Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi: Fighting gender-based violence
We Mean Business On The Issue Of Fighting Domestic Violence
Titilola Vivour Adeniyi is a Legal Practitioner with over nine years of experience in Public Service. Having served in various capacities in the Lagos State government, in 2014, she was appointed the Pioneer Coordinator of the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT). Since her appointment, she has facilitated the ratification of two landmark executive orders by the Governor of Lagos State- the Sex Offenders Register and Mandated Reporting, and the Lagos State Safeguarding and Child Protection Programme. Additionally, she was actively involved in drafting of Policy Documents and Manuals on Investigating and Prosecuting domestic violence, mandated reporters manual, safeguarding the rights of a child, and other awareness process documents on handling of child abuse, domestic violence and rape which have been useful in creating awareness and sensitizing members of the public. Driven by being able to make a positive impact on lives, she speaks on the Domestic Awareness Month (DAM), the body’s upcoming domestic violence awareness symposium this month and how to seek help.
Why was the month of September declared Domestic Awareness Month (DAM)?
Asides from the need to designate a special month in which we drive special awareness on this topic, DSVRT was actually established in September, on the 9th of September, 2014 to be precise. We are grateful to the Governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode for approving the designation of the month of September as the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Awareness Month.
Would you say there has been any impact on domestic violence so far from the yearly symbolic walk held by the state governor?
Oh most definitely. There is greater awareness, people are more aware of support services available; they are better informed of steps to take to report cases. Some people say, ‘you people are always walking when would you stop?’ We would not stop walking, because we know there are millions of residents who still don’t know about the different services available and do not know that we are ready to stand by them. Similarly, we have continued to see an increase in reporting made by good Samaritans, mandated reporters, whistleblowers, who would before now, turned a blind eye, but are now rising up to their roles as effective bystanders and speaking on behalf of the most vulnerable in our society. We must never underestimate the impact of political will, when an entire state’s leadership embarks on a mission and passes a strong message, this message subconsciously begins to reside in the minds of the populace that we mean business on this issue of fighting Domestic Violence.
What is this year’s theme and how did you arrive at it?
The theme of this year’s activities is “Securing the Home Against Violence: Everyone’s Responsibility”. This theme was developed out of the need to ensure that members of the public are awakened to the fact that the seeds of violence, most of the time, are sown from the home and are then exemplified in the society. Thus, it is everyone’s responsibility to be properly sensitized about his or her roles and also look out for, report, educate and raise awareness about this menace in our society. We need to recognise that your immediate enclave shapes your values and views of life, if we therefore do not begin to address the issue from this root cause, we will only continue to deal with the symptoms and not the actual problem.
You are holding a domestic violence awareness symposium this month, what can we expect from this?
Our target is to use this symposium as a medium to involve major stakeholders in the society to proffer practical solutions and opinions on the role of every member of the family in securing the home against violence. This is of utmost importance as we intend to uncover the root cause of this menace and aim to address it. At the symposium, we will be discussing salient topics such as the role of the family in curbing this menace; impact of domestic violence on mental health; the importance of effective communication in resolving disputes; the role of men in eradicating this menace out of our society; self defence turned bad; and the need to leave an abusive relationship in order to live. The event would be streamed online, via our various social media platforms, (@dsvrt) giving online users an opportunity to participate in the deliberations. It is our desire that a communiqué, comprising sustainable solutions would be developed and subsequently forwarded to concerned institutions for implementation purposes. The Symposium is, therefore, aimed at continuing the conversation around these issues that have been shrouded in secrecy and ultimately proffer sustainable solutions to this current situation that plagues us as a society.
According to statistics released by your office and the Commissioner of Justice, DV is on the increase, with numbers already doubling that of last year. Why this surge?
The truth is that we are now witnessing a rapid increase in rate of reporting, and not necessarily that acts of domestic violence and sexual assault have increased that significantly. We need to appreciate that the concerted effort on advocacy, not just by DSVRT by the way, but also by NGOs, some celebrities who have consciously used their platform to speak up, setting up of a special court for quick dispensation of Justice, and then all of these backed up by the strong political will power displayed by the state Governor. All of these efforts have contributed to a situation where people are now more encouraged to come out of their shell and speak up. From our end, several initiatives we embarked on are now bearing fruits by virtue of increased reporting. We have introduced different channels for reporting. By leveraging on technology, we launched the *6820# USSD application, with support from MTN and Airtel. We have also improved our social media presence. A good demographic of our population is the youth; it therefore became imperative that our message is easily accessible for our different target audience. This has also informed our increased presence on social media and so asides from our hotline, and people that come into the office, we have increased access to justice channels hence the increase in reported cases.
Does these figures discourage you in any way?
I am far from discouraged; in fact I am optimistic that we are slowly breaking the silence that has for so long allowed these vices to perpetuate. Sexual and Gender Based Violence remains one of the most underreported crimes all around the world. In the past three years, we have seen a steady increase in reporting of cases. This year, we have started to see an average of 150 new cases monthly. We know that we are just scratching the surface. But with visible political will, cooperation of the society, and improved professionalism in the handling of these cases, we know we are well on our way to ridding this menace out of our society.
What new approach are you employing in actively fighting DSGBV?
We are tackling the issues from a holistic and more sustainable perspective. Partnering with marriage registries, health centres where we are able to reduce the chances of cases occurring by sensitising new couples, as opposed to counselling and responding to cases when the deed has been done. As regards children, we are infusing child-friendly awareness content into the school curriculum so that they are aware of their rights and those rights are properly safeguarded.
What are signs to look out for in reporting DSGBV cases?
Working out whether one is in an abusive relationship or whether abuse has occurred is not always easy. For Domestic Violence, some signs to be wary of include Possessiveness, checking on you all the time to see where you are, what you are doing, who you are with, tries to control where you go, and who you can see and gets angry if you don’t do what they say. Jealousy- when a potentially abusive partner accuses you of being unfaithful or flirting without any basis or evidence. Segregation- Isolates you from family and friends, often by rude behaviour. Issues threats, Put downs, either publicly or privately by attacking one’s intelligence, looks, mental health or capabilities. Constantly comparing you unfavourably with others. Blames you for all the problems in the relationship, and for the times they are out of control or violent. Whilst for Child Abuse some red flags to look out for in cases of physical abuse, questionable, recurring bruises or fractures, bite marks. For Neglect, persistent hunger, stealing or hoarding of food, abrupt, dramatic weight change, persistent poor hygiene, excessive school absences. For Sexual Abuse, age-inappropriate knowledge of sexual behaviour, unexplained fear of a person or place, unexplained itching, pain, bruising or bleeding in the genital area, venereal disease, frequent urinary or yeast infections.
Did you always know you would end up a crusader for women and children’s rights?
I have always believed public service, and public administration is one of the greatest vehicles for addressing inequality, justice and sustainable development. This is why I never take for granted the opportunity given to me to serve and make an impact.
What would you say have been your greatest achievements so far heading the DSVRT?
DSVRT was set up four years ago as the first of its kind in Nigeria. The fact that the Federal Capital Territory has replicated the DSVRT model and eight more states are toeing the same path, is proof that we are on the right track to providing a sustainable solution to a problem that has spanned decades or I dare say centuries in our country. This for me is our greatest achievement so far, seeing the success attained being replicated across the country and one day hopefully the multiplier effect spans across every part of Nigeria.
Have there been any experience(s) that made you want to give up?
When we first started, there was a lot of resistance by the society, and sometimes even from survivors themselves who are being pressured to drop a case(s). The fact that we were up against a cultural and mindset obstacle was initially frustrating and draining, however, it helped us redefine our approach and that has even taken us to dimensions we had not conceived when we initially started.
What and who inspires and motivates you to keep going?
When we see victims, go through the end-to-end process and they emerge as survivors that, for me, is the most encouraging and that’s what keeps me going. The journey from a helpless victim who feels there is nothing worth living for, to a survivor who is empowered, living in the present and looking forward to a brighter future, witnessing that journey drives me. For me, there is no better motivation than seeing a life being impacted with such sense of rekindled hope and positivity.
How do you relax and recharge?
I sleep well and enjoy spending quality time with my family. When you work in this space, you become very grateful for seemingly small positives in your life that you would normally overlook.
What would you tell women that are in difficult situations and are seeking for help?
Violence never stops unless checked or addressed. During courtship, please look out for red flags. And if you are already in an abusive relationship, please, speak to someone, someone who would encourage you to get help. The message also is valid for men, as men are also abused, and we therefore encourage everyone to speak up and get help. You can reach out to DSVRT psychologists on 0906-288-7865/ 0906-288-7844 or you can call 0813-796-9048. We believe you and are ready to assist.