My name is Oluwapelumi Alesinloye-King, a graduate of Human Anatomy from Olabisi Onabanjo University. I’m a Sexual Reproductive Health worker in addition to being an advocate for women and children. So, I basically focus on gender based violence, inequality, rape and child sexual exploitation. I have about five to six years experience working in this field. In addition to that, I have built my capacity through working as a volunteer and attending leadership trainings. In 2018, I was part of the young leaders from around Africa that was selected for the Barack Obama Young Africa Leaders Initiative Award. This entailed us going to Ghana for about three weeks to undergo training. I was trained in Civic Leadership and Civil Society Movement and Social Entrepreneurship. I have also been selected for various fellowships like the Unleash Fellowship amongst others.
My motivation for delving into advocating against child sexual exploitation spurred from my own personal experience with child sexual exploitation. I was about seven years old when a male house help of ours began to exploit me sexually. At that point I couldn’t tell anyone because he threatened to kill me if I told anybody. And just like most children who are very timid and tend to believe older people, I didn’t tell anybody and silently battled with the consequences or results and side effects. I battled with it for years. In 2018 after returning from the leadership training in Ghana, I felt we were meant to offer community service and then I thought deep within me about what area I passionately wanted to address; so I decided to do a community project on Child Sexual Exploitation and that was where it stated from. I didn’t want more children to go through the same thing I went through because the effects don’t really go away; it stays with you for life. So I really wanted to prevent many more cases before they even start. I wanted to help nip them in the bud because prevention is actually better than cure. It is quite unfortunate to know that one in four girls and one in six boys would be raped before the age of eighteen. More so, about 88% of victims actually know their abusers but they just can’t say anything. Also, a very small percentage of abusers actually get justice; less than 5%, which is a very sad statistic, and this is one of the things that has kept on drawing me to make sure I share my story and to help other children; prevent this from happening to other children, get justice for children who are victims and help them get medical and mental therapy to help them grow up into basically normal adults
Effects of our Culture
Our culture as Africans has contributed negatively to the rape culture; in fact, it has encouraged the rape culture. It basically stems from the fact that gender equality is a foreign terminology, it is not something that is attempted among Africans; they believe that men are the superior gender, that men are supposed to be in charge of everything, and women do not have a say. They believe that women are objects; mere sexual objects to be exploited. This idea of patriarchy has greatly contributed to the rape culture. What do I mean? For example in cases where a family have children, a boy and a girl, you start to see bias where they treat the boy specially; they don’t give him house chores to do; they make his sister do everything. There is this bias in raising the boy and the girl child; they raise them in different ways which shouldn’t be so. And from this way, the boy child grows up thinking he is special. He grows up to see other women in the same way. This was not his fault because it is what he has been unconsciously conditioned to believe in; to see as the norm. Unfortunately in Africa, consent is not a thing. They believe in the consent of owning a person “I own this woman, She is mine, She is my property, She’s not going anywhere,” which is not meant to be so.
Increase in Rape Cases
I wouldn’t really say the incident of rape cases have been increasing; actually, they have been coming to light the more. Before the advent and creation of more community based organizations, NGOs, rape cases used to happen a lot but victims were afraid of speaking out in order not be stigmatized. Now, with the proliferation of NGO’s many women have been coming out to report these rape cases. Even if a victim is feeling so bad and does not want to report the case, she may have a friend or a family member who is willing to support her. Even if you are not willing to pursue justice at the moment, you still need medical and mental help. So, I wouldn’t really say the cases have been on the increase per say. Rather, I will say that more people have been coming out to report these cases and that is why it seems that it’s on the rise.
Underlying Health Factors
In the case of child sexual exploitation, when people rape children, it is basically a form of mental disorder; it is called pedophilia. They may or may not have sex with adults but the presence of an interest; a prolong or continuous sexual interest in a child, a minor knowing it is easy for them to have their way, because the child cannot fight back and also because children are timid, easy to convince and manipulate. Children can easily be threatened and forced into silence. So these are attributes, things that contribute to pedophilia which is a mental disorder. I know that some groups have tried to advocate for the acceptance of pedophilia as a sexual orientation, but it is not; it is a mental disorder that encourages sexual interest in children. As for rape cases in adults, I won’t really say that it’s a sort of a mental or health factor that instigate it but I’ll say that at times when people are under the influence of drugs, it clouds their ability to think. We have seen cases where people rape others under the influence of drugs and then we have also seen cases that are not even health related where people just are aroused by the sign of struggle; which is also a mental disorder.
Effects of drugs and pornography
It is a possibility for users of hard drugs to lose their sense of reasoning. In fact, it is not uncommon for users of hard drugs to lose their sense of reasoning and judgment and not only rape but assault people, especially women, when they know that they are more powerful than them so they take out their dark fantasies on women. Although, it is not like all drug users go on to rape women, as the Yoruba will say, “it is what is in the mind of a drunk that he acts out”. Rape starts from the mind; it is something you have been brooding over; it is something you have been considering; a dark twisted thought you have been thinking in your head. Use of drugs is just an avenue for them to claim that they were under some influences. That does not mean you will still not get the full punishment for the crime, it is not an excuse.
The most common challenges we face while interacting with victims is societal stigma; the stuff that the society places on people who have been abused. There’s this stigma that, “Oh, you are not a complete human being anymore, you do not have dignity anymore.” They see them as invalids or people who are incapable of being a part of the society. And then self blame; it is normal for victims to blame themselves after they have been abused. Victims tend to blame themselves for being abused which is completely false. The only reason for rape is a rapist, there is no justification for rape; it has nothing to do with what the person was wearing. Early this week, we had a case of a three month old baby that was raped, so would someone say that the baby dressed seductively or her diapers were sexy? No! Same as older women! We had women in their 70s being raped, etc. We also face the challenge of threats whereby victims are threatened into silence by their abusers and family of their abusers. At times, we also have families of the abusers protecting the abusers by trying to bribe the victims by promising to give them a certain amount of money for their silence. There was a case some time ago about a woman whose daughter was abused. She said she was going to settle it out of court because the abusers family wanted to give her #250,000. You can’t quantify the negative impact in monetary value. Imagine the consequences such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic and anxiety attacks, etc In a situation where a family member rapes a child in the family or a case of incest, you see instances where the family tries to cover up the incident. Family cover-up is a very big issue in our interaction with victims and all these things make it really hard for us to help them actually get help. We’ve seen cases where we have to beg them; we kept on begging a victim to go to the hospital to get quick medical help in order to prevent them from getting HIV, etc.
Impact of Stakeholders
The relevant stakeholders, the NGOs, civil society organizations and private bodies are actually doing really well to curb the spread of rape and incest. The only problem we have is that many of the culprits go unpunished. Our law stipulates explicitly that anyone who rapes somebody or abuses a minor is liable to life imprisonment, while attempted rape is fourteen years. Now, how many people have actually been sentenced to life imprisonment? How many people have been convicted of rape? In fact, I don’t think we have up to 20 people who have been convicted according to the law. We have the laws already in place, but the challenge is implementation. Our legal system should begin to accelerate and extradite the prosecution and conviction of rapist to serve as a deterrent to other people out there. We have these laws but we also need them to be domesticated. Only Lagos State has a sexual offense court. This sexual offense court was created to expedite and accelerate the conviction of sexual offense in the state. This means that they are able to cut out the entire legal delay that happens in a normal court of law where it takes years to get justice. So between six months to one year you are able to get justice. They’re trying but they need to do more in this situation. Imagine if all the thirty-six states have sexual offenses courts in every state, this will ease and relax the burden on the normal criminal court and more convictions would be effected.
More Legal Hurdles
We need our legal system to find new ways of getting and determining evidence of rape from rape cases. This is what I mean: someone who was raped ten years ago, like the one alleged by Busola Dakolo; she claimed she was raped. At that time, it was normal for victims to want to keep quiet because of fear of stigmatization and shame. Later in the future when they want to make disclosure in other to help them get over things mentally and persecute their abusers, it might be difficult because in our legal system, the only form of evidence accepted is physical evidence. What happens in cases where the rape happened years ago or to a child that was actually assaulted; that was actually raped but there was no physical evidence? What happens then? Our legal system has not given the avenue for other forms of evidence to be presented aside physical evidence. So our legal system needs to do something around this where people from the past can also come out to press charges against their abusers and also get justice without the court asking them to go and bring physical evidence. This also happened to me. I pressed charges of abuse about four years ago. I spoke to two lawyers and all they told me was that the case would be thrown out of court simply because there was no physical evidence. I just had to back-off because there was nothing I could do about it. That is one thing the legal system has to work on, they need to add it to the rape laws that ensures that other forms of evidence can be admissible in the court of law in order to ensure that a rapist is convicted even years after the incident has occurred.
Role of the Family
The family has a lot to do. First of all, from when the children are young, the family has to inculcate the culture of respect and consent. This helps them to build respect and understand that nobody is inferior to the other; everybody is the same and deserves the same level of respect irrespective of their gender, race or ethnicity. Everybody should be respected equally. Consent is not only about sex. Consent is as simple as seeking the permission of your mother if you wish to pick up something at home that does not belong to you. For instance: “Mummy can I take this fruit?” Or you want to hug somebody or your sibling, you ask, “Can I hug you?” or “can I hold your hand? or “mummy, can I have chocolate? Can I have some money?” That is where the concept of consent stems from. We need to let our children know that they have to ask; let them know that there’s nothing wrong in asking for things. Ask, and if the person says no, let them know it is fine. Also, encourage them when they say no. It is not just enough to teach children the concept of consent, you also have to practice it. If you ask the child, “can I hug you?” If the child says no, respect that, tell the child, “okay, that’s fine” let the child know that it is okay to say no. You have to keep on continually practicing it because whatever they learn in their formative years is what is going to continue into their adulthood. So, the concept of respect and consent need to be encouraged in families in order to bring down the cases of rape. If a child is brought up in a family that has no iota of respect, or maybe the father treats the mother with disgust or contempt, you can imagine what the children are going to inculcate. We have to condition the right principles into the children from a young age.
Still on the Family
The family setting also has a huge part to play in rape cases. When a child has been molested or assaulted, they should bring the child for urgent treatment. Families are the biggest enablers of rape and they are the biggest upholders of the culture of rape apology. When a child has been molested and assaulted, families need to give them all the support they need because emotional support is very important to help a child get better. In fact, that is the fastest way for a child to get better; to get over the huddles of the rape incident. Also, when a family member assaults somebody, the family should make it a point to report the case; they shouldn’t cover up abusers because if you cover up an abuser today, the abuser will go on to abuse other children. The best way to stop that abuser is to make them face the full weight of the law. If it is a psychological problem, there are psychologists in prison to attend to them while serving their sentence. So, families need to stop protecting abusers and also provide support for their family members who have been victims of abuse.