The story of a 14-year old raped by her father caught my attention on Tuesday. The girl in question had previously been raped by the same man when she was 11. The worst part was that she informed her mother back then that her father abused her but the mother did nothing. The reason why the man has now been arrested was not because her mother reported the case, but because, her aunt, whom her mother confided in, reported to the NSCDC.
Just before I read the story, I suddenly remembered Ochanya Ogbanje, the 13-year old girl who died of complications from sexual abuse by her cousin (Victor Ogbuja) and uncle (Andrew Ogbuja) between age eight and 13. And I wondered whether her Aunty, Mrs Felicia Ogbuja, did not know that the child was being abused under her roof for six years. Now I know she knew because a story I read noted that she hid 11 medical test results that showed evidence of the young girl being sexually abused.
When the news of the Bukola Dakolo’s abuse by a popular pastor broke in June, the social media went into overdrive and many people came out to report rape and sexual abuse they suffered as children. One particular story broke my heart. It was about a lady, who in sharing the lessons learnt from Mrs Dakolo’s case with her younger sister discovered that their youngest, an eight year old, was being abused by an adult male who their mother trusted so much. When the young girl was examined by a doctor, it was found that she was months away from death as the infection she had caught was already serious and would have affected her vital organs.
We are not doing enough to protect minors from sexual abuse in our society. We need to do more about educating them early about unsafe touches and how to seek help. And when they cry out, like the 14-year old earlier mentioned, we are duty bound to take action. When I say ‘we’, I mean, parents, siblings, teachers, neighbours, whoever finds out about the abuse.
First of all, parents should begin teaching their children about their body parts as early as 18 months of age. I learnt this from Praise Fowowe, a popular speaker at a parenting programme organised by Mrs Abimbola Fashola I attended years ago and I put it into practice when I started having children. Even if the child cannot speak clearly, teach him/her the real names of the sexual organs. Let them know that it is wrong for others to touch their breast, penis, vagina, or buttocks. Let them know nobody has the right to kiss them on the lips.
Another writer and proprietor of Le Poshe School Ikoyi, Mrs Ronke Adeniyi, also spoke on the need for parents to teach young children to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate touch of even public parts of the body. Someone stroking the cheek of a child and rubbing arms and legs continually may constitute inappropriate touch. She said children are vulnerable and need information that would make them less vulnerable when there are no adults around them.
In addition to being able to identify appropriate touches, they need to be able call for help. They should be taught not to be afraid of their abusers to the extent of enduring the abuse. They should learn to report to adults – and they should be able to tell more than one.
After children are taught to take such steps, then we adults must act when we know. Please do not demonise a child who complains of sexual abuse for whatever reason. It may be fear of job loss, marriage or relationship collapse. Whatever you are losing is not worth the life of that child being abused.
Sometimes the sexual abuse is detected in the school. Schools have already being informed about how to treat sexual abuse – report it to the appropriate quarters. In Lagos, cases of domestic and sexual violence are taken seriously. The Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) can handle cases of sexual violence against children. Recently, the team launched a short code, *6820# (for MTN and Airtel subscribers) that can be used to report sexual violence. The hotlines to reach the team are: 112, and 08137960048.
This new session, every school should determine not to condone sexual abuse by taking action when they learn of sexual abuse both within their walls or in the homes of their pupils.