A Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Tomi Imarah, has identified the cultural tendency to keep sexual assaults and rape cases secret, as some of the major issues hindering the fight against sex crime in Nigeria.
Imarah, who runs an online Mental Health Counselling Service, “Dr Tomi’s Haven” via her facebook page, @drtomihaven, made this known on Sunday in Lagos.
She spoke on the commemoration of the 2018 International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women marked annually on every Nov. 25.
Wikipaedia, an Online publication, says “the United Nations General Assembly has designated Nov. 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (Resolution 54/134).
“The premise of the day is to raise awareness of the fact that women around the world are subject to rape, domestic violence and other forms of violence.
“Furthermore, one of the aims of the day is to highlight that the scale and true nature of the issue is often hidden.”
According to Imarah, statistics have repeatedly shown that almost two third of the perpetrators of rape are acquaintances, with one third of these figures being family members.
“It is disheartening that girls and young women can readily identify their assailants; yet, these people walk around free.
“Let us not forget that there are cases of young boys being sexually assaulted too; often, we choose to keep silent because a rapist is our uncle, brother, or family friend.
“We do not want to wash our dirty linens in public or we do not want to embarrass anyone,“ she said.
The consultant psychiatrist said that such culture of silence would only hurt the victims of rape and inadvertently, make things worse on many levels.
Imarah said: “Firstly, we have communicated to the victim that protecting the reputation of the rapist and the entire family is more important than her own rights.
“If she is young and vulnerable, without the means to pursue justice for herself, this action has set the stage for deep seated resentment against everyone involved.
“The psychological sequelae are likely to be more severe and long lasting than cases in which justice was pursued.
“Secondly, we have used our silence to endorse the crime; when we let a rapist go free without repercussions or with just a slap on the wrist, there is a psychological reinforcement of the behaviour.
“They learn that they can get away with anything, with the right amount of pleading and display of remorse.
“This emboldens them to keep on committing the crime, probably with a clever cover up plan next time; this can be called so.“
She urged victims of rape or sexual assault to report those family members who commit sex crimes to the appropriate authorities instead of keeping silent.
According to her, the cover up of sex crime is as bad as the crime itself.
“I know it is tough to turn friends or family members over to law enforcement agencies, but we have to try to be upstanding citizens.
“Parents and guardians should not plead with the victims to ‘let go and let God’; do not say ‘what happened has happened; Way forward is what we should be discussing.
“No, the way forward is for us to step away from the situation, seeing we are emotionally invested and let neutral parties take the lead.
“Also, it is better for victims to speak up for themselves in a way that they are comfortable with. Speaking up does not erase what has happened to you and does not guarantee the perpetrator will be prosecuted.
“However, speaking up is a symbolic act of taking back control over your life and also helps with the healing process,“ she said.
Imarah said that the complications of rape might outlast the traumatic experience.
According to her, victims may experience physical effects such as painful sexual intercourse in the future, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B, genital warts or gonorrhea.
“They may experience psychological effects such as Post-traumatic stress disorder (with possible flashbacks, nightmares, or avoidance of reminders).
“Depression (with possible low mood, low energy, loss of interest, or feelings of hopelessness), suicidality, or sleep disorders.
“Also, emotional changes that may persist include distrust of others, anger, numbness, feeling a loss of control, sense of vulnerability, fear, or guilt.
“These complications have serious impact on victims’ lives and their interaction with other loved ones,“ Imarah said.
The expert identified preventive strategies to reduce the incidences of sex crime in Nigeria.
She said: “Awareness campaigns, promoting healthier societal and cultural norms, and educating adolescents about safe social interactions as some of the strategies that can help.
“In the society at large, we have to keep pushing public enlightenment; the mainstream media has been at the forefront of creating awareness about rape.
“However, all of us should lend our voices to awareness campaigns across the nation.
“Let everyone know it is a new era and all forms of sexual assaults will no longer be condoned or covered up.
“Let us all foster norms that reflect respect for the dignity of women and work on the depth of our regard for consent.
“Men ought to be allies, speaking up for all women and teaching the young boys to respect people’s rights to say “No”.
“We can educate our children, young nieces and nephews, cousins and friends about the risks of exposure to sex crime and how to avoid the danger.
“Even, rape is not the victim’s fault, we can do our best to keep our young ones safe,“ she said.