child is rape, and anyone who has sexual intercourse with a child is liable to imprisonment for life upon conviction.

After being sexually assaulted, you may have a lot of questions, including:
● Why did this happen to me?

● Could I have prevented this?

● Will I develop an infection or become pregnant as a result of the assault?

● Who should I call first?

● Should I report this to the police?

● Since I was drinking, is this my fault?

In all cases, it is important to know that you did not cause sexual assault. No one ever “deserves” to be assaulted, no matter what you were wearing or if you initially showed interest in your assailant. You cannot consent to sex if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The following steps are recommended after sexual assault:
● Find a safe environment away from the assailant.

● Call a close friend or relative – someone who will offer unconditional support.

● Seek medical care. If possible, do not change clothes, bathe, douche, or brush your teeth until evidence is collected. A complete medical evaluation includes evidence collection, a physical examination, treatment, and/or counseling. You do not have to do any part of this evaluation that you do not want to do.

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● Discuss filing a police report with a crisis counselor, experienced social worker, sexual assault nurse examiner, or health care provider.

● Follow up with a health care provider one to two weeks later.

● Seek counseling services.

● Inquire about victim compensation services.

You should seek medical care, even if some time has passed since the event or there is scant or no evidence for collection. A health care provider can offer advice on reporting the event; address concerns regarding infection, pregnancy, and safety; and help you to begin to recover.

Sista Circles
Research on anxiety treatment with black women reveals a need to develop interventions that address factors relevant to their lives. Such factors include feelings of isolation, multiple roles undertaken by Black women, and faith. A recurrent theme across treatment studies is the importance of having support from other Black women. Sister circles are support groups that build upon existing friendships, fictive kin networks, and the sense of community found among African Americans and African females. Sista circles appear to offer many of the components Black women desire in an anxiety intervention. Sista circles exist directly in the community and within organizations that are components of women’s lives. Many women have ties to these organizations that go back generations.

Led by a mental health professional, women in the group are connected by similar diagnoses or mental health concerns. Sista Circle programmes provides an array of mental health and wellness programs to reach and serve Black women and women of color. In particular, Sista Circle aims to meet the unique needs of women of color in the following ways:
• Culturally responsive mental health counseling and treatment to heal culturally-based trauma

• Social support groups that create safe and nurturing spaces for women to heal and build community

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