Henrietta Odey is a certified physiotherapist, gender-based violence (GBV) educator and HIV advocate. In this interview with ENE OSANG, she bares her mind on the increase in rape and other forms of violence.
What inspired you to GBV advocacy?
I am passionate about raising awareness of GBV in communities because of its prevalence, and I do so through enlightenment programs online and offline. I teach people how to protect themselves and loved ones from GBV, and I am committed to making the world better for women, children and people living with HIV.
What is your take on the issue of rape?
Rape is an inhumane act, a violation of human rights which unfortunately will continue to occur if the society continues to raise boys with a sense of entitlement. Rape exists because of unequal power in relationships. The relationship I mean here could be between a boss and subordinate, husband and wife, girlfriend and boyfriend, parents and children, an adult and a child etc. It’s sad that the perpetrators think it’s okay to hurt anyone this way. It’s sad that most of them go free; it’s a shame less than 70 rape offenders have been prosecuted in the history of Nigeria.
What is your take on silence by victims; this has been the norm for a long time?
Girls and women who are victims and remain silent to avoid stigmatisation are not doing themselves any good. It’s unfortunate in our world; women are expected to endure all sorts of ill-treatment. Our culture has oppressed women for ages, making them lose their voice. So, it seems absurd that women are speaking up now, because that is not what the society is used to. I am encouraged that more women and some men are joining their voices with other survivors to speak against the injustices women face daily.
When we speak out we are raising awareness, many get enlightened, many others join in the fight, policy makers get involved and gradually solutions are put in place. There are better chances perpetrators are prosecuted when survivors speak up now because the public is getting more involved, more advocates are joining the fight to end rape in our communities.
How best can rape be curbed in Nigeria, some has said it is currently a pandemic?
We have to do better as a society, our boys have to be raised better; that is without a sense of entitlement and taught the proper way to treat girls/women. We have so much work to do; men also need to collaborate with women to fight all forms of GBV.
How can men work with women?
Men can do so by educating themselves about the different forms of gender-based violence (GBV), teaching young boys/men in their communities about CONSENT. They should understand what rape is, the harm it causes and how it affects our society. Men can Take action when they see girls or women treated unjustly and speak up about the injustices girls and women face regularly, as well as Assist authorities to expose perpetrators even if they are acquaintances.
We have to be the change we want to see in our society, inaction is no longer an option.
Would you say the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the level of rape in Nigeria?
I wouldn’t give all the credit to coronavirus pandemic, social media has also played its part. People are getting more aware, they realise one way or another they are either affected or effected. They are fighting the best way they know how, through social media. Rape has always been prevalent in Nigeria and other parts of the world, but unfortunately, women have not been encouraged to speak out.
What would you advise victims to do when they are raped?
First is your safety, are you safe where you are? Is there a tendency for more harm if you stay there? Try to go somewhere you feel safe if possible or call someone you trust to take you there. Preserve all the evidence, this means you wouldn’t wash yourself or dispose of your clothes.
I know this is difficult because of what you just went through, but it’s important you do this if you want the perpetrator(s) indicted. Remember, you must not make the decision immediately, but preserving the evidence will help if you decide to indict later.
Go to the hospital, a pregnancy test will be carried out to ascertain you aren’t pregnant already (i.e. prior to rape) before an emergency contraceptive is administered to prevent pregnancy. HIV test will be carried out; if it comes out negative then PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) will be started within 72 hours to prevent you from contracting HIV. This is an important step because we do not know the HIV status of the perpetrator, doing this will protect the survivor from becoming infected with HIV.
It will be unfair if a survivor contracts HIV after rape, it’s important to remember PEP must be started within 72 hours for effectiveness. The next step would be dependent on what the survivor wants, it’s important to respect their wishes even if you don’t support it.
They could be referred to SARC (sexual assault referral centre) in the state for other services.