The scars from the Boko Haram abductions, #bringbackourgirls, sexual abuse, are scars that go un-noticed. These are scars from sexual violence against the defenseless girl-child, young women, their mothers, and the severe rape, induced trauma.
Research has shown that stigma is preventing survivors of sexual violence from accessing medical care and getting legal support. They always develop the fear of being looked at as a figure of shame or becoming public nuisance. This devastation breaks them, leaving them shattered and traumatized. Research further proves that when not given psychological support the victims of sexual violence are more likely to commit suicide when faced with the worst case scenarios.
There is need to understand that stigma against rape victims undermines efforts to combat sexual violence, and therefore ostracization should be strongly discouraged and replaced with sensitization. Working towards sensitization would create awareness among the people about the negative consequences of perpetuating stigma, and serve as a bold step towards combating the continued menace of sexual violence. Ending stigma can be lifesaving, and as such, much effort should be put in ensuring the success of the fight against rape and stigma.
Moving beyond the social stereotypes that celebrate the villain and rape perpetrators demands that gender responsive advocacy for the dignity of women become part of the social fabric to weave new and lasting solutions.
The media and the justice system deny sexual violence victims the voice and space to have their rights granted respectively. The media and courts allow rich and influential rapists to bribe and buy their ways out of justice, while forcing victims to suffer from shame and stigma. The faith that once existed in these two institutions has reached new low levels throughout most of Northern Nigeria.
This is a call for stakeholders to help victims and communities deal with the physiological and psychological impacts of sexual violence. Until strategies are developed and responsive programming is in place, both the victims and survivors of rape and their communities will continue to stagnate.
There is need for wider combined effort among aid agencies for greater investment in addressing the root causes of violence and stigma against victims of rape. One such approach that does not require extensive capital investments is in building support and protection networks for survivors of sexual violence. Unless more is done to change attitudes and break taboos around sexual violence, survivors will continue to suffer alone without access to basic essential medical and other essential support services. It is from this perspective that I call upon the goodwill donors, governments, and aid agencies to go beyond the provision of services such as healthcare, and urgently invest in the difficult task of changing attitudes and perceptions in the fight against sexual violence.
Mercy Hassan Bwayili,
Department of Mass Communication,
University of Maiduguri