Rev. Fr. Thomas Oyode
A peep into matters that concern rape and sexual violence could, at some point, leave everyone implicated either as victims, as culprits or as onlookers. This becomes even clearer as the matter is fast becoming a political one and then there is the question of being classified or pigeon holed as being either feministic or voyeuristic. The aim here is simply to throw some light on an issue that is globally a human problem and a mental health concern. Most importantly, it is to help highlight some of the effects of rape and sexual violence on the victims and to proffer ways of coping. It therefore takes the analytical and prescriptive approaches.
Understanding Sexual Violence: Sexual violence has been defined by the World Health Organization as
any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.
A particular concept stands out in this definition which is coercion. Coercion is here understood as any kind of force or violence, be it physical or psychological, inflicted on a person so as to obtain sexual gratification. This means that it could include manipulation, blackmail, deceit, grave fear or threat.
It could also be verbal without any physical harm. This includes verbal torture and/or spiritual torments or psychological intimidation. An example is when a housemaid is told that if she does not succumb to her employer’s sexual advances she would be sent out of the house. Another example is when a teacher/lecturer tells a student that if he/she does not yield to a sexual advance, he/she would fail an exam or be made to repeat a class. Therefore, sexual violence can take place anywhere; at home, at work, in the church, in the mosque, or in the school.
It occurs also when a sexual act is obtained against a person’s will, without his or her consent. If a person is under the influences of drugs and alcohol or is incapable of understanding the circumstances involved in the sexual act, such an act is understood as an act of sexual violence. It is the same for a person is who is asleep.
Who can give consent? Not everyone has the legal capacity to give consent to a sexual act. Apart from the conditions mentioned in the preceding paragraph, a lunatic and a person who is mentally deranged are incapable of giving consent. Also different countries across the world have different legislations that stipulate age of consent for their citizens. In Europe, most countries set the age of consent around 14-18 years. WE have such countries as Cyprus (17 years), Turkey (18 years) and Ireland (17 years) while the others usually have theirs fixed between 14-16 years. According to the Italian penal code (Codice penale: Dei delitti contro la persona:diritto e diritti), for example, the age of consent is 14 but if the partner is below the age of 18, a 13 year old may legally give consent provided that the age difference between them is less than 3 years. If the partner is a superior or a figure of authority (teacher, for example), the age of consent is 16 years (see also The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights). In Nigeria the age of consent is 18 years (see Nigeria’s Sexual Offences Bill, 2015 and The Child Rights Acts 2003).
In addition, our use of sexual violence is in a general sense which also encapsulates rape; rape is only a part of the many acts of sexual violence. Rape, on its part, is a physical coercion, a forceful penetration of the vulva or the anus using the penis, other body parts or an object. In other words, rape is a forceful act but it specifically involves the use of any of our body parts or an object to forcefully penetrate the vulva or the anus. Body parts could include the penis, the hands, legs, fingers, toes, head, teeth, tongue or mouth.
Forms of sexual violence: sexual violence as defined above can take place between couples who are married or dating. It can happen as rape by a stranger or in the context of armed conflict. It could be in the circumstances of unwanted sexual advances or harassment such as demanding sex in return for a favour. It could be in the form of forced marriage, sexual abuse of minors, mentally disabled or physically challenged. It also includes forced prostitution and human trafficking.
Many persons of different social classes have fallen victim of sexual violence including sick patients in hospitals, domestic workers, office clerks (especially secretaries) and sex workers (also known as night nurses or aristo in Nigeria). Others are school boys and girls, trafficked persons and displaced persons.
How is a woman easily exposed to sexual violence? As shown in the various forms and contexts above, the causes of sexual violence could be due to peer influence, family and parental responsibility. However, according to studies carried out by the World Health Organization, one of the most common causes of sexual abuse is cohabiting with a partner either married or intimate. Others are alcohol, drugs, young age, being a previous victim, becoming more educated or more economically advantaged, poverty, poor knowledge of the impact of rape on the victim, coercive sexual fantasies among men, pornography, exaggerated sense of masculinity, selfishness and egotism.
Effects of Sexual Violence: this study identifies ten effects of sexual violence as follows:
- Often times the victim is forced to bear the child
- Loss of sense of control over one’s sexuality
- Vaginal infections including urinary tract infection
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Loss of sexual affection and desires
- Painful intercourse
- Mental health issues and behavioural disorders including depression, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSDs), sleep disorders, aggression, truancy, increased drug and alcohol consumption.
- Rejection by marriage partners
How do you cope with Sexual Violence and Rape?
(to be continued)