Sexual offences vs rape in Nigeria (1)

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Sexual offences vs rape in Nigeria (1)

Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame Is lust in action; and till action, lust Is perjured, murd’rous, bloody, full of blame, Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust – Shakespeare, Sonnet 129

Close to half a millennium after the English man of letters, William Shakespeare, gave the murderous description of lust in his evergreen poetic work quoted above, a section of Nigerian youths seems to have found fashionable the deplorable act condemned by the great poet. A twin-issue that has gained so much traction in public discourse in Nigeria in the last few weeks is rape and other sexual offences. According to the police, between January and May 2020, over 717 cases of rape have been officially reported in Nigeria. In a country with virtually no data, or where the integrity of data is ever challenged and where there are more than enough constraints to reporting incidents of this nature, I reckon that the figure might not be less than 10 times the declared number. Beyond the stigma that our society puts on the victims of sexual offences, particularly rape, and cultural inhibitions to official reporting, particularly where the offender is a close relation, the attitude of law enforcement is equally unhelpful. The point, however, is that, as much as great emphasis is being placed on rape in recent times, there are several other acts of sexual assault and harassment going on around us daily without anybody giving a hoot. Before delving into the meat of this piece, it is necessary and compelling to treat us with the appreciation of the different types of sexual offences that exist. This is so because there is a measure of misgiving, in my view, from the wording of the law on the meaning of rape. Although the laws on rape and sexual offences enjoy different complexions across the nation, I will, for the purpose of my analysis, adopt the Criminal Law of Lagos State.

Under the said law, rape occurs where a man has sexual intercourse with a woman without her consenting to the act. To be guilty of rape, therefore, the first ingredient to be proved is lack of consent. This raises the question of the meaning of consent in the circumstance. According to the law, a woman or girl consents where she is of full capacity to make a decision and she so chooses to participate in the circumstances of the sexual act. I dare say, she must be of sound mind and alert, in addition. What this connotes is that you cannot have a valid consent where the girl is not of age and with a sound mind, and mentally alert. Consequently, where consent was procured through the use of drugs or intoxicants, or the person was unconscious, no consent in law took place. Consent could additionally be tainted by reason of force, impersonation, threat, intimidation of any kind, fear of harm or false or fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act. The import of this is that she must clearly understand what she is consenting to, otherwise, such consent will be invalid. Another essential of proving rape is penetration. In my view, penetration is best established in court through medical evidence. That is why it is advisable that you visit your clinic immediately after the incident for examination and confirmation of penetration. Upon the proof of rape, the offender is liable to be sentenced to life imprisonment in some states.

The precursor to rape, in most cases, is sexual assault. This involves sexually touching another person without his/her consent. Touching, according to the law, may be done with any part of the body or with anything else. Unlike in rape, where the suggestion of the law is that only a woman can be raped, which is not conceded, in respect of this offence, either sex may commit the offence of sexual assault. In fact, any person who penetrates the anus, vagina, mouth or any other opening in the body of another person with a part of his body or anything else, without the person’s consent is guilty of sexual assault. For lawyers, there are more questions to be asked here, but I do not intend to bore you with that. While ordinary sexual assault attracts three years imprisonment, sexual assault with penetration attracts life imprisonment. With regard to anyone who attempts to commit rape or any other sexual act of penetration but fails, the punishment is 14 years. The commonest form of sexual offence is harassment. This is generic in nature as once you sexually harass anybody, you are guilty of the offence and it attracts three years imprisonment. In the view of the law, it includes unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favours, and other visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which, when agreed to or rejected, leads to impairment of a person’s employment or educational status. The last component of the sexual offences relates to procuring another person without his consent to engage in sexual activity, which penalty is five years, but where it involves penetration, the penalty is life imprisonment. I have gone this far to expose us to the gamut of sexual offences in order to appreciate the nature of and the attitude of the law to the menace.

Let me assert that the commonest forms of sexual offences are sexual harassment and assault. This is where the bulk of what eventually ends up as rape and sexual penetration starts. Thus, as much as I commend the various protesters against rape, I am of the view that energy concentrated on the various protests could have been more productive if part of it were directed against the root causes. This implies that we must initiate a wave of protests against sexual harassments and assault in our society. Rape starts with sexual harassment of a woman, when it happens, we all keep quiet without raising our voices of condemnation. After a while, the rapist moves to the next level of rubbing or brushing his body against the woman, we all laugh it off. Once the rapist is comfortable with this, at the earliest opportunity, the man strikes by raping the victim. Beyond the agitation, we must progress into developing a robust response mechanism.

Presently, we cannot boast of any major complaints channel, as the police and other law enforcement agencies often trivialise the complaints and frustrate the victim and neither do we have well equipped investigators who are conversant with the ingredients of the offence for proper investigation, much less competent prosecutors. In fact, at the magisterial level, most times, prosecutors compromise the prosecution under the guise of settlement through the receipt of paltry sums for the victim’s family. In other climes, the probability of being caught and punished for the devilish act is 98 per cent, while in our nation, it is just about 2 per cent. Where, therefore, lies the deterrence? The message from all these is that we need to urgently convene a session on all the above. Beyond this, various reasons have been advanced for this dastardly behavioir. This takes us from the sociology of victims to that of the perpetrators.

We need to address the cause of the upsurge of this odorous activity in order not to be addressing the consequence alone without uprooting the menace. In some cases, drug usage and abuse account for committal of sexual offences. In some others, mental ailment, which may be a product of drug abuse anyway, encourages sexual assault, and some are even occult in the sense that such was regarded as part of the ordainment of the chief priest, for instance, to become rich. The influence of the social media where all manner of pornography can be watched by hungry youths with a stipend of N100 data cannot be underplayed. We must also realise that the corruption of public morals that occurs on a daily basis in our public spaces like markets, garages and football fields, where some depraved minds are making fortunes from hawking sexual performance enhancers cannot be fully described. Sexual abuse occurs through religious leaders who use their fiduciary positions to lure women under their leadership into involuntary sex while this menace ravages the innocent minds of our adolescents in our schools of learning. We cannot discount the trauma of the housemaids in the hands of their masters nor of the pupils in the hands of their lecturers and teachers.

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