‘Most cases of child abuse are committed by low-income earners’
Mrs Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi is the coordinator, Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she talks about how to protect the child, how society encourages and sustains abuse and how the community can help in fighting and eradicating abuse and sexual violence, among other issues
What exactly is the LSDVRT and what are your functions and responsibilities?
The Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (LSDVRT) is a response team that aims to increase victims’ safety and offender’s responsibility by providing a cross-jurisdictional response in the way these cases are handled.
We have representatives of different responder agencies under one umbrella, leveraging on existing resources, speaking with one common voice, addressing the issues of the victim, addressing the issues of the state and addressing the issues of the society.
In recent times, it seems there has been an upsurge in violence against children in particular, what is your take on this?
Statistics do not show that there is an increase in the offences being committed, what the statistics show is that there’s an increase in reporting. It is actually good, because these things have been happening, but before now, people have not been reporting. There are three fundamental reasons for the increase in reporting, especially in Lagos State. First, there is an increase in no-tolerance to abuse, people are speaking up, people are calling on behalf of their neighbours, telling us about abused and brutalised children but wouldn’t want their names to be reported in the media, people are becoming antagonistic towards issues of violence especially against children.
The second reason is the awareness level. NGOs, government organisations and relevant bodies are bringing these issues to the fore. People now know and there’s an increase in the awareness of what to do when something like this happens; child abuse, domestic violence, rape, neglect and so on. People are now aware of the different doors open to get access to justice. The third reason is the political will to fight this menace. At the helm of affairs, the governors and speakers are all talking about domestic violence, rape, child abuse and others. So, there is the political will to fight it, and the state is funding this fight.
We believe in prevention here. People might say we can’t prevent these crimes from taking place, but we can only reduce the chances of it taking place and that is why we have embarked on series of events like safe guarding the rights of the child workshop and we are trying to partner with the Ministry of Education to bring this workshop to more children.
So far, we have touched over 3,000 students and we’ve been to over 80 schools in Lagos State. We’ve also interacted with public and private schools and have also taken our message to higher institutions through our sexual assault prevention society. We’ve been to UNILAG, LASU and LASPOTECH and hopefully in October we are going to Caleb university. Knowledge is power, so we need to inform our children, we need to sensitise them about their rights. What is a good touch and bad touch? What is your personal space? There’s a process called grooming: if we are able to prevent the incident from happening at the point of grooming, they will not be responding. If a child knows that this particular uncle is always trying to touch her, trying to get me to remove my skirt, trying to buy me things and always telling me not to tell my mum, they should know it is a problem.
If we are able to imbibe this knowledge in them, they will be able to detect these red flags and inform their parents if such things should occur. That’s what we are trying to do regarding the prevention. We have also come up with a book, “Safe guarding the right of the child,” it basically summarises the issues of child abuse, maltreatment, neglect etc. If it’s happening to you, these are the steps you should take, these are the super heroes that are setup to address your issues and these are the numbers you can call.
We have distributed these books, but we want the Ministry of Education to add it to the curriculum, so that if all schools have this textbook, it would help in reducing these incidences.
The same way we are trying to protect the survivors and respond adequately to their concerns, we need to really know what they want. Regarding offenders’ responsibility, we are working hard at getting convictions. Two months ago, we got a conviction on a child abuse case, though it’s just one for the year, but it is a step in the right direction. Before now, there has always been a lot of begging on the part of the society, begging for forgiveness on behalf of the perpetrator, and most time these cases are not charged to court, especially child abuse. Now it is changing, people are becoming more aware of their roles, people are seeing themselves as mandatory reporters, people are trying to encourage that the best interest of the child supersedes every other issue and that is why I believe if we continue to work together, we will see an increase in the conviction rate and reduction in abuse.
There is a recent case of a man who battered his four-year-old daughter with an iron rod, what have you done about this case?
The child is still in the hospital. The Ministry of Youth and Social Development has the child and the Child Protector coordinator has been notified. The medical social worker has been with the child. Once the child is discharged, she would be taken in to government custody, pending when prosecution commences. It is the gender desk of the Lagos State police command that is in charge of the case.
A lot of children are Internet savvy these days and many are exposed to all sorts of things including child pornography and sexual predators. What are you doing to educate and protect children?
A lot of us look to government for everything, but government can’t do everything. There are controls you can activate on your satellite TV, mobile devices and computers to prevent kids from accessing several sites or stations.
It behooves on the parents to enforce these controls while government ensures the legislative framework is in place to enforce these issues. If we get this kind of case, we have the provisions to prosecute. Everyone has a part to play. Most cases of child abuse are committed by low-income earners.
The spokesperson of the police recently accused religious leaders of being the greatest perpetrators of sexual crimes. Is this true?
I wouldn’t like to profile any particular set of people because we have discovered abuse across all persons. We have cases of fathers defiling their children, teachers defiling their students, neighbours defiling their neighbours children and so on.
What I have discovered so far in terms of intervention is that religious leaders have to play a more active role. Gone are the days you would tell a woman dripping with blood to go home and persevere and submit and hope for the best. Government isn’t here to break homes; we are interested in people’s safety.
It is someone that is safe that will remember to pray to God. Religious leaders should tell their members that separation is okay when a woman or child is endangered.
They should also name and shame these abusers. Religious leaders have following and people actually look up to them.
We’ve had cases of religious leaders following the perpetrator to our office to come and beg us and they think they’re doing the right thing. They don’t want the marriage to break up; sadly they don’t know they’re jeopardizing the woman’s life. We are trying to sensitise the religious leaders and we’ve been visiting churches in this respect.
The month of September has been set aside to mark and create awareness on sexual and domestic violence. What have you done so far?
We are promoting positive masculinity this month. Statistics how that men mostly perpetrate sexual and violent crimes and if we are complaining about men, we need to engage them. Why is this happening? What is your role as a bystander? If you are with some friends and someone is boasting of a rape conquest and you keep quiet, you are an accomplice. What is your role as a father? Men need a more hands-on approach to raise the girl child. How do you treat your wife? How do you treat your children? We need to change the narrative, men need to tell other men that it is not good to hit your woman, or rape a child.
We conducted a research recently on people convicted for sexual assault and we found out that 80.9% of them said they had been abused at a tender age and most had become sexually active as early as six years old. They are simply repeating the cycle. How do we nip this in the bud? We need to address the boy child, there has been too much emphasis on the girl-child, but it is the same boy child that grows up to become a sexual predator. If you raise the boy child well, there wouldn’t be pressure on the girl child.
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