There’s need to dismantle myth surrounding rape – Anaba

Mrs. Itoro Eze Anaba the Executive Director/Managing partner, Partnership for Justice in an interview recently decried the plight of rape survivors. Anaba spoke to CHIOMA UMEHA (HEALTH EDITOR) on the goals of the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) which will provide respite for survivors. Excerpts: 

Recently, your organisation announced that it was going to establish a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH). Give details of your plans. 
We have commenced training for medical practitioners on forensic medical examinations and provision of other support services for victims of rape and sexual assaults. Partnership for Justice is setting up a sexual assault referral centre that will provide timely professional and victim friendly services for survivors of sexual assault. And one of the major aspect of the project is to train doctors and nurses to provide them with adequate and specialized skills so that when victims of rape and sexual assault come in to the hospitals they have specialized skills to treat them in a way that it will leave them with their dignity intact so that they are not further traumatized. We also have nurses that will work in therefore centres so that can provide like victim friendly services. We want a situation where victims walk into the centre and are able to receive psycho-social services like counselling services as well as medical services. The centre is going to be set up at LASUTH and the hospital has kindly given us a space.  Throughout July, we were training the doctors and subsequently trained counsellors. It is only after that the centre will be open to the public. An interesting aspect of the centre is that services provided at the centre will be free. Both counseling, basic medical treatment will be provided free for the victims and in addition we are going to have large publicity programme on this project because it does not make sense to set up a centre and at the end of the day nobody knows about it. We are going to run radio jingles, postals, flyers put in place. We will be visiting schools and already targeting about 20 schools in Ikeja to train officials of the schools to act as community monitors so that within the school environment they are able to detect the symptoms of rape. If any of the girls has suddenly changed if it was because she was sexually abused or assaulted. Those officials will be able to identify those students and refer them to the centre. Ultimately, we would also want to work with the family support unit which is another programme with e aim providing the police with necessary skills to investigate and prosecute cases of rape and sexual assault. Already, we have trained medical practitioners to be equipped with the skills. 

Number of doctors trained
We trained about 30 doctors drawn from various hospitals such as Island hospital, Ikorodu hospital, but majority are from LASUTH because the centre is located at LASUTH. Anybody can walk in to receive services.  Anybody can walk in to receive services. Other department can refer; for instance, the Police and other civil society organization. An individual can be referred to this centre and they will walk in and receive treatment at any time. Right now it is being funded by Justice for all programme of the Department for International Development; we would want the state government to step in as well.   Already LASUTH has given us a small building but for the sake of privacy and confidentiality there is need to have a separate building or section for this kind of services.  We are hoping that with time the government we give us a large space in the new building they are putting on. For now it is free and we hope it will be continue to be free because the high cost of medical care is also an obstacle to receiving treatment. 

Benefits to survivors 
Generally survivors find it difficult because they do not really know where to go to report cases of assault and it is even more difficult when the perpetrator is a family member. At times they go to their religious leaders and they do not believe them and they go around with that trauma.    When they go to hospital, the delay to receiving treatment is there and at times they do not have money to buy drugs and take care of other medical services but this centre is going to provide all those services. Now, you have a place where you can walk in and make a report and receive treatment free. The staff at the centre will believe you when you come in.   The centre is going to provide pregnancy tests, initial medical services will include possible HIV tests but everything has to be done with the consent of the victim. All information to be kept confidential private and more importantly we are going install a system that will provide aggregated data so that at the end of day we will be able to say how many that have been affected by rape in Lagos state, how many came from Ikorodu, Yaba, etc; and among these areas, what age group of people are more prone to rape or who are the perpetrators. Why social class, religious. All these compilation will be provided at the same time.  

It appears that rape is on the increase
It is really difficult to say that it is on the increase because it could be that there is more awareness now and people are making more report not necessarily because it is on the increase.  But what we can say now is that there is increased awareness and increased publicity on sexual report.   But for us to say that there is increase, we must have a data which we do not have. We cannot back up a data, but there is publicity and awareness that rape is actually becoming an epidemic that is why the centre is going to provide such data. Over the years, the society is beginning to agree that these things are happening.  There is need to start dismantling this whole myth as secrecy surrounding rape so that those affected will feel free to receive the support services. 

We need to remember that we cannot do without the community because perpetrators live within the community. So we need to take steps to protect our communities from rape incidents and make sure that our girls and women are actually free from rape. Do they report? There mixture of reasons some people also report but some people feel that there is no need for them to report and some do not want to report immediately. But they can access the support at the centre which will make them have the confidence to report in future. 

This story was published in Newswatch Times on September 12,  2013.