LASG goes digital in war against SGBV, launches virtual response, referral system
As Lagos and Nigeria as a whole embraces the digital space even more, experts have said the fight against Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in the state and country must step up, using technology to fight the menace, as perpetrators and rapists are devising newer, advanced ways to perpetuate crimes.
They revealed that there is a documented rise in SGBV cases during the COVID-19 lockdown last year into this year, necessitating the adaptation of a SGBV case management service delivery model by exploring innovations to reach people who need help the most.
To this end, Lagos State government, through its Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), unveiled a Sexual and Gender Based Violence Virtual Response and Referral System (SGBV-RRS) to tackle SGBV. DSVRT in partnership with the European Union-funded Spotlight Initiative, Women’s Helping Hands Initiative and with technical support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) officially launched the 24/7 helpline to rapidly respond to SGBV survivors. The virtual system will provide uninterrupted access to trained service providers, by providing help and support through a toll-free helpline, 08000333333 with the social media hashtag #safetyinanumber.
According to the coordinator of DSVRT, Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, over 35 percent of reported SGBV cases during the lockdown came through their social media handles alone. “It showed us that we needed to further leverage on technology in providing immediate services to survivors. The virtual system will provide services such as counselling, legal and medical aid, via the telephone without needing to physically go to the police station, shelter or Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs). And where physical contact is required, they will be referred to the relevant service providers absolutely free of charge.
Unveiled by wife of the Vice President and founder, The Women’s Helping Hand initiative, Dolapo Osinbajo, she said these times call for a new model of response to GBV issues, and the SGBV-RRS portal would do just that. “I applaud everyone involved in this project, ensuring the work is done. As we speak right now, a woman is being exploited and abused, trapped with no one to help. This is why we are here; this kind of woman needs our help, even if it’s virtually. We must help and rescue her. We want more people to join the fight against SGBV and ensure stricter punishments for perpetrators. I look forward to an end to SGBV in Nigeria, as we take little steps like this in that direction.”
Wife of Lagos State governor, Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, pointed out that it was expected that with the rise of social media, they embrace technology in reportage and documentation of SGBV. “We’ve put several measures in place, using a multi-sectorial approach, led by the office of the first lady, and amongst other measures we have put in place and will continue to work on. The state House of Assembly has promised that in the next two weeks, the bill establishing the sexual offenders register will finally pass.”
Commissioner of Police, Lagos, CP Hakeem Olusegun Odumosu declared that the police has zero tolerance to SGBV, and will work ceaselessly to ensure these cases are prosecuted and survivors taken care of. “The police worked tirelessly during the lockdown to protect the interests of women and girls, when we discovered SGBV was on the increase. We need to improve upon prosecution of offenders and focus more on areas, where more cases like these are being reported. We want these criminals to understand that it’s not business as usual and we’ll prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law,” he promised.
According to him, there are presently 11 divisions where (SGBV is prevalent) and dedicated solely to this fight. He named these to include Alakuko, Ketu, Ajah, Ikeja, Ikotun FESTAC, Badagry, Ilupeju, Ikorodu, Adeniji-Adele and Isokoko divisions. He added that more divisions would be created in the nearest future.
“Parents must monitor their kids. You must know when they’re withdrawn or acting abnormally. Sodomy is also on the increase, but we’re assuring everyone that we’ll work with the state government to ensure these crimes are brought to the barest minimum and even eradicated. Nobody is exempted; there are no sacred cows. If you are caught in this crime, you will face the law squarely.”
Chairman, house committee on women affairs, Mojisola Alli-Macaulay, said a recent study revealed that 28 percent of women aged 25-29 have experienced violence since the age of 15. Describing this as a welcome and commendable development to tackle the scourge head on, she added that the house has put in place laws to protect women and was the first to prescribe life imprisonment for convicted rapists.
“We must go beyond this launch to impact every family and household, because every abuser is someone’s child.” Commissioner for women affairs and poverty alleviation, Lagos State, Bolaji Dada, said the alarming number of cases received last year into this year forced them to look at other ways survivors can reach out for help. “This system will help many people that are trapped or have nowhere and nobody to turn to. We hope this platform will encourage people to seek help faster, because if such cases aren’t reported, it’s non-existent. We’ll continue to collaborate with other agencies and NGOs to eradicate all forms of SGBV in the state.”
Commissioner for youths and social development, Lagos State, Segun Dawodu, lamented that SGBV is unfortunately still vastly underreported in Lagos and Nigeria because survivors struggle with a wide range of issues, including fear of not being believed, intimidation and shame amongst others. Only few survivors come forward and even fewer follow through to the end. UNFPA ambassador and Nollywood actress/producer, Stephanie Linus Okereke, said it is a good step in the right direction that Lagos is collaborating with all these agencies and relevant bodies to tackle the menace. “COVID-19 reminded us of how inter-dependent we are globally, and we all saw the surge in SGBV during the lockdown. Girls and women are faced with rape, sexual abuse, early marriages and Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) with nobody to help them. Innovation holds the solution for most social issues and it’s timely that remote support for GBV is coming now, when the whole world is embracing remoteness for work and almost every other thing.”
The Attorney General, Commissioner for Justice and the Chairman, DSVRT, Lagos State, Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN) said during the lockdown, the increase in reported cases of sexual violence was very prevalent in Alimosho, Ikorodu and Ifako-Ijaiye local government areas and so, they want to encourage survivors in those areas to reach out to them on the toll free line.
“Callers will access clinical management of rape on the portal, Psychosocial Support (PSS), security and access to justice, all free of charge. The state recently adopted the unified response protocol and referral pathway, which we believe, will foster better response to concerned agencies. With this initiative, residents can access timely support and services, no matter their location or when violence occurs,” he said.