ColumnFamily & Gender
Rapists Should Face Death Sentence – Barr Emem Ette
...FIDA Needs Partnership To Provide Shelter For Victims
Barr Emem Ette is an erudite lawyer and chairperson of International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Akwa Ibom State branch. Due to her expertise in handling gender-based and domestic violence issues, she is the head of Akwa Ibom State Sexual and Gender-based Violence Response Unit under the Ministry of Justice. Her passion in mitigating sexual and domestic violence in the society is phenomenal. The FIDA chairperson has saved many children and women under her administration by offering counseling to rape victims, sensitizing the public through effective campaigns and making sure the sex offenders face the law. She is also the secretary-general of African Women in Leadership Organization (AWLO).
In an interview session with Crystal Express, she advocates death sentence to rapists and stiffer penalties for sex offenders to curb the high rate of sexual crimes in the society. She also speaks on other issues concerning gender-based and domestic violence. Excerpts:
We are aware that FIDA’s primary role is to protect and preserve the rights of women and children in Nigeria. What has the association under your administration done to mitigate sexual violence on these sets of individuals?
Our mandate is basically to protect women and children, not only sexual violence but domestic violence and any other form of gender violence, including discrimination and disinheritance. When we talk about violence, we are not only talking about the physical violence, there are so many other ways someone can be abused, like economic violence, psychological and so on. So, what we do as an association is that we offer free legal services to women and children who are exposed to violence. We ensure that the perpetrators are arrested and prosecuted. We offer psycho-social services support to the survivors of the violence. We have also gotten a shelter where we sometimes move the survivors to, so that they can be healed from all the effect they went through. Most of them are abused by their fathers or close relatives and the victims have to be separated from their abusers.
As an advocate against gender-based and domestic violence, what are the root causes of violence against women and children and their consequences?
From our experience of violence in the society against women and girls, we found out that the real cause of this social menace is not poverty as people speculate it to be, because violence also occurs in high class homes. I think the major cause is just lust and the desire to control others. The perpetrators feel they have the power to do anything they like to their victims and there is this psychopathic manner in their traits. But then, it’s mostly lust, because they are trying to get what they can’t have like asking prostitutes for sex but rather these criminals prefer to overpower and abuse their victims. In some cases, we don’t even know why the person did what he did, like a father raping the daughter three or four times, there is no reason for this because this man is fit physically and mentally and we find ourselves asking why he committed such obnoxious act. Sometimes he might not know why he did the crime. So, that is why I am bringing the root cause of sexual violence to lust. I would say it is uncontrollable lust that makes people commit rape against children and women.
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When it comes to domestic violence, that is battering women, it shows that people committing such crimes are intolerant, not accommodating, not understanding or they just react without waiting for some explanations. There are some people that are just intimidated, like cases where the husband is intimidated of his wife’s independence or the wife has a little money and then he feels the only way he can show her he is still the man is to beat her. We also have other aspects where the husband does not beat but he psychologically abuses her.
There is also financial abuse where the husband withholds money by taking the salary of the wife and giving her one or two thousand from it. Regarding this, we had a case where the husband took the wife’s salary and gave her nothing to take care of their three children. She had to go and beg to survive even though she is working. When the husband was asked why he withholds the wife’s salary, he said the wife was earning the money in his house.
What are the consequences of violence against women and children?
The consequences are very grave because children who grow up in a home where there is violence, some of them actually grow up to be abusers. Some can think that wife battery is a sign of love and then you find a woman who when her husband does not beat her, she feels like the man does not love her because she saw her father beat her mother then they make up and are still together and then she thinks that is love. Also, some grow up with a very weird mindset and they become an issue to the society and due to this there is spousal murder. Whatever argument couples get into, they must learn how to manage their differences so that it does not affect the children negatively. The children stand to be impacted more by the disagreement and violence that go on in the home. There is also an economic consequence where a man or a woman from an abusive background cannot give his or her all, they cannot contribute financially in their homes and this affects the economic dynamics of the society. The consequences have a ripple effect not only on the victim’s family but also to the society at large because your son will come to marry someone else’s daughter and the circle of abuse keeps widening.
Relating to the health issue where we have cases of women dying, like a case where the man used a stool to hit the wife on the head and her whole skull was damaged. We were not aware of the case until when she knew she was not going to survive it, and the husband had deprived her of having access to the children; this is when she reported the case to FIDA because she just wanted to see her children before dying. We also have cases where husbands use hammer, knife and other dangerous tools on their wives, and these women pass through a lot of trauma. We also have wives wounding their husbands because violence happens in both ways. Apart from the physical injuries, we also have the psychological part of it where the person that is going through the abuse is depressed, suicidal, aggressive and having other erratic behaviours.
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In children, sexual violence on a female child can lead to Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF). This is when there is a continuous involuntary discharge of urine into vaginal vault. For instance we are handling a case where the father raped his nine-year old daughter and she had to miss her common entrance examination due to the effect of the rape. She is now bedwetting and we have taken her to VVF treatment centre to be checked. We also had a 13-year old that gave birth to a child and her future right now is on a standstill but we are looking for a caretaker for her to help in taking care of the baby so that she can be back to school. FIDA has about eight girls and their education is being sponsored. Unfortunately, there are so many unreported cases that have not come to us, and the victims are out of school. To me, rape is murder and I am advocating that the punishment for the perpetrators should not only be life imprisonment, it should be death sentence because rape is an incident that makes the victim to forever live with the trauma and pain of the experience. Soon we are going to get to the era when the girls will take up arms so that they can defend themselves and this may result to the high mortality rates of men.
This sexual abuse is not only for the girls, boys are also victims. There is a case of an eight-year old boy whose anus is completely out due to a sexual violence done by a 36-year old man who took pleasure in having sex with the boy through his anus. So, we want everybody to take this fight as their own by reporting any sort of violence to the appropriate quarters. We should treat domestic violence as a crime. When the culprits see that there is accurate response to abuse, they will advise themselves against engaging in the illicit act.
As a gender-based equality advocate, what is your association doing to make sure that the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Law (VAPPL) 2020 is implemented and the perpetrators face the sledgehammer of the law?
FIDA was one of the associations that were strongly behind the passage of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Law. Others that also contributed in the passage of the law include Family Empowerment and Youth Re-Orientation Path-Initiative (FEYReP), Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Ministry of Women Affairs and other female associations. FIDA is really interested in the implementation of the law and we now have sexual gender-based violence response unit in the Ministry of Justice which I am heading to monitor and evaluate the implementation of that law. The Ministry of Justice is now charging people who violate the law under the provisions of that law. This law is not all about physical violence alone; there are so many things in that law. It also prohibits widowhood obnoxious practices; it prohibits the abandonment of children, attacking someone with harmful substance. Emotional, psychological and financial abuse is now a crime too. We have made a simplified version of the VAPP Law to sensitize the public. FIDA intends translating these pamphlets to Ibibio, Oro, and Annang so that people can partner us.
In actualizing the association’s objectives, which is free legal representation for indigent women, what are the challenges you have encountered in carrying out your duties?
We have a lot of challenges, like in evacuating the victims, we don’t have car to do this. We need a car and a driver so that we can attend to other cases. Even though FIDA is for female lawyers, it is not all female lawyers that are members. Only those who are passionate about helping others and they are few. So, we have loads of work, for instance, between January and now, we have almost 300 cases. We are working with the police but we still encounter challenges because they are not properly funded to carry out their duties effectively. We are calling on government to fund the police so that they can respond to cases. We also need free medical services for sexual offense victims, especially for children. We need the government to make sexual referral centres in Uyo and Ikot Ekpene to become operational so that these sexual violence victims can be treated. Medical personnel will also give accurate reports that will be used to prosecute the people perpetrating these crimes. We also need support financially because we are building for victims of sexual and domestic violence. So far, we appreciate the immense contribution of FEYReP under Her Excellency, Dr Martha Udom Emmanuel; FIDA also thanks HENSEK Integrated Services for their partnership. We need more support from the government, associations and private individuals.
What are the effective ways women or children can adopt to prevent themselves from being victims of sexual abuse?
The only way is knowledge. It is important for the public to be aware and knowledgeable. That is why FIDA is doing a lot of sensitization through campaigns. For instance, five girls actually reported they were raped by their fathers after our campaigns. We create awareness in churches, secondary schools, markets, parks, in the streets and we are making arrangement to also extend our sensitization to primary schools. This sensitization is to get people to be aware so that the individuals will realize what is about to happen so that they can either run or shout. This is also to get children and women to know the dangers and signs of sexual and domestic violence so they can take the appropriate steps. It is also advisable not to go out when it is dark or go out alone as a woman because of the criminal elements at night. Parents should avoid sending their female children to hawk because they might be exposing them to danger. Once a child is five years old, the parents should teach them about sexual violence so that their kids can be also aware of their environment. Let us not take this crime for granted so that we can save our children from any form of abuse.