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Lagos adopts unified protocol, referral pathway to tackle SGBV

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In a bid to provide a multi-sectoral survivor-centered approach in responding to domestic and sexual violence in the state, the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) has adopted the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Unified Protocol for the main purpose of outlining the procedures to be used in responding to, investigating and prosecuting cases of domestic and sexual violence.

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Supported by the European Union (EU) funded Spotlight Initiative, head of DSVRT, Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, said it had become necessary to outline the protocol, to ensure coordination and cooperation among all agencies involved in domestic and sexual violence cases, so as to increase their efficiency and minimise stress created for survivors by the legal and investigative process.

In her view, all domestic and sexual violence advocates and/or responders will adhere to the practices outlined in the Domestic and Sexual Violence Unified Response Protocol and Referral Pathway (URPRP) Resource manual, which was endorsed by the Attorney General/Commissioner of Justice, Lagos State and Chairman of the DSVRT, Moyosore Onigbanjo, Lagos State commissioner of education, Folasade Adefisayo, Chief judge of Lagos State, Justice Kazeem Alogba and the state’s commissioner of women affairs and poverty alleviation, Cecilia Bolaji Dada.

Others that signed include the state’s commissioner of youth and social development, Olusegun Dawodu, the state commissioner of health, Akin Abayomi, and representatives of NGOs and Civil Society Groups.

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The protocol defined domestic violence to include physical abuse, sexual abuse (rape, incest, sexual assault, defilement, indecent exposure, degrading sexual imagery, voyeurism, cyber harassment, trafficking, and sexual exploitation), starvation, emotional/verbal/psychological abuse, economic abuse and exploitation, intimidation, harassment, stalking, acid bath or using poisonous substances, damages to property, entry into the complainant’s residence without consent, deprivation and any other controlling or abusive behaviour towards a complainant, where such conduct harms or may cause harm to the complainant.

Reiterating that rape carries life imprisonment, she disclosed that many female survivors of sexual and domestic violence hardly speak out because they feel belittled, are disbelieved, or denied support. She said sometimes, the perpetrators are defended over the survivors and are shamed and blamed.

She, however, noted that henceforth, all responders involved in providing protection and support services for survivors must adhere to certain regulations, including client self-determination, ensure confidentiality, do no harm to survivors, must be gender-sensitive, hold the perpetrator accountable, prioritise the survivor’s security and safety needs, remain competent, remain non-judgmental, respect the right, dignity, and worth of the survivor, as well as empower him/her.

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Listing primary responder services to include survivor advocates, law enforcement, medical/health care/forensic medical examination (FME), judiciary/prosecution, welfare/support services, Adeniyi said to fulfill their legal obligations, cooperation among agencies and institutions must be clearly defined, to avoid a potential shift of responsibility from one service responder to another.

She said: “First responders’ protocol for responding to DV is as follows: first, client contact, accept/believe the story, action/refer with consent, document history and finally, ensure safety to a safe place. For sexual violence, responders must make client contact in a relaxed and comfortable place/manner, then ask alone before taking action/referring, then document history and pursue prosecution.”

In cases of sexual assault, the manual listed 16 steps that must take place, when conducting Forensic Medical Examinations (FME) and biological evidence collection from intake and triage to documenting all injuries.

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She explained that the state government has made it mandatory for all staff, teachers, and counselors of every primary and secondary school to file a report when they suspect abuse or neglect.

“Mandated reporters, such as these, don’t have to wait until they become very sure or have conclusive evidence before reporting. Failure to report suspected abuse is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for up to two years. There are no excuses for failing to report. Mandated reporters cannot be punished for filing a report. When you have a concern about a child’s welfare, listen to the child and ensure he/she is safe from harm. Take the disclosure seriously and reassure the child that you will take action to keep them safe. Do not promise confidentiality.

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“Inform the child of your next step, but don’t approach the alleged abuser. Attend to the child’s physical/emotional distress before taking the child to an approved health facility, then call the police if the child is in immediate danger. If you are in doubt, call the designated Child Protection/Safeguarding Officer (DCSO) or Lagos State Child Protection Unit or Child Abuse Line, or the DSVRT on 08137960048. For tertiary institutions, sexual violence must be reported to the Students’ Affairs Unit or any similar unit set up to monitor and interact the affairs and operations of students.”

Tasking the media and first responders on SGBV reportage, she said when engaging survivors, responder agencies must avoid every form of publication not in conformity with the code of ethics for NGOs/CSOs, until the suspected case has been established.

“Responders who must engage the media regarding incidents of DSV should be appropriately trained on the dynamics of DSV and media interactions, prior to any media engagement,” she said.

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