The Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) has an important job: the eradication of gender-based violence in Lagos State. In this interview with YETUNDE OLADEHINDE, ADEBISI ONANUGA and ROBERT EGBE, the group’s Coordinator, Mrs. Lola Vivour-Adeniyi, during a visit to The Nation, spoke on the scale of the problem in the state as well as the government’s strategies to combat the scourge. Excerpts.

There are already many organisations handling issues relating to domestic as well as sexual abuse and violence, why was it necessary to establish the DSVRT?

There was a case of a four-year-old girl that was sexually assaulted. Due to the intensity of the defilement, her pelvic dropped, so she couldn’t control her urinal passage, and, of course, you know that different agencies are doing different things to address these issues, but there was no coordinated response to it. For example, you know some NGOs carry out sensitisation campaigns to try and pressurise relevant agencies to take relevant action and, then, the police are supposed to investigate, but sometimes this doesn’t come through. And even when it does, there’s sometimes the issue of out-of-court settlement. Sometimes the case gets to the Director of Public Prosecutions, other times it does not. So, the former Attorney-General felt that the best thing to do was to have representatives from all these agencies under one umbrella, come together, since we’re all working towards one common goal, which is, ultimately, to eradicate sexual and gender-based violence. And that is why the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team was established in 2014.

So, the DSVRT is a coalition of the government as well as law enforcement agencies?

The team comprises representatives of relevant agencies and the private sector; it is a public-private partnership, so you have civil society organisations, the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Ministry of Education, that of Youth and Social Development, we have the Directorate of Public Prosecution and some media partners.

What kinds of challenges have you been facing?

This month alone we’ve attended to eight cases and the major challenge is the community. You have a victim and we say girl victim, but it can happen to boys or men. You find out that when the girl or woman has found the courage to come out and speak up, you have her family members, the society, the community representatives begging,saying things like ‘please forgive him, are you God? Can’t you just forgive? At least, you didn’t die, let God deal with him, etc.’ And you just wonder if these people know these things are crimes? Just a couple of days ago, the uncle of a victim called and said he heard I would speak to the Divisional Police Officer, requesting for the status of the case. I told him to come to my office so we could talk, but he said no, that they had reported it to the police and they want the police to ‘just punish him small, and let him go one week later.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Are you the Attorney-General? You’re not the government, you’re not the person that is allowed to mete out punishment. You’ve done a good job, you’ve reported the case, now allow the law to take its course. So, we have a lot of work to do to in terms of sensitising members of the public that rape is a crime and it is not for anyone to encourage.

Rape is a crime. What about its prevention? Is there anything are you doing towards sensitising people about this and to find out why they do it?

We’re not only interested in punishing the perpetrators, we’re also putting in a lot of preventive measures. Part of that is why we’re here, because when the public is aware of what we do it makes everything easier. We go to schools, we sensitise all stakeholders who have one thing or the other to do with the issue. We go to churches, we go to mosques; anywhere there’s a gathering. If you look at the way our culture is evolving, children see adults as uncles and aunties, as trusted people and most of the perpetrators of sexual violence are not strangers, so, as much as possible, we focus on the young. We tell them things like, nobody should touch certain parts of their bodies, whether or not the person is an aunty or an uncle. We’re even educating caregivers as well. The case you heard of the four-year-old, the girl was calling the perpetrator ‘uncle’, yet he was defiling all the little girls in the school, more like a serial rapist. We organize programmes, we have posters, handbills, etc. Wherever we can get these young people, we go there and tell them.

The victims of these crimes go through a lot of pain both physical and emotional. What do they tell you about their experiences?

One thing that the victims go through is that sometimes they are actually harassed; they are threatened, their lives are threatened. Then when it comes to threats, we’re yet to get to that level where we develop a mindset that no matter what you do to me, I’m going on with the case and that is why we want the media to bring out articles that people can read whether adults or the young, and understand that they shouldn’t feel threatened. We need you to help us tell people that what we do is a holistic package, that sexual violence is a crime against the state. Bringing all of these various organisations under one umbrella is very helpful, because it means that people now know that there are different doors that they can approach.

Why is defilement usually treated differently than rape?

Well, we have the Criminal Laws of Lagos State 2011, and the difference between rape and defilement as you rightly said, is that we have Section 137 that provides for defilement, then we have section 258 for rape. But I think the reason we find that most defilement cases get handled differently is because the victim is unable to speak out by his or herself, you’ll find that it is through the parents or guardians that are the mouthpiece of the victim, it is through them we get to know about the victim. We actually think that defilement is a very serious matter, and defilement is not just being perpetuated by men, you’ll be amazed that female teachers are inserting things, inserting pens into children’s vaginas in the school premises.

What can we say is the cause of this new trend?

I think it is impunity. I think people are doing these things because they think they can get away with it. And even from best practices, when we look at how other countries that have had these kinds of incidents, how they’ve been able to handle it, the most effective deterrent is conviction. When you read the Punch, The Nation, and you see so and so defiled a child convicted for life; so and so person defiled a child, convicted for 30 years; it’ll send a message that it is no more business as usual.

Talking about conviction, the UNILAG lecturer’s case, what are you doing about that?

The part-time lecturer? We’re actually on top of it. You know the case was reported to the Office of the Public Defender, which is a member of the team, and the Director sent a letter to the University of Lagos (UNILAG) management to inform them about it, but the victim has received medical treatment, the part-time lecturer case has been arraigned before an Ikeja Magistrate’s Court and he’s on remand in Kirikiri. The reality with rape is, it is ‘she said, he said’. The perpetrator will say it was consensual, the victim will say ‘I did not consent’, so, it’s only when they get to court that the court will now say ‘where is the evidence?’

When it comes to these crimes, what kind of people should children, parents and guardians be most wary of?

You’ll find out that most people who perpetrate these acts are people that the victims know. Sometimes these people know that a daughter is sneaking out of the house, they’ll blackmail her and say ‘I’m going to tell mummy and daddy if you don’t let me do this.’ That’s how it starts, and once there is a scar, it leads to some of the social problems we’re now having, because the scar is there, it didn’t heal. They have long-term effects on the victim. And we have a lot of problems now, taking care of the people who have been sexually abused. Every home must start educating its children. Not only on ABC and 123, but on whatever name you want to call it, whether it’s sex education, talk shows or whatever, you must discuss it at home.

There are stipulated punishments for perpetrators of domestic and gender-based crimes. Does your agency have any programme or system for identifying and rewarding ‘good behavior’ or ‘sanity’ for instance in schools?

Well, in terms of the Mandatory Reporting Policy, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that. It mandates anybody employed by the Lagos State Government that has dealings with children to report actual or perceived cases of child abuse to the Office of the Attorney-General, and we came up with this manual and there’s a form that they’re supposed to fill. What we intend to do is to see the mandated reporters that have reported; we note reports that have been made by a particular set of mandated reporters and we intend to reward them. I believe we’ll do it in the open and get organisations to partner with us and give them their products and so on and so forth, just to encourage them that, okay, they’re doing the right thing.

What should a rape victim do to preserve evidence immediately such a crime occurs?

The first thing is that the victim should not take a bath, and that is a stiff challenge because when a rape occurs, the first thing the victim wants to do is to wash. But when you’re washing, you’re actually washing away the evidence. The next thing is to go to the nearest hospital; ideally, the victim should go to the Mirabel Centre. The Mirabel Centre is a sexual assault and referral centre where you receive free medical and counselling aid. If the Mirabel Centre, which is located at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) is too far, the victim should go to the nearest hospital. It’s not about prosecution at that stage; we simply want to protect the victim. If the victim presents herself of himself within 72 hours, which is the golden period, tests can be administered which reduces the chances of the victim contracting sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and all of that. So, the first thing is to get medical help.

Are you doing anything towards discouraging the subtle denigration of women in popular culture, such as in the featuring of scantily dressed ladies in Nigerian songs or films?

To be fair, that’s adult content. They’re not meant to be shown during regular hours. But, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Nigerian musician Olamide’s song ‘Story for the gods’? That song is promoting rape from the beginning to the end. “You come to my house, you’re telling me it’s getting late. I don’t need your permission. Now you’re saying my hand is hurting me.” People were singing the song and I didn’t know. Then somebody interpreted it and I went online and saw the interpretation, and I said wow, this is a rape song. I don’t know if you’ve even seen the video. We didn’t hear of it on time, in fact, we got wind of it like a year late, but when we did, and though there’s a limit to what we can do in a matter like this, we wrote to the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and advised the NBC that if these kinds of songs are aired at all, they should be aired during off peak hours. And then we even attacked Olamide on Twitter and told him his song was promoting rape and he needed to desist from this. Obviously he didn’t respond. We all need to canvass more that these kinds of things should not be encouraged. Radio stations should not be playing these kinds of songs when children are listening, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to say, no don’t show those kinds of videos.

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