• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

Caught in the web of domestic abuse

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Banke was used to her four-year-old throwing up sudden tantrums, but when she noticed that the child was habitually complaining of pains ‘down there’, the hardworking mum was left in a fix. Little did she know her daughter had been sexually abused by her brother-in-law.

Statistics have shown that millions of cases like this go unreported in Nigeria. Olufemi Kayode, executive director, Media Concern Initiative for Women and Children, a not-for-profit organisation founded in 2000, observes that sexual violence is a global problem, but is exceptionally worse in developing countries like Nigeria.

“It is a huge problem in terms of incidence, the space at which it happens, number of children affected,” she says. “And it’s not the child hawking on the street or from any overcrowded area who is the only victim, but every child everywhere is at risk of being sexually molested.”

According to her, that ignorance, combined with fear and guilt, contributes to the huge number of under-reported cases in Nigeria – a situation which is not helped by the fact that most abuses are perpetrated by relatives of the victims.

“Over 90 percent of sexual abuse cases of children are by people they know. Or they are even the guardians, parents, a neighbour, lesson teacher, school teacher, pastor, etc. It is the people we expect to really protect the children that do this.”

In her estimation, the strongest indicators that a child has been sexually abused are inappropriate knowledge of sex, improper sexual interest, and sexual acting out. The effects of abuse result from the act itself, the family’s response to the situation, and the stigmatisation that accompanies the whole process.

“The symptoms can include post-traumatic disorder, precocious sexualisation, depression, anxiety, guilt, fear, sexual dysfunction, dissociative symptoms, eating disorders, substance abuse, prostitution, regressive behaviours such as a return to thumb-sucking or bed-wetting, runaway behaviour, as well as academic and behavioural problems,” explains Kayode.

Adebola Lewis, a paediatrician, says factors that influence the outcomes in cases of child sexual abuse include: the age of the victim, frequency and extent of the abuse, relationship of the victim to the abuser (incest has the worst outcomes), use of force, presence of severe injury, and the number of perpetrators.

“The response of the victim’s family has a tremendous effect on the outcome. Supportive responses from the victim’s family and friends can go far to lessen the impact of the abuse; while negative responses will compound the damage done.”

Sexual abuse and rape of children are very common in some homes where parents are often away at work for long. While rape has to do with forceful sexual relations without a victim’s consent, Olufemi Kayode says sexual abuse is different. The abuser’s pleasure, she notes, comes from watching or being watched and not necessarily touching the child.

“We’ve discovered that someone who does this, either male or female, can have about nine children to himself or herself around the same neighbourhood,” she quips. “And it is not only males who molest children; women do. And this means that either sex can be the abused and the abuser.”

Ama Orji-Uzor, a medical practitioner, remarks that a child rape victim who doesn’t undergo proper counselling is at risk later in life: “There is what is known as ‘traumatic sequelae’ which has to do with sexuality – giving rise to a certain disdain for the opposite sex and an inability to enjoy sex. A likely symptom could be withdrawal, more like a complex – an inability to properly integrate when they become adults.”

Iyoko Iseko, another doctor, discloses that the victim is prone to physical, emotional and psychological problems: “For a lady, there may be vaginal tears, and there is the risk of transmission of HIV and other infectious diseases. Emotionally, later in life, she may find it difficult having sex.”

ANNE AGBAJE