For those who have been bastardised by the vile act of rape, a horrendous crime has been committed against them. And as we watch to see if the latest victims of rape in our country get justice, as a society, we must mount constant pressure on the Nigerian government to revise and re-amend the existing anti-rape laws and its penalties.

It has been a trying and loaded couple of weeks in Nigeria. In deciding which topic to write on this week, it was a close contest between the dangerous and imbalanced profiling of the Fulanis as a tribe, and the avoidable and escalating conflict between the federal government and the Shi’ites. In deciding which topic to focus on, another matter that has ignited a huge national discourse kept tugging at my heart.

The topic of rape has always been a difficult one for me to tackle. In my profession, I deal with a countless number of devastating and pathetic rape cases, in which women and young children are damaged by this most heinous of crimes. Rape is simply a horrendous issue that has and is still ruining many lives and wreaking havoc on many families.

In the Nigerian news recently, there have been alleged cases of this most vile act. While, in these particular recent cases, the media has taken a keen interest, the reality is that the crime of rape in Nigeria is said to be on the increase at an alarming rate.

Rape cases have been on a steady increase in contemporary Nigeria and the rising incidents of rape have become very alarming and worrying. All over the country, there is a new kind of unheralded harvest of rapes and rapists. The prevalent upsurge of rape and sexual abuse in Nigeria is unfathomable, especially now that children are not exempted.

There has however, been various subtle media and dailies reports on rape cases, with headlines such as, “4 men gang-rape 15-year-old to a coma”, ’14-year-old boy rapes girl to death”, “20-year-old boy brutally rapes a nine-year-old girl”, a “27-year-old man rapes mother”, “15-year-old boy rapes three kids; including 10-month-old baby.” Then there is a recent alleged rape accusation, where the act was said to have been scandalously committed by a ‘Fiduciary’, where one party places special trust, confidence, and reliance in and is influenced by another who has a fiduciary duty to act for the benefit of the party.

Rape is one of the most awful and brutal gender-based forms of violence, ‘predominantly’ carried out against women and the girl-child, in Nigeria. And while cases of rape are mostly talked about with shock, scorn and disgust, it mostly ends there. As one blogger succinctly states: “Perhaps, it may be worth protesting against when it happens to a daughter, niece, sister or relative of a prominent figure.” Hence, this salient question needs to be asked: Why is rape on the increase in Nigeria and what is being done to curb this social anomaly?

Contextually, rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse, which is initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person’s consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or against a person who is incapable of valid consent, such as one who is unconscious, incapacitated, or below the legal age of consent.

People who have been raped can be severely traumatised and may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition to psychological harm resulting from the act, rape may cause physical injury, or have additional effects on the victim, such as the acquiring of a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or becoming pregnant. Furthermore, following a rape, a victim may face violence or threats from the rapist and, in some cultures, from the victim’s own family and relatives.

The main reason rape cases are hardly reported to the appropriate authorities in Nigeria is because the victims fear being ostracised and most victims of rape have lost faith in the judiciary’s capacity to secure justice for them. Rapists walk the streets free, while their victims remain traumatised for life.

Since very little is done about the spate of rape in our society, this inaction inadvertently allows for other rapes by would be or already established rapists. In Nigeria, a rapist could get a life sentence, according to the law, but more often than not, high profile offenders walk the streets free.

There is no doubt that the institutions that are meant to protect women from rape have failed in their duties. Particularly, a major way the Nigerian government is failing in achieving a rape-free nation or curbing this terrible abnormality, which involuntarily allows for further indulgence of this menace, is in the several federal, state, sharia, and customary law definitions given to rape, which makes it rather ambiguous.

One would have hoped that the definition of rape should have an all-inclusive and nationwide accepted definition, effectively purging any form of intricacy, vagueness and misconception.

Section 285-292 of the Penal Code pertinent to the northern states focuses on the prosecution of cases dealing with “Rape and unnatural and indecent offences against the person.” Section 282 specifically defines rape as “A man is said to commit rape who, save in the case referred to in subsection (2) has sexual intercourse with a woman in any of the following circumstances: (a) against her will; (b) without her consent; (c) with her consent, when her consent has been obtained by putting her in fear of death or of hurt; (d) with her consent when the man knows that he is not her husband and that her consent is given because she believes that he is another man to whom she is or believes herself to be lawfully married; (e) with or without her consent, when she is under fourteen years of age or of unsound mind.”

The Penal Code goes further to state, “Sexual intercourse by a man with his wife is not rape if she has attained puberty.”

The Criminal Code Act, which deals with criminal matters in all the Southern states of Nigeria, does not specifically mention the word ‘rape’. Chapter 21, Section 214 to 231 of the Act deal with offences such as unnatural offences, indecent treatment of boys under fourteen, defilement of girls under thirteen, defilement of girls under sixteen and above thirteen and of householder permitting defilement of young girls on his premises, causing or encouraging the seduction or prostitution of a girl under sixteen, allowing persons under sixteen to be in brothels, etc.

From the above, it can be observed that the Penal Code and the Criminal Code are proportionately dissimilar. The former appears to be more specific in its definition and the component needed to be proved to sustain a charge of rape, while the latter appears to be more intricate in its definitions and posturing on sexually related offences, but it’s not specific on the issue of rape.

Essentially, with the worrisome spate of rape cases and the somewhat bleak situation as a result of this scourge, combating this social ill has become a necessity.

For those who have been bastardised by the vile act of rape, a horrendous crime has been committed against them. And as we watch to see if the latest victims of rape in our country get justice, as a society, we must mount constant pressure on the Nigerian government to revise and re-amend the existing anti-rape laws and its penalties.

For, as long as proper justice is not given to the victims of rape, together with all the other tragedies that define our nation, in addition, we will also eventually be defined by the calamity of rape.

My prayers, thoughts and good wishes go to every woman that has been torn apart by the wicked and dastardly crime of rape… celebrity or not. Sister, may you get the justice you deserve.

Hannatu Musawa; @hanneymusawa;;;