Our Plan to prevent sexual assault and harassment in Nigeria

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Sexual assault and harassment is on the rise in Nigeria; in educational institutions, workplaces, homes and even religious institutions. While our leaders may release statements expressing their dissatisfaction with this discovery, they have not provided clear, standard, encompassing laws and policies to address the issue of sexual harassment and assault in the country.

The rising menace of sexual assault and harassment creates a climate of intimidation and repression. Our mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends must not live in fear or intimidation in our communities. These predators must be rooted out and stopped. It requires leadership and the moral clarity to not only propose a solution but also ensure it is implemented.

This plan aims to address the issue of sexual assault and harassment. It drastically reduces sexual harassment in the country, provides an easier mechanism to report sexual assault and harassment cases and ensure speedy investigation on sexual harassment cases. Here is our plan:

  • Enact a Law against Sexual assault and harassment

First, we understand that the Criminal Laws in Nigeria cover sexual-related offences as an offence. But we believe, it would be more effective if we can enact an all-encompassing law against violence against women in the country. We need a law prohibiting sexual assault and harassment in Nigeria; in workplaces, educational institutions, religious institutions and more. We need victims to still have high hopes in the system if sexually assaulted. Our women do not have to keep suffering and dying in silence. We need to have an encompassing law that protects our women. Some sections in an act do not suffice.

The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015 (VAPP Act) which applies to only FCT, Abuja brought a bit of expansion to the subject of rape and sexual related offences. But it’s only applicable to FCT, Abuja and not all the states in the country.

  • Have a clearly defined meaning of Sexual Assault and Harassment under the Law

In many of our laws, rape is already defined. But, this definition excludes other methods and orifices of penetration, save penile penetration of the vagina.  There is a need to clearly define what Sexual Assault is. In the VAPP Act, however, these gaps include elevating unlawful anal and oral sex to the status of rape, also recognising gang-rape.

While there is a bit of light as to what sexual assault means in our laws, the offence of sexual harassment is quite dim. And in most instances, sexual harassment lead to sexual assault. It is then very important to define these offences appropriately. For ease, sexual Harassment includes any or more of the following:

  • A demand or request for sexual favours;
  • Sexual remarks about a person’s clothing or body;
  • Continued expressions of sexual interest against the person’s wishes;
  • Giving gifts or leaving sexually suggestive objects;
  • Persistent watching, contacting, stalking and following a person against the person’s wishes;
  • Any other unwelcome physical, verbal conduct of a sexual nature with the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with a person’s grades in school or made explicitly or impliedly a term for promotion to another year.
  • Easier Mechanisms to report sexual assault and harassment

Sexual assault and harassment cases are usually the most unreported crimes. This is because the process of reporting cases are tedious and most times humiliating.

Truth is, the Government has created a platform; Nigeria Sexual Offender and Service Provider Register to help report sexual offences. But we need to create awareness in communities across Nigeria.

Asides the mechanisms to report sexual assault, victims need to know they can approach the complaints committee and be taken seriously and get justice. They need to know reporting sexual abuse cases is not an effort in futility.

  • Ensure Federal and State hospitals are always equipped with rape kits at all times: 

To make it easier for the institution to inquire on the rape allegation on time, a rape kit. They should be equipped at all times with a sexual assault evidence collection kit. A rape victim always has to go to the hospital immediately to get tested. They must be quickly attended to as soon as possible.

  • Interim Reliefs to the Victim

During the pendency of the inquiry, the victim would be entitled to interim reliefs. Some of the interim reliefs include suspension from the offender’s workplace or educational institution, and free healthcare for the victim if there were any physical consequences of the abuse.  Section 38 of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015 provides that victims of rape receive the necessary materials, comprehensive medical, psychological social and legal assistance through governmental or non-governmental agencies providing such assistance. This should be implemented. Victims should not spend a lot to seek justice and get little or no support from the government.

  • Complaints and Investigations of Sexual Assault Harassment

All complaints or information about sexual assault and harassment must be investigated. Investigations would be carried out promptly. Investigations carried out must be prompt and thorough. All persons involved, including complainants, witnesses and alleged perpetrators will be accorded due process to protect their rights to a fair and impartial investigation. Written documentation of the investigation containing a list of all documents reviewed, a list of witnesses interviewed, a timeline of events, a summary of prior relevant incidents.

  • Create awareness of the online National Sex Offenders Register

The Government has provided a platform where sex offenders can be easily reported. Anyone that is found guilty of Sexual Harassment would be listed on the National Sex Offenders Registry. It would contain the name, phone number, email address, passport photograph of every sex offender. This could enable potential employers to know who they intend to make their employees and who Nigerians intend to vote for. There is a need to create awareness of this platform to every citizen.

  • Strict punishments for sexual offenders 

The laws and policies would be a toothless bulldog if there are no consequences for sexual harassment of a woman. Hence, if found guilty, in addition to all the punishments prescribes in our laws, there would also be:

  • A letter recommending the sack of the sexual predator to the employer of labour (private institutions, public institutions, private workplaces etc).
  • A letter is written to the educational institutions that have previously trained the predator over the years informing them of the findings of the committee. The institution would be advised to either suspend or withdraw the certificates pending the judgment of a competent court of record whereby they can withdraw the certificates if found guilty.
  •   Listed on the online Nigeria Sexual Offenders Registry.
  • Sexual Assault and Harassment sensitization

Sexual Assault is a serious public health and human rights problem with consequences on women’s physical and mental health. Because this is so important, sensitization of the public should be regarded as even more important.

The importance of leaders sensitizing the public cannot be overestimated. Followers often look to leaders to determine how they should act or behave. Leaders can influence culture and model behaviours to curb this menace. We need more movies speaking against Sexual Assault. We need our celebrities, entertainers, political leaders, social and religious leaders to use their platform to speak vehemently against the subject matter. We all need to work together to ensure this culture is not encouraged.

  • Provision for false accusations

Since this plan is to prevent, prohibit and redress sexual harassment cases, we know that some people would make false accusations. When there is a false accusation, it would be discovered by the Internal Complaints Committee during the inquiry stage and the complaint would be dismissed. In the event, it is not discovered, the state would apologize publicly, the job and certificates of the falsely alleged predator would be restored.

We must not tolerate violence towards women in the country. We must send a message to the world that there is no disgrace in being a survivor of a sexual offence. The shame and disgrace are on the sexual predator or offender.

Author: Sarah Solomon-Eseh

SHIFT is a non-partisan organisation that builds support for transformative leaders in communities across Nigeria.