Rape: Will life jail abolish crime?

Few days ago, a 75 year-old man who allegedly raped an 11 year old in Ogun state was arrested by the police almost a year after the senate passed a new bill recommending life sentence for rape offenders. This has raised fears and doubts as to whether the new penalty for persons convicted of rape was punitive enough to put an end to the heinous acts in the country.

The Senate which passed the Sexual Offences Bill, in 2015 prescribes life imprisonment for rapists and those who have sexual intercourse with children less than 11 years. The passage of the bill followed the report of the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Chaired by Umaru Dahiru. The sponsor of the bill, Senator Chris Anyawu listed some of the sexual offences captured by the bill to include gang rape, lacing drinks with drugs with intent to sexually abuse, deliberately infecting partner with HIV and other diseases. Others, according to her, include child sex tourism, sexual harassment and prostitution of persons with mental disabilities. She said the bill had mandated the storing of names of sexual offenders in database for institutional and social discrimination. “Culprits would never be employed in any institution where they may pose a risk to unsuspecting persons.

You can see that the penalties are weighty,” she said. She also said convicted offenders would be subjected to compulsory medical examination, while “those that, however, bring false sexual allegation against any person will also be liable for punishment.’’ A human rights lawyer, Evans Ufeli, has said that despite overwhelming reported cases of sexual assaults, Nigeria has recorded only 18 rape convictions in its legal history.

Mr. Ufeli spoke at the 5th edition of ‘The Conversation,’ a quarterly public dialogue that focuses on child abuses and parenting in Lagos.

“The Nigerian criminal code recommends life imprisonment for rape convicts and 14 years for attempt rape, but only 18 people have ever been convicted in Nigeria,” said Mr. Ufeli, who had been handling sexual assault cases for over a decade. The lawyer said that sexual abuse matters in law courts are sometimes frustrated by the government, which usually acts as the prosecution.

“Government agents who are saddled with checking sexual assaults, especially the police and public prosecutors, compromise their profession,” Mr. Ufeli said. Several child rights advocates who spoke at the gathering urged parents and guardians to allow their children, while they are still in their formative years, to be vocal about sexual matters as a solution to the rising cases of child abuse. The advocates also said that the perpetual silence on the issue of child rape had done a lot to worsen the matter because it “sends no serious warning to would-be rapists.”

”It’s high time people started speaking about rape; parents must allow their children to discuss matters that are sexually-explicit in nature,” said Itoro Eze-Anaba, who runs the Mirabel Centre, a rehabilitation facility for victims of child abuses which is run in collaboration with the Partnership for Justice. Mrs. Eze-Anaba noted that rape matters must evolve from being about the victim to being about the perpetrator. “A good percentage of those who have been assaulted have had to face the consequences of their ordeal despite their innocence,” she said.

Timilehin Oyebode, a sexual assault victim, said that paedophilia is “a psychological problem that requires only psychological solution” and that rapists don’t necessarily deserve jail sentence. “The first step that must be taken in reducing sexual assaults on children is to support victims to have the courage to openly speak about their experiences,” said Ms. Oyebode, the Chief Executive Officer of Attitudinal Development International, who said she started suffering sexual abuses at age five. Rape remains one of the more prevalent but under-reported crimes in Nigeria. Lagos State alone reported 12,120 cases of rape in the last four years.

The number of rape cases in the country has always been cause for concern for both government and non-governmental organizations in Nigeria, like Project Alert, who campaign nonstop against it. These concerns pushed the Lagos State Government Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) to approach the Lagos State legislature for a solution, to which it has now responded by deeming it a criminal offence to not report cases of rape to the appropriate authorities. This crime is punishable by a two-year imprisonment. The law affects employees under the state government who work directly with children. This law was a follow up to the training of 190 people as ‘responders’ to cases of rape and sexual abuse by the Lagos State Government that was just concluded on August 16 of 2015.

The responders are teachers, nurses, and social workers equipped with skills that enable them to obtain information concerning cases of sexual abuse and report them adequately. In the United States the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that 68 percent of rape cases do not get reported; nine out of 10 women are victims, children constitute 12 percent of victims, and 98 percent of sexual offenders never spend a day in prison.

The low numbers of reported cases are because most of the victims feel ashamed and traumatized. In countries like Nigeria where society attaches great stigma to victims of sexual violence, these numbers are likely higher. Some place are known for their maltreatment of rape victims, with countries like the United Arab Emirates, Somalia, India, and Afghanistan even throwing them in prison in extreme cases.

In response to this particular problem, Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, Coordinator of DSVRT, has asked the media to use its power to focus attention on perpetrators when reporting and publicizing these crimes, and always include contact details of help sources for the victims. According to her, this helps to build solid support systems for rape victims. Punishment for sex offenders is wide for people who fail to report knowledge of such crimes is not yet common. This is mainly due to the fact that a bystander is not necessarily bound by duty to make a report.

However, an event in California in 2009 involving the gang-raping and beating of a 15-year old girl has caused American states to reconsider. States are now hinting at implementing laws that carry punitive consequences for witnesses to such awful crimes who fail to report, placing the protection of the victim’s life before a bystander’s privacy. This new law in Lagos State follows the same direction and serves as a push for the delegated individuals to carry out their duties effectively. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s administration has made it clear that there will be zero tolerance for sexual and gender-based crimes.

Altogether, the DSVRT has trained 800 people in Nigeria to help in the fight against sexual and gender-based violence. The new law passed by the Lagos State Government shows immense support for the victims of rape. If the law serves its purpose, more states in Nigeria might see the need to pass such a measure into law.

The society appears to connive within itself to protect rapists and paedophiles, and to frustrate and traumatise abused women. . The social and legal order simple protect licentious lustful men. The law and procedure of prosecuting sex crimes are lenient in favour of the offenders. There is need for tougher laws, tougher enforcement of sex crime laws, and effective prosecution of sex offenders. Lagos State took a giant step in 2011 when it made rape and many other sex crimes punishable by life imprisonment in its new Criminal Law. Section 258 provides that “(1) Any man who has unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman or girl, without her consent, is guilty of the offence of rape and liable to imprisonment for life.” Subsection (2) provides that “A woman or girl does not consent to sexual intercourse if she submits to the act by reason of force, impersonation, threat or intimidation of any kind, fear of harm or false or fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act.”

Unhappily, the new law did not go far enough against spousal rape, which has been criminalised in many parts of the world. Subsection (3) provides that “Sexual intercourse between a man and a woman who are married is not unlawful”, thereby permitting a husband to ‘rape’ his wife, giving wide leverage for family related sexual violence. But the law is tough against other sex crimes. Section 259 punishes unconsented oral or anal sex including gay sex, with life imprisonment. The section provides thus: “Any person who penetrates sexually the anus, vagina, mouth or any other opening in the body of another person with a part of his body or anything else, without the consent of the person is guilty of a felony and liable to imprisonment for life”. The new Lagos Criminal law also punishes sexual harassment, though with paltry imprisonment of 3 years without option of fine.

The offence is defined widely as follows: “262 (1) Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favours, and other visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which when submitted to or rejected– (a) implicitly or explicitly affects a person’s employment or educational opportunity or unreasonably interferes with the person’s work or educational performance; (b) implicitly or explicitly suggests that submission to or rejection of the conduct will be a factor in academic or employment decisions; or (c) creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive learning or working environment. Furthermore, inappropriate sexual advances, touching or smooching of another are criminalised in the law, by section 261, which provides that “Any person who sexually touches another person without his consent is guilty of a felony and liable to imprisonment for three years.”

But according to Chino Obiagwu of the Legal Defence & Assistance Project, LEDAP “Though these tough laws are welcome, they are meaningless with poor enforcement. The police and prosecutors have clearly failed to stand up for victims of sex crimes, most of who would rather die in tortuous silence than expose themselves to secondary traumatisation in the hands of justice system officials. It is time the society stands up to demand for justice for victims of sex crime in the way the Indian society rose up in unison to demand an end to impunity for rapists.

This is a social responsibility for all men and women of conscience.” Adaobi Egboka, the Executive Director of LEDAP, said: “We are not saying the state government is doing nothing. But it has to do more. Rape cases should be prosecuted in such a way that victims and parents of victims will be willing to come forward and make reports.” The women therefore called on the government to strictly enforce the law against rape so as to serve as a deterrent to others. A cross section of Nigerians who spoke to Saturday Mirror however said the life imprisonment as punishment for rape was not punitive enough to serve as deterrent saying the judiciary could not be totally trusted in the country.

Mrs Funmi Abass, a teacher even recommended capital punishment for offenders especially peadophiles while Alhaji Fatai Abass, a businessman wants offenders castrated.

“If you cut their manhood, they will have nothing to commit the offence again. It is like saying that if your eyes will make you enter hell fire it is better you remove it”, he added.