Rape has been defined as any non-consensual sexual intercourse; when a man has sex with a woman without her consent. Sexual assault on the other hand, is similar to rape, but is not rape; sexual assault is any form of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.
Experts in Nigeria have continued to raise the alarm on the increasing incidence of rape and sexual assault, especially against children and women in the country. The experts, who spoke in Lagos, said that emerging studies on the anti-social behavior showed that sexual aggression results to grave consequences that could lead to mental, social and physical instability of victims.
The effects of rape can include both the initial physical trauma as well as deep psychological trauma. Although rape victims commonly report injuries and issues with their reproductive health after the sexual assault, rape doesn’t always involve physical force. The most common and lasting effects of rape involve mental health concerns and diminished social confidence.
Physical effects of rape can arise from both forced sexual assault and those not involving forcible submission, such as drug assisted date rape. Forced sexual assault frequently causes visible bruising or bleeding in and around the vaginal or anal area and bruises on other parts of the body from coercive violence. But both forced and other types of rape can have many other physical consequences:
- Painful intercourse (with significant other).
- Urinary infections.
- Uterine fibroids – non-cancerous tumors in muscle wall.
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) – HIV, genital warts, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and others.
Victims experience both short and long-term psychological effects of rape. One of the most common psychological consequences of rape is self-blame. Victims use self-blame as an avoidance-based coping tool. Self-blame slows or, in many cases, stops the healing process. Other common emotional and psychological effects of rape include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – feelings of severe anxiety and stress.
- Flashbacks – memories of rape as if it is taking place again.
- Borderline personality disorder.
- Sleep disorders.
- Eating disorders.
- Dissociative identity disorder.
- Distrust of others – uneasy in everyday social situations.
- Feelings of personal powerlessness – victims feel the rapist robbed them of control over their body.
What experts say
A Consultant Psychiatrist and Founder of the Pinnacle Medical Services, Ikoyi, Lagos, Dr Maymunah Kadiri, said: “According to WHO, women’s health involves the emotional, social, and physical well-being and is determined by the biological, social, political and economic context of their lives.”
“People are taking advantage of children and women because of their vulnerability, poverty and other factors. When a woman is raped or violated, her biological, social and mental health is bruised. Neuropsychiatric disorders, including depressive disorders can set in and if not handled well, can result to low self-esteem, depression, anorexia, low performance in academics and at work, suicidal tendencies and even death. It can result to unwanted pregnancies too, ” she added.
“Also, if not properly addressed and counseled, the victims may end up hating men and sex; all these are critical issues.’’ “The cases of rape and sexual assault are under-reported because of fear, the personalities involved and to protect the families’ names.’’ Kadiri advised any man, woman or child who had been raped to immediately speak out or report to the parents, nearest police station, hospital, referral centre or even to religious bodies or NGO. According to her, seeking help early ensures they get adequate medical attention and prompt arrest of the offender.
Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, President, Women Arise for Change Initiative (WA), said: “The true incidences of rape have been inaccurate and often underestimated. This is because most cases of sexual assault are under-reported by the victims due to the associated stigma. Young persons below the ages of 20 constitute majority of the victims, with persons known to them being the perpetrators in most cases.”
“Research has also shown that about 80 per cent of assaults are done at daytime; teenagers are likely to be raped during the day and non-teenagers at night. “Threat and physical violence are most likely used to overpower victims,’’ she said. Okei-Odumakin recommended that efforts on public education and enlightenment on the evils of sexual violence be intensified. She also suggested the need for special programmes targeting young women and men on how to prevent behaviours that put them at risk of sexual violence to be introduced in schools.
Similarly, Dr Sonnie Ekwowusi, a legal practitioner said: “Women and children are victims of violence and it is fast growing in all forms. These forms include rape, gang rape, assault and battering to internet pornography, infanticide and abortions. Children and women should be protected because such violence demeans their dignity.”
“Laws have been enacted to tackle such problems, such as the Imo State Law of Nigeria Violence against Persons (Prohibition) and the Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015. On June 3, 2016, the 7th Senate passed the Sexual Offences Bill 2015 which prescribes life imprisonment for rapists and those who had sexual intercourse with children.
’’ He added: “Beyond these legislations and laws, there should be strategies for implementation of these laws and the establishment of institutional mechanisms that facilitate easy access to the law courts.’’ According to Ekwowusi, this will bring perpetrators of violence against women and children to justice. He also said that the conspiracy of silence had affected the way violent acts were handled in Nigeria.
There is sexual violence in many homes in Nigeria and no one is talking or reporting it because people are afraid. “We have to move away from that; to eliminate rape and domestic violence, we must get rid of conspiracy of silence,’’ Ekwowusi said.