The Centre for Women, Gender and Development Studies, FUTO, and the Federal University of Technology, Owerri Women Association (FUTOWA) observed with great concern the increasing incidence of sexual violence against girls. It is the hostile and criminal act or attempted act of sexually degrading, dominating, humiliating, terrorizing, dehumanizing and controlling a girl. It takes the form of rape, trafficking, comments, advances, forced/child marriage, female genital mutilation, prostitution, pornography, prenatal sex selection, sexual assault during conflict and sexual harassment in schools among others. These atrocities are committed by family members including parents, caregivers, friends, schoolmates, acquaintances and strangers. No single day passes without reports of rape and molestation of girls in the media and the most worrisome is the abuse of minors including children of two years and below. Against this backdrop, on February 10, 2014, the Centre for Women, Gender and Development Studies, FUTO, and the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Women Association organized a workshop to create awareness and deliberate on ways of tackling this social menace. The findings, observations and recommendations were articulated in this Communique.
FINDINGS AND OBSERVATIONS:
INCREASE IN SEXUAL VIOLENCE AGAINST GIRLS
v Too much sex on television
There is quantum leap in sex scenes shown in both print and electronic media in general but most especially in our local movies. Producers have thrown caution to the wind in the production of these movies watched mostly by children and the youths. It is from these movies that the young ones including the adults get sexual urges, and as a result, try out what they have watched on innocent young girls.
v Easy access to pornography
With innovations in science and technology, both the old and the young have easy access to pornography through the use of cell phones, computers, internet etc. The social media have complicated the existing problem. These innovations, though invented for positive use, have greatly contributed to the increase in social vices, especially rape.
v Superstitious belief that sex with virgins can cure HIV/AIDS and also prolong life
HIV/AIDS being a deadly killer has given rise to different myths and beliefs. People living with HIV/AIDS are desperate and therefore look for possible means of doing away with the disease. They therefore, accept the superstitious belief that sex with virgins will cure the disease and also prolong life, consequently, in desperation, molest innocent girls.
v Loss of true religious values
The increase in social vices has given rise to loss of true religious values. Most young people have little or no regard for religious morals inculcated in them by their parents, other family members, religious organizations and the educational institutions; instead, they prefer to imitate their peers or worse still, listen to individuals, who in reality, lead them astray and contribute in no small measure to their values confusion.
v Demonic possession
A lot of parents are so busy with their jobs that they hardly have time for their children. Children from these parents are exposed to all kinds of evils. They read demonic books and some are initiated by their friends, caregivers or relations who are already possessed.
CONSEQUENCES/IMPLICATIONS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE AGAINST GIRLS
v Unwanted pregnancy, HIV or STD
Sexual violence has given rise to increase in HIV, STD and unwanted pregnancies. The stigma of being raped makes the young girls terminate the pregnancies to avoid being mocked by the society. These problems may lead to loss of lives, since sometimes, the girls may be ashamed or afraid to seek medical help.
v Psychological trauma on the victim throughout life
Victims experience emotional problems that may take a long period of time to heal. It affects their attitude towards people especially the opposite sex. They suffer loss of dignity and confidence and may no longer be able to perform optimally. They also feel worthless and without proper assistance, often fall into depression. They feel violated.
There is need to build up their confidence and esteem through proper counseling over a period of time without judging or blaming them for what happened. They should be around loved ones to get some sense of security and self worth in a safe and loving environment.
v Damage to reproductive parts
In cases where teenagers or much younger female victims are abused, some of their reproductive parts may be damaged and this can lead to severe health problems that may last throughout life.
Stigmatization of the victim throughout life
People judge victims and discourage their friends and relations from interacting with them for fear of getting infected with one type of disease or another. This has a very negative effect on the victims especially when they have to carry this tag throughout life. They frequently recall the incident and that makes them feel abused, insecure around people generally and have problems building up their confidence. Other effects of sexual violence include among others; delinquency, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, promiscuity, sleep disturbance, learning problems, poor parenting skills, frigidity during sexual intercourse, prostitution, lesbianism, fatigue, homicide, fear, confusion, anxiety, shock, denial, guilt, and obesity etc. Victims may become molesters.
HOW TO PROTECT OURSELVES AND OUR CHILDREN
- Dress decently to avoid revealing sensitive parts of the body.
It is important to be mindful of how we dress, to avoid unnecessary and unwanted attention. One can still look trendy and smart without exposing certain sensitive parts of the body.
- Avoid dark alleys and move in groups.
We must be careful of the routes we take, especially when it is dark to avoid being attacked or taken unawares. If we must pass through such areas, then we must go in groups and not alone.
- Select your friends.
There is need to choose your friends carefully, especially in a school environment where we meet all kinds of people from different backgrounds. We should not trust easily or be misled by friends we hardly know their backgrounds.
- Parents should talk to their children about sex.
Most parents fail to discuss sex with their children. It is very important that parents talk to their children about sex and the opposite sex especially as they enter their teenage years. This helps to enlighten them and gives them the confidence to feel free with their parents and because of this trust and bond they can talk to them about issues that involve the opposite sex.
- Teach children to fend off inappropriate displays of affection by adults of opposite sex.
When parents have good relationship with their children, they are able to speak freely to their parents about inappropriate displays of affection by adults as well as the opposite sex. Close bond between parents and their children, makes it easy for the children to open up when things are going wrong. There is need for parents to make out time and teach their children how to handle such situations or to bring same to their notice.
- Familiarize yourself with grown –ups who are close to your children.
There is need for parents to know who their children associate with and the kind of company they keep. It is their duty to familiarize with the families of their children’s friends. This helps to keep the children away from bad company.
- Engage the children in true religious activities
Parents should engage their children in true religious activities that will expose them to such values as; honesty, openness, care of the less privileged, unity, contentment, creativity, reflective thinking and service to God among others. When parents inculcate these values their children, they will have fear of God and develop good conscience, this will influence them positively when tempted to go astray.
- Review sleeping and other arrangements in the home.
It is important that parents organize their children’s sleeping arrangements at an early stage, by creating separate rooms for the male and female children. Also to avoid abuse, parents should not allow their children to share a room with the domestic staff, especially male staff, or allow them have free access to the children’s room without supervision.
- Encourage children to speak up.
When parents have close bond with their children, they are comfortable enough to share their worries, fears and experiences with their parents without the fear of being scolded or flogged. Parents should encourage their children to speak up by being friends with their children and also relate very well with them.
Parental control of programmes children watch on TV
In recent times, children are exposed to all kinds of TV programmes as well as on the internet. It is almost impossible to control what they see on the internet but parents can control what they watch on TV by activating the parental control feature on the DSTV.
WHAT TO DO WHEN A CHILD IS RAPED OR ABUSED
- Get immediate medical attention for the child.
The first thing a parent should do, is to take the child to the hospital or clinic and ensure that the child gets immediate medical treatment. Medical examination is very important because sometimes the parents may want to take the matter to court or make statement at the Police station. But most importantly, it is for the well being of the child.
- Reassure the child that it was not her fault
Parents and loved ones must reassure the abused child that it was not her fault that she was raped. Make her feel safe and loved using loving words and showing concern about everything that happened to her. Encourage and counsel her and create a safe and loving atmosphere at home. Let her know that she is a good girl and that she is still loved by all members of the family.
- Report the incident to appropriate authorities
It is the duty of parents to report the case of child abuse to the appropriate authorities after the child must have received urgent medical attention.
Counseling sessions should be arranged for the victim by the parents. But some children may not feel free to discuss or open up to a stranger about the experience. It is up to the parents to decide the best approach depending on how well they know their child. The child may be much more comfortable speaking to the parents or in other cases; the child may shy away from talking to the parents and prefer to talk to a counselor.
v Sale of pornographic materials should be monitored.
v Social media networks should be regulated.
v Parents should be more observant and close to their children, because children are mostly defiled by close relations and acquaintances.
v Trauma centres should be set up for victims to access help and counseling.
v National Assembly should pass relevant bills that will impose stiffer penalties on offenders.
v Women organizations, responsible men and advocacy groups should work together to promote strategies for handling sexual violence.
v Young girls and women should acquire skills in martial arts for self defence.
v Offenders should be made known to the public.
This Communiqué created awareness on the increasing incidence of the ugly crime of rape, child molestation and abuse in our society and its attendant devastating effects. Since this act is often shrouded in secrecy, it is generally accepted that openness and public awareness be adopted in the fight against this social evil.
This communiqué has also highlighted measures that can be taken by parents to protect their children. There is a greater need to always commit our children into the hands of God, the ultimate protector. Women organizations and advocacy groups should take steps to tackle this social menace which is rising in geometric proportions.