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By Christine Onwuachumba
Mrs. Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi is the co-coordinator, Lagos Domestic and Sexual Violence Team and she is poised to help eradicate sexual and gender-based violence, completely in the state
In this interview with Daily Sun recently, Vivour-Adeniyi speaks of government’s commitment and political will to fight this scourge to the barest minimum.
What does your job entail?
I serve as the coordinator of the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Team. Our job, essentially, is to coordinate responses to issues of rape, domestic violence and child abuse in Lagos. We work with all the key responders in their own day-to-day activities and respond to these issues as individual organisations. My work is to bring everybody to respond from a holistic perspective. We work in conjunction with police officers, counsellors, social workers, medics, principals and a whole range of key respondents to rape, domestic violence and child abuse.
Looking at the demographics and the population of Lagos, how do you keep up with the cases?
It is interesting because our statistics show that reporting is on the increase. When we started in 2013, we saw only three cases in a month.
Now, there are up 130 cases a month. These are fresh cases and it doesn’t mean that people are committing this offence more.
It is not enough for us to do awareness and sensitisation, because the result of the awareness will be more of reporting the cases; so, it goes back to having a team but people with like minds and in positions of authority that can take decisions from their different departments or agencies and respond as a group. One agency cannot do all of these and so we rely on the strength of different agencies, and work together as a team to achieve a common goal
What poses the greatest challenge or threat to the fight against domestic sexual violence?
It is two-fold. It is institutional and it is societal. It is institutional in the sense that you know where we are now is not where we used to be. We have made progress but there is more to be done. There are certain institutions that do not encourage survivors to come forward but these are first responders and not necessarily formal institutions. It could be a church, mosque, police or an NGO. There are some institutions whose responses are not too good when a survivor approachesc them and, most of the time, they are the first responders.
They don’t approach formal institutions because, perhaps, they have been shamed and blamed. They are not believed so they are not encouraged to go through the process. Having that issue with our institutions as the response means that training, effective partnership and strengthening is key with these institutions.
The second challenge is the society. Some parts of the society believe that survivors should be encouraged to speak up and not be blamed. They should not be shamed. But there is another divide that feels the victim should be blamed. Societal perceptions also discourage survivors from speaking out. So it goes back to sensitisation and awareness. We need to continue to engage members of society.
How active and effective are the sexual offenders laws of Lagos State?
In Lagos, we have the Criminal Law of Lagos State of 2011. It was amended in 2015 and we have a chapter dedicated to sexual offences, chapter 25. That chapter talks about different forms of sexual offenses. You have rape, sexual assault and penetration. You have sexual harassment, bestiality and issues of consent. You have different sections under that.
Now, defilement, rape, assault and penetration all carry life imprisonment in Lagos. Unfortunately, we have not secured one life conviction. We have secured convictions, 23 years, 21 years, but we have not secured life.
If everything fits and we have the evidence, and I think it will happen soon with the establishment of DNAR. You know, we have rape kit currently at the family health care centres.
If the survivor presents herself fresh, it is possible there will be semen and other body fluid of her and the perpetrator, send that to the lab, take samples from the perpetrator while in custody and if we have a match, then it is for the perpetrator to say why his semen was found in a three-year-old’s vagina.
If everything is so clear before the judge, and if it is shown that the person is not a first-time offender, I find it very difficult for the judge not to give life imprisonment. We are hopeful.
Under the law, what is consent and what isn’t?
First of all, you have to have the capacity to give consent. Consent is not authorised. A child cannot give consent, whether or not the child feels that this is my boyfriend. As long as you are below 18, you cannot give consent. There is consent as per impersonation. This is foreign and we adopted it. There is obvious force. People act differently. If a gun is pointed at a survivor, a survivor would raise up her hand and you do what you want to do, so you won’t come and say that she did not struggle, therefore she consented, no. Her consent was forced. This also has a link with sexual harassment.
Apart from dealing with the offender, what aid does your agency render to the victim?
The first one is medical service. At the family health care centres, we have the kits for free. We also have the Mirabel Centre, Women at Risk, WARIF. They also provide services support, and medical assistance to the survivors.
Then you have legal representation in court for free as well. Sometimes, you may need to hold the hands of the survivors throughout the whole process. So, we have a survivor advocate attached to the survivors. If she is to go to the hospital, or to the police or the court, here we have to provide transportation, sometimes, for them.
What about trauma?
Apart from providing psychological support, when we see that the survivor still needs further assistance, we have clinical psychologists who work with us.
How does someone who has experienced sexual violence reach you?
She can approach the police, if she has access to the phone. She can dial #6630#. The service is in English, Pidgin, Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa. Except she is an illiterate, then that means it will be difficult.
How can we weave our social fabric comprehensively to prevent, reduce or eradicate sexual or domestic violence?
Let me start with domestic violence. I think we need to question the premium we place on marriage for domestic violence. A woman is not deemed complete until she is married. In fact, after NYSC, “where is the husband?” It is not even enough for her to be married, she has to have children. It is not enough for her to have children, she has to have, at least, a male child. That puts a lot of pressure on females to get married and get married for the wrong reasons.
They get married to the wrong person. It is easier to call off an engagement than to walk out of a marriage. There are some parents that would say, once you go, you have no room in this house anymore. You have been married off, especially when the mother has also experienced domestic violence.
It is a vicious cycle. Studies have shown that ladies that have parents who were victims of intimate partner violence, naturally, gravitate to men that will abuse them because that is what they have been exposed to.
They saw their father beat their mum, so they believe that is the way to express their feelings, if a man is “correcting you.” It also goes back to women. They say you stay in the violent relationship because of the children. No, you leave because of the children. Another study has shown that when women are not happy in the marriage, they focus all their attention on the children. And if it is from the male child especially, the woman’s affinity to her male child becomes so strong that she starts to put herself as a threat to the new wife and so the new wife feels this pressure, third party interference, from the mother-in-law and that one starts to put all the attention on her own children.
How do we reduce these incidents considering the premium on marriage and the support system?
Sixty per cent of our domestic violence cases are not married. They are just cohabiting. If you call these perpetrators and say, your wife came to report, the first thing they will say is “she is not my wife, she is the mother of my children.”
So, why are our girls living with people to whom they are not properly married and keep having children with them? There is no guarantee or security for you. And where are the parents, you would ask. What foundation do they have? You don’t need to be wealthy to inculcate right values in your children. You basically need to place a premium on good upbringing. You need to invest in your children. If a girl child is brought up to believe in her worth, dignity, no man can mess her up. But for some of these girls, the right values were not inculcated in them.
To prevent all these, we are doing a lot of engagement with students of secondary schools, higher institutions because we know they go on dates. We tell them the signs to look for when dating. Is he overly possessive? Is he stalking you or harassing you? How does this person treat you in front of his friends? Does he dress you down? How do you feel when you are going to meet him? Your heart is beating and it is not because of love. Those are red flags.
And you take a decision. Is it something I can go through for the rest of my life or do you believe that God will use you to change him? Is your role to change a grown man?
These are ways that we believe that we can reduce the chances of it happening when we are able to empower girls, educate and give the right service so that they can see the signs.
In terms of defilement, and sexual violence against children, there is a process called grooming. Perpetrators don’t just pound on a child that they will soon abuse. Somebody is trying to win your trust by giving you sweets. That process is called grooming, where the perpetrator tries to win the trust of the child, the child that would soon be abused. They should be encouraged to report to their parents. By the time that is done, that child is empowered. That is one of our greatest ways of preventing defilement. The greatest deterrence to sexual violence is conviction. The same rate at which we see “man rapes…” so should it be matched with “rapist convicted.” We should see it in real terms. That is why we are working assiduously, the judiciary and the police and the intervention is going to go a long way in speeding up the process of trial.
What is Lagos State policy in sexual and domestic violence?
We are not lacking in terms of laws. We have a law already for sexual and domestic violence and it is watertight. We have the Sex Offenders’ register that was launched in 2014, it was an executive order. We have the mandated reporting policy 2014 as well. We have the Lagos State protection policy and the policy is an annexture to the order and then we have the DSVRT, Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team.