Abigail* was 11 years old when a 64-year-old neighbour raped her. Her parents had dropped all charges against him – claiming it was a ‘family matter’ that should be settled amicably. Abigail was never allowed to talk about it. Her family moved out of the community when the stigma became too much for them to bear.
Abigail’s experience is only a tip of the child sexual abuse ‘iceberg’
Many more young girls fall victims of sexual violence in Africa. After 65 surveys in 22 countries, a 2009 study published in Clinical Psychology Review reported that the highest prevalence of child sexual abuse is in Africa (34.4 per cent of global reported cases).
The study also showed that, like the case of Abigail, most cases of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by men. Moreover, in about 60 per cent of the cases, perpetrators are ‘friends’ of the family or neighbours.
Child sexual abuse has become a common vice in Nigeria
Social media have become inundated in recent times with videos and stories of these inhuman acts. The reports pop up quicker than they can be investigated and prosecuted. Still, it is safe to say that many of the actual cases remain unreported especially those that occur in slums, such as Ajegunle where the Empowering Women of the Future (EWOF) project has been implemented for the last 17months.
According to Enough is Enough, a non-profit organization based in Nigeria, the behaviour of perpetrators may be linked to proliferation of Internet pornography. Reports indicate that 87% of convicted molesters of girls admit to some interest in pornography.
During EWOF counselling sessions, girls as young as six years report that older male authority figures often deliberately expose these minors to violent pornographic films Most of them said they were asked by these adults to ‘imitate’ what they have watched in exchange for sweets and treats.
A holistic approach must be employed in Addressing the scourge of child sexual abuse All stakeholders: survivors, parents, community heads, law enforcement agents and others must come together to discuss and address these issues, as a first step towards cure and healing.
Breaking the chain of silence, stigma and shame one girl at a time.
In a society that maintains a code of silence in the face of crimes that are sexual in nature, we can fast-track change by:
• Encouraging Sheros (young girls who are champions of change) to openly talk about sexual abuse during focus group discussions. We encourage mothers to sit in and listen as their daughters talk about how rape and sexual abuse has affected/affects them;
• Empowering Sheros with correct information on the signs to look out for in sexual predators and how to keep a safe distance and set boundaries when dealing with such persons;
• Teaching Sheros self-defence lessons as part of its curriculum;
• Engaging community heads (as well as government and law enforcement agents at all levels) on best practices in combating sexual crimes
• Organizing regular rallies to sensitize the larger community on sexual violence in the community.
The most recent of these rallies was held on the 8th of February, in commemoration of the One Billion Rising for justice event. This rally became even more urgent and relevant following the rape of a 4-year-old on her way back from school, a day before the event.
*Note: Abigail’s name was changed to protect her identity.