The Lagos State Government startled Nigerians last week when it announced that there were no fewer than 12,200 rape cases in the state in the last four years. The Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice, Mr. Ade Ipaye, who gave this figure, added that 140 sex offenders have been recorded in the state’s Sex Offenders Register. A total of 3,083 sex offenders were also made to engage in community service as a form of punishment between January 2014 and February 2105. This, Ipaye explained, was one of the strategies adopted to decongest the prisons.
We are shocked that so many incidents of rape were recorded in Lagos State. This is more so as most rapes are not reported to the police. Most victims of rape are reluctant to come forward for two principal reasons.
First, having been violated, they often wish to bear the humiliation and trauma privately, to save themselves from further embarrassment. Second, rape victims are stigmatized in certain cultures in the country. Thus, instead of attracting public sympathy for being violated, victims are regarded as having brought it upon themselves. This is a regrettable cultural practice which tends to punish the victim more than the rapist. Rape victims do not get the desired support and it is very difficult to prove a charge of rape.
The law on rape in Nigeria is fairly straightforward. It is encapsulated in Section 357 of the Criminal Code Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, which stipulates that anyone who is convicted of using violence to have carnal knowledge of a woman without her consent shall be guilty of rape, and must be punished by being sentenced to life imprisonment.
This condign punishment for rape is intended to serve as a deterrent and to underscore the gravity of the offence. Whenever a woman is raped, the trauma is such that many women never recover from it for life. Some feel such a sense of violation that relationship with the opposite sex is virtually impossible thereafter. The physical trauma is bad enough, but often, the psychological one is deeper and more long-lasting. Rape destroys the self-esteem of its victims, even as it damages their confidence and trust in males. It instills fear that could last a lifetime.
One of the surprising disclosures by the Lagos State Attorney- General is that as many as 3,083 offenders were asked to engage in community services as a form of punishment. There is no other way to describe this than that it is a travesty of justice. Sentencing sex offenders of whatever category to community service cannot be part of the strategies to decongest prisons, as Nigerians have been told. It defeats the very purpose of the law. And, it is probably why the incidents of rape seem to be on an upward swing.
Rape ought to be a crime that is rare in this part of the world. The high number of cases indicates that something is wrong with the implementation of the law relating to this crime. Only the truly perverted would commit rape and when they do, they merit no less punishment than to be confined in the prisons.
We observe that the Sex Offenders Register is not a widely known record in Nigeria. This register is usually reserved for the worst offenders and must necessarily include child abusers. Those on the list tend to be recidivists and habitual offenders who often have psychological problems. In many developed countries, they cannot be hired to do certain jobs. Child abusers must be kept away from schools, parks and everywhere that children are likely to be found on their own. Schools, in particular, should be mandated to ensure that the names of those seeking employment in them are not on the Sex Offenders Register. We also recommend that all states in the country institute similar registers to keep child molesters out their schools.
We cannot put enough emphasis on the fact that rape is a very serious crime which cannot be punished by judicial slaps on the wrist. Convicted offenders must be made to face the full weight of the law.