Question: What is disability-based violence and what can you say about the spate in Nigeria?
Response: disability-based violence is peculiar because it is any act, omission, statement, situation, or any ill-treatment directly or indirectly meted out on a person or group of persons solely because of their disability.
Disability-based violence is gradually becoming a menace in Nigeria today because of the way government and relevant stakeholders pay deaf ears to it. Persons with disabilities (PWDs), particularly women and girls with disabilities suffer one form of violence or the other on a regular basis from close relatives, acquaintances, and strangers. It’s a sad situation because these violators oftentimes do so erroneously believing that their acts or omissions are in the best interest of the PWD or that they are doing the PWD a favor. Disability-based violence could be either physical, sexual, emotional or psychosocial, socio-economical, or harmful traditional practices. Sometimes, these acts of violence are interwoven and flow into each other such that you find a person who is violated in multiple ways at the same time by the same person(s).
Sexual and physical violence like other forms of violence leads to emotional/psychological violence which leaves lasting effects on the survivor that could be fatal or ultimately lead to the early demise of the survivor.
Disability-based violence has been a silent killer of PWDs in Nigeria and will continue to be on the rise if efforts are not intensified to see it reduced drastically or die out completely.
Question: Have you received reports of cases of sexual abuse of Women/Girls With Disabilities (W/GWDs)?
Response: Yes. IFA has received a number of cases of sexual violence against persons with disabilities from different parts of the country. What we do upon receipt of such a report is to direct the person(s) concerned to the appropriate authority to help them get justice. Before the passage of the VAPP Act and charging the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) with the responsibility of implementing the Act, such cases were referred to the police stations. But recently, we refer them to NAPTIP, then the police. But there’s a very sad trend among victims of sexual violence, and that is the refusal to pursue the case till the end and get justice. They easily bow to pressure from family and community leaders not to prosecute the perpetrator, so as not to bring stigma and shame upon the family. This silent culture has served to increase the rate of sexual violence as offenders take huge advantage of the fact that they will not be brought to face the wrath of the law. In our work over the years, we have been advocating and sensitizing on the need to break the silent culture by speaking out and prosecuting offenders till justice is served.
Question: Are there any available data in Nigeria to support the cases of violence against W/GWDs?
Response: Honestly, there is currently no accurate data available to support the cases of violence against women and girls with disabilities. What we can get at best is an estimate. We need data that is accurate and disaggregated by disability types so that we are able to understand if a particular pattern employed by violators is perhaps particular to one cluster of disability or not, and then design programs to effectively tackle it.
Question: How rampant would you say is the case of sexual abuse of W/GWDs?
Response: Cases of sexual violence against women and girls with disabilities although, largely unreported, are very rampant and increasing by the day. Because of the laxity with which security agencies handle such cases, offenders are getting more emboldened to continue to defile helpless women and girls with disabilities. These sexual offenses range from rape (even within the confines of marriage) to molestation, sexual harassment, assault, etc. The fact that there is no accurate or disaggregated data does not mean it’s not rampant. It has risen to a cancerous level and should be treated with the urgency and fervency that it demands if we want to have a nation that is wholesome and ready for inclusive development
Question: Are these abuses tied towards a specific disability cluster?
Response: In this regard, I’d say that violators are careful with the type of disability their victim has. Women and girls with disabilities who are blind are often easy prey as it would be difficult to prove they know the assailant unless there is the testimony of another witness to corroborate what they are saying. Deaf women will be able to easily identify who violated them and may also be able to defend themselves. Women with physical disabilities on the other hand can see and hear and can identify their violators. But they are also easy prey because of their immobility.
Women with albinism have also reported cases of sexual violence and the offenders are often acquaintances as well. The worst hit is women with mental health issues who have no knowledge that they are being defiled. There is no way to prove if they consented to the act or not as they have no mental capacity to do so. But for this class of women, the crime is in carrying out the act, knowing full well the state of their mental health. This is why it is important to educate all women with disabilities on effective preventive and responsive measures to tackle sexual violence such as self-defense techniques or preserving evidence by not taking their bath immediately after any form of sexual assault or violence has happened to them.
Question: Do W/GWDs access justice when they report any case of violation?
Response: There are various barriers that limit the extent to which women with disabilities have access to justice. These barriers range from the physical structures of the facilities to attitudinal barriers. Poverty and illiteracy also play a major role here. On a scale of 1-10, the rate at which women with disabilities are able to access justice will be at one or two at the most because these barriers serve as a deterrent to anyone who wishes to seek redress for any wrong done to them. The lackadaisical attitude of justice service providers and security agencies towards cases of sexual violence against women with disabilities and the almost non-existent report of a conviction of an offender is another reason why they do not get Justice.
Question: What do you think can be done to address this menace?
Response: There is, therefore, a need to engage in more strategic Advocacies for all relevant stakeholders, especially the security agents and judiciary. Community sensitization also has to go on to break the silent culture and allow victims to seek redress. Livelihood training and empowerment will go a long way in making it possible for some women and girls with disabilities to get Justice once they have the means. Capacity strengthening for women and girls with disabilities will also enable them to understand what advances bother on sexual violence, what to do in such circumstances, and how to channel their reports to the right quarters to that justice is served
Question: What’s your charge to W/GWDs?
Response: My final words to women and girls with disabilities is to speak out whenever they are facing sexual violence.
To security agents and other stakeholders, stop underrating cases reported by women and girls with disabilities and handle them with kid gloves. You are by this giving free rein to the criminals who carry out these acts to become worse instead of prosecuting them and securing convictions and sentencing where necessary.
Sexual violence against women and girls with disabilities is very real and is becoming more so. The time to put a stop to it is now.