Tackling rape epidemic

THIS is a season of anomie judging by the spate and frequency of cases of sexual assault, defilement and paedophilic actions in the country lately. These criminal vices are pervasive and have become a daily occurrence. The cases are legion:  a 100-level university student was allegedly raped and killed at a religious centre in Benin City, Edo State; a man reportedly raped 40 women in Kano; a 25-

year-old raped an octogenarian in Abeokuta, Ogun State; a health worker was arrested for defiling an 11- -year-old; a 45-year-old defiled a toddler and his alibi was that he was inebriated when he committed the crime. Hardly does a day pass without reports of sexual abuse in different parts of the country.  And the pernicious tendency has now assumed a dangerous and indeed fatal dimension, with some of the outlaws killing their victims after the ignoble act.

Citizens are apprehensive about the frightening incidence of rape while governments at the national and sub national levels have found the situation concerning and are talking of stricter measures to stymie the menace.  But it is doubtful if the strategy of stricter laws will work any magic at the current rate of the enforcement of the extant laws. The reality is that there are enough laws to handle rape; the veritable issue is the absence of strict enforcement of such laws.  While slipshod enforcement is not peculiar to laws on rape alone, the sensitivity around the crime of rape and especially the far-reaching implications of the deplorable act for the physical and mental health of victims make it a grossly unconscionable act for anyone to brook a slapdash implementation of laws on sexual assault.

Currently, a lot of rape cases end up in police stations where quite often they are ‘settled’: the culprit buys his freedom from the police while the victim is given a token or nothing as reparation. The less than remorseful outlaw, having gained unwarranted liberty, is literally unleashed on the society to continue to wreck havoc. That perhaps accounts for why official focus is often wrong-headed in the direction of stricter laws instead of stern and religious implementation of existing laws. To be sure, an established crime of rape carries a prison term without any option of fine. Apart from the federal laws on rape, many states of the federation have their own variants of the federal law to address sexual assaults and other gender-related vices. For instance, Oyo State has the Violence Against Women Law 2016. The law, in addition to upholding the punishment for rape under the sanction grid, provides a hall of infamy, naming and shaming of convicted offenders. But how many offenders have been convicted and punished to the fullest extent permitted by law, let alone being named and shamed?

Again, law enforcement agents, and in particular state counsels, seldom bring sexual offenders to trial under the relevant codes that could permit prosecution and conviction to the full extent allowed by law. The law prescribes life imprisonment for rape and this sanction under whatever consideration is adequate, but how many confirmed rapists have been sentenced to life imprisonment in the country?  If people rape and kill, there are laws on rape and on murder, so why talk about stricter laws?  The real issue is not the inadequacy of the existing laws; it is the operation or otherwise of the laws in a manner that is effective enough to serve as a deterrent to the commission of sexual assaults by misguided and undisciplined persons.

In other words, making punishment under the existing regulations an effective disincentive for sexual assault is one of the surest ways to tackle the incidence of rape. There is also the need to address the victims’ shaming and the slow legal process impeding the fight against rape. The ignoble tendency to stigmatize rape victims as if they were responsible for their awful experiences is injurious and unhelpful. It is so bad that many rape victims are disinclined to come forward to report their horrendous experiences. Sadly, too, the legal process of redress in cases of sexual abuse is also painfully slow and exacting in terms of its psychological effects on the victims. And that is in addition to the likelihood that their assailants may even get away with sentences that are tantamount to a slap on the wrist. It is therefore urged that rape cases are given speedy but diligent trial, with the prescribed penalty imposed.

Beyond the failure of deterrence arising from sloppy implementation of the extant laws on sexual assaults is the fundamental issue of the erosion of moral values in the society.  The society has become so morally decadent that cases of sexual assault are now commonplace, perpetrated against minors and old women, while quite a few are even incestuous, allegedly for fetish motives.  It is that bad.  The current focus of many on grooming  girls as the fulcrum of building a good home in the future is laudable and should continue, but no less time should be spent in preparing boys too to become disciplined, decent and responsible men, especially since they are often the main culprits in cases of sexual abuse. Leadership of different hues, including government, traditional, and religious institutions which are the custodians of value system, godly ethos  and enforcers of law and order should rise up to be counted in tackling the menace.

The phenomenon of rape has doubtless assumed a crisis dimension and putting paid to it will require not essentially new or stricter laws but official enhancement of the efficacy of the existing system of deterrence as well as intense advocacy in the province of reorientation of values and moral rearmament.



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