Stigmatisation kills rape victims

Rape is like an evil wind that blows no one any good. For the victim, it leaves hurtful memories that last for life; while for the society, it leaves a stench of evil on it. The consequences go beyond the barefaced results to entrench bad socio-cultural norms, normalising evil.

The rate at which young females get raped in Nigeria has become worrisome. The maniacs who perpetrate the dastardly acts do them with so much pride and sense of normality, thriving on the victim’s failure to report the cases.

According to reports, no fewer than fifty per cent of the victims decline to report and pursue their cases for fear of victimisation and stigmatisation that follows. Also, conviction of rape perpetrators has been very low.

The stigma of being raped leaves very sore memories with the victims. Some times, they feel as if they are getting raped all over again. Sadly, they, in some cases, are blamed for the heinous ordeal they pass through. People blame them for a number of reasons like being scantily clad and being at the wrong places.

But the big question should be, if rape victims are blamed for being raped, why shouldn’t banks be blamed for being robbed? These victims battle with unwanted pregnancy, which stands as a pole of embarrassment for them in the society. They face the shame of fatherless children and left with the choice of abortion and knowing the pain of motherhood at tender age. In some cases, they get sent away, chastised and disowned by their parents.

Victims face a lot of trauma which could damage their brain, resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury and memory of unpleasant experiences that lead to protracted mental or emotional challenges. In the face of these, they need all the support available. They need counselling to help them battle the trauma of being treated like aliens in the society. They also need medical assistance because victims may be at risk of being infected with sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

According to a psychologist, Amit Abraham,  “ Rape is a more heinous crime than murder since the victim dies throughout the period she lives.”

The psychological distress symptoms of traumatized victims simultaneously call attention to the existence of an unspeakable secret and deflect attention from it. This is most apparent in the way traumatized victims alternate between feeling numb and reliving the event.

This dialectic of trauma gives rise to complications, at times result to uncanny alterations of consciousness which seems abnormal to people around. Rape victims are often threatened by the perpetrators. Threats of violence against themselves or family members, ruining their careers or even repetition of the act can make victims reluctant to speak out. Low self esteem has been instilled in the victims’ life after the incident and which will be a great disturbance to their mind. Feeling inferior among others in the society and bearing the shame and insult hurled at them, could be unbearable. Humiliation becomes their soulmate and gradually, their lives are shortened. They look for who they would express their feelings and pain but stigmatization denies them of such.

They live in isolation and experience loneliness which may result to mental health problems, disability, heart diseases, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease among others.

Reports have proved suicide as one of the most prevalent causes of death among the victims because they see it as best option to end shame and stigma. Every responsible society must pay attention to the very vulnerable. Studies have shown that behavioural skills training programme resulted in the acquisition of sexual abuse prevention skills in these individuals. Stigmatizing renders no help but dehumanizes. Victims should be given rapt attention. There are so many victims that face many challenges and later become successful in life, while some may not be. Being raped is certainly a bad experience but not the end of life and the hands of time cannot be turned back. And encouragement would help instill life in them.

Prevention of sexual assault will remain a mirage until society puts in place institutional framework to deal comprehensively with actual cases of sexual assault. This approach involves functional, skilled, and synchronized services and also includes the criminal justice system, the police, social services, and sexual assault services. Encouraging victims of sexual assault to break their silence by making use of the freely available services, which should be community based, and the successful prosecution of perpetrators, will serve as a deterrent and hopefully prevent the next person from falling victim.

Pre-assault self defense would reflect the early stage of awareness about sexual abuse and is primarily a strategy to encourage women’s safety in public not in private where most sexual violence occurs, usually perpetrated by someone known to the victim. There should be intense public enlightenment and education at schools, social clubs, cultural group gatherings, churches, mosques and through the media, to first, elucidate the myths about rape.

Survivors deserve love, support, orientation and protection from perpetrators. There are still phases of hope and great achievements for rape survivors. Victims would begin to heal when they let go of past hurts and forgive those who have wronged them. It is high time we had a special initiative in Nigeria which will provide standard treatment for rape victims and a voluntary organisation, such as Women’s Aid, Victim Support, sexual health clinic and establishing national charity dedicated to helping anyone affected by the incident, offering confidential help and advice. Allow victims to open up at their own pace. But don’t try to force them to open up or urge them to stop rehashing the past. Instead, let them know that you’re there to listen whenever they want to talk.

Should our girls continue to be stigmatized? On no occasion, and at no level should rape victims be stigmatized. No one intended to be raped. Stigmatization kills victims gradually and has led to a series of cases.

Adewusi is on internship in the Nigerian Tribune

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