On the vexed issue of Rape
By Femi Olugbile
The field of ‘Gender-based abuse with a focus on sexuality’ is a fraught one that reflects some fundamental aspects of human psychology and culture. To say that ‘Sex’ lies at the heart of human society and activity may seem to some to be overstating the matter, but that is the exact premise on which Freudian Psychoanalysis is founded. The evolution of man over the centuries from a state of primitivity to modernity has merely been, in the eyes of psycho-analytic psychology, a journey involving the addition of layers of suppression and repression over an inbuilt, ‘primary’ or ‘id’ urge in the man to grab any female in sight to satisfy his uninhibited ‘hunger’.
In that ‘upward’ journey of the human mind, man has developed a ‘conscience’ or ‘Superego’ (‘It is not right to do this’!).
Freud further described the ‘Ego’ as the diplomat, the voice every man hears in his head that tells him some things are simply not doable, no matter how powerful the urge.
The anthropology of adult sexual behaviour may be gleaned from ‘marriage’ rituals that still go on in some parts of the world today, where the ‘wedding’ drama involves a young man organizing his relatives and friends to ‘kidnap’ the young lady of his affections and carry her to his home. The reenactment of behaviour that probably goes back millions of years to early man draws disturbing parallels between ‘marriage’ and ‘socialized rape’.
Two reactions to sexual violence have received public attention recently. One is a video showing the public execution of a man who is alleged to have raped a minor in United Arab Emirates. The other is the recent announcement from Kaduna State of the enactment of a law that makes the crime of rape committed by a man punishable by castration of the offender.
Not unexpectedly, controversy has been generated by the two developments. Some people feel uneasy about the extreme nature of the ‘justice’ prescribed.
There is a wide range of behaviour covered under ‘sexual offences’. There is Sexual Harassment, in which a person attempts, through intimidation, bullying or coercion to engage in ‘sexual activity’ with another person against their wish. The ‘activity’ may be physical sex or mere touching.
Sexual Assault is unwanted sexual contact with another person.
Rape is full penetrative sex carried out with an unwilling partner.
The #MeToo movement has shown how widespread sexual abuse of various categories is all over the world. ‘Historical Sexual Abuse’ has featured people bringing up incidents that occurred up to twenty years ago and successfully making their cases. Unfortunately, the sensationalism engendered has also brought up the potentially damaging effect of false accusations.
Some of the most heinous sexual offences are those inflicted on children. These tend to lead to severe, often permanent, physical and emotional damage for such children.
A proclivity to seek sexual satisfaction by assaulting young children is actually recognized as a form of mental illness. However, the plea of ‘Mental Illness’ does not absolve offenders from the need to bear full punishment for their crime.
What is the best way for society to deal with the problem of Rape and the whole range of sexual crimes?
Empowerment of women is a key factor. Rape is most common as a cultural practice in hierarchical societies where women are treated as second class citizens and ‘properties’ of men. Girl-child education and deliberate promotion of capable women into visible roles in society and the workplace may change the dynamics of male-female relations over time.
Most sexual assault incidents in Nigeria, and elsewhere in the world, are not reported because of the stigma attached to being a victim, and the fact that the police at the reporting point are often insensitive to the feelings of the victims. Training for the police on how to handle such delicate situations is already going on in some formations but needs to be standardized across the country.
Public-private partnerships in taking care of physical and emotional needs of victims is important. The presence of the MIRABEL Centre, an NGO, in a public facility such as LASUTH makes it possible for victims to walk in, receive medical and psychological help, and also access police services to prosecute the offender. Such voluntary private sector involvement needs to be scaled up to become the norm across the nation. Effective law enforcement is a key requirement.
The police, once alerted, must be able to gather evidence in a professional manner that increases the chances of effective prosecution of an offender.
Education of boys and girls from an early age to respect the rights and feelings of the opposite sex is an important way to build for the future.
The opening of a Sexual Offenders Register, especially for people who commit sexual offences against children, is an effective way of ensuring that an offender, after prosecution, does not go from town to town, inflicting the same offence on children.
Religious leaders have a major role to play. Early marriage should be discouraged as a religious or cultural practice. Emphasis needs to be placed on the value and dignity of the female sex, so that they are not treated as sexual ‘objects.’
Effective legislation is important, of course. But it is merely an enabler, and not the be-all and end-all of combating sexual offences.
Draconian laws without changing social attitudes would merely drive sexual crimes underground. If most men in a society believe that women are worthless, even public beheading of offenders would be treated with a wink and a nod by cynical offenders who are able to avoid detection.
Sexual Offences are a problem for all of societies. Educating citizens from an early age that men and women must learn to treat each other with respect, with the assurance that those who violate the dignity of others will be promptly and firmly punished, is the first major step on the road to facing down the problem.