Every day, women and children are subjected to different forms of violence in places made to provide safety. These seemingly safe spaces like the home and school have become centres for endless abuse and torture. From sexual harassment to physical assault, to neglect, to domestic abuse and more, survivors are suppressed in silence and denied their rights.
Fragile regions such as the Middle East and Africa record the worst figures and cases of violent crimes. In West and Central Africa, UNICEF estimates that every 1 in 10 girls has been raped or sexually abused in any way. In Nigeria particularly, 6 out of 10 children have experienced some form of violence.
The global community recognises the demeaning effect violence has on the dignity and value of every person as the effort to end violence against persons did not begin today. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for instance, was created in 1948 and is translated into up to 500 languages. Many more laws, policies and initiatives have been enacted and maintained to alleviate or perhaps end violence against persons globally. Sadly, not much progress has been made in Nigeria where even in 2020, over 700 rape cases were recorded within 5 months.
Nevertheless, an important factor in ending violence against persons is protecting survivors, help them overcome their losses and trauma and improving their livelihoods. The following are ways to protect survivors of violent crimes in Nigeria:
1. Domesticate, enforce and regulate VAPP Act
In May, 2015, the Nigerian government made an allegiance to curb violence against persons by passing the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act into law. Known as the VAPP Act, the law prohibits any form of violence including FGM and punishes convicts with up to 12 years imprisonment. The law which was applicable only in Abuja at the onset of enaction has now been domesticated in up to 15 states across Nigeria.
The VAPP Act seems promising as it recognises and protects male rape survivors, and labels forceful oral sex as rape. While some states are yet to domesticate the VAPP Act, some others are struggling with enforcement. Enforcing and not just approving the VAPP Act in every state is the most important way to protect survivors.
2. Publicise the Act
Many people, including survivors, are unaware of their protection from abusers even in states where the Act is effective. In some states with enforced VAPP Act, resources, services and schemes have been structured and are available for survivors and their wards. For example in Ekiti State, Moremi Clinic is a government centre offering free services and empowerment to survivors of sexual abuse.
Despite these accessible resources, many are unaware. The VAPP Act needs to be publicised not only to survivors but to everybody. At home, in school, in worship centres and everywhere possible, people need to know that all forms of violence have been condemned. People need to know that provisions such as restraining abusers from survivors and compensating survivors with access to needed empowerment services are available.
3. Create referral centres, hotlines and emergency shelters
Although cases of violence are suspected around many people, who to call or where to report are usually unanswered questions. Communities need functioning referral centres, emergency shelters and working hotlines to report cases.
Providing these resources will help uncover many violent cases. Survivors need assurance of their safety before agreeing to fight for themselves. As many of them are dependents of their abusers, they are likely to remain stranded when seeking justice. A temporary shelter, however, is needed during the investigation and prosecution process.
4. Provide empowerment to survivors
Prosecuting convicts may end abusive acts but does not revive survivors. From traumas to stigma, to losses, survivors need help integrating back to society. Depending on their experience and condition, survivors may require legal service, medical care, financial aid, educational assistance or (and) psychological support.
Providing empowerment is also helpful in encouraging those suffering in silence to seek justice. The cognisance that a better livelihood is accessible can help them break away from their abusers.
Related: Sudan Illegalizes FGM
5. Establish a survival fund
While the previous approaches are more community-centered, a more individual-focused measure is creating or supporting a survival fund. Survival funds can be used to sustain services, maintain resources as well as support survivors and their families. Such initiatives are also attractions to foreign donors interested in supporting survivors of violent crimes.
Ending violence against persons is a collective and individual affair. Reporting abusers, referring sufferers, raising funds, promoting the VAPP Act and not being an offender are ways every person can protect survivors of violent crimes.