Despite an increase in the number of organisations and individuals with the goal of putting a stop or reducing the rate of sexual violence in Nigeria, the culture of silence is still a plague, although there is a glaring difference from what was obtainable in the past as more victims are speaking up, Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi, Executive Director, Stand To End Rape, STER, initiative, told Women’s Hub in an exclusive interview.
“It is exciting that there are a number of organisations and individuals with the goal of putting an end to sexual violence. While there is a glaring difference from many years ago, as a society we have not yet completely overcome the culture of silence.
Today, more people are aware of what constitutes sexual violence/abuse; more people also seem to be speaking about it. And that spells progress,” she said.
However, according to her, this progress is not enough. She said that part of what will contribute significantly to curbing the culture of silence is a functioning legal system.
“For states like Lagos, with the involvement of government parastatals, non-governmental and faith-based organisations, this is slowly changing. Cases are taken up in court, and people are warming up to the idea of reporting abuse cases to security operatives. But this needs to be replicated across.
In creating a strong legal system around prosecuting sexual abuse cases, victims will feel comfortable opening up and perpetrators, knowing what the consequences of their actions mean, will take a step back,” she said.
Osowobi noted that legal prosecution of perpetrators, medical services, and others, are very key ways of addressing rape culture in Nigeria as a whole. She also pointed out that new innovations capable of encouraging victims to speak up is not the exclusive work of NGOs alone, but a lot of it revolves around the partnership of stakeholders to make it happen.
“A fantastic start, for example, would be for organisations and schools to adopt a clear sexual harassment policy. Victims tend to feel safer and are more inclined to talk when their environment has put in place methods that show no tolerance for perpetrators. And of course, on the other hand, abusers think twice and are more informed on the effects of their actions. Again, things like this are not NGO based alone, employers, teachers and parents have to make it happen too.”
She however averred that any organisation working on these things (responding to rape) are considerably of high importance, and contribute to breaking the culture of silence and help victims find justice and peace.
On her perception of the culture silence, Osowobi believes “the attitude that victims alone are responsible for their own assaults underlines the culture of silence, saying also that it is the attitude that makes sex jokes, that catcalls or accuses victims of lying.
“It is the attitude that equates masculinity to sexual dominance. These things, regardless of how random they seem are contributing factors to the culture of silence. They give entitlement to the perpetrators of these crimes and again play a humongous role in the number of assaults that go unreported. Creating a stigma of shame for survivors who want to share their stories contributes to the number of victims who remain silenced and add a private and very misplaced shame to their suffering,” she further explains.
“The unfortunate reality is that we live in a society where sexual abuse has been normalised, it is important that collective voices against the culture of silence outweigh everyone else. As a society we must learn that anyone can be a victim and anyone can be a perpetrator, we must learn to stop condoning our own collective silence, which gives power to abusers,” she added.