The increasing trend of sexual assault of female students in higher institutions of learning in Lagos State as replete in media reportages is disheartening. More worrisome is the apathetic attitude school authorities display on such problem considering the botched way cases of sexual violence are handled. In a lot of incidents, no stringent actions are taken against perpetrators of rape of female students who are usually the male members of the academic staff and students. Reason for this is not farfetched, Nigeria as a society is enmeshed in a patriarchal system. In simple term, a man can denigrate a woman without a collective challenge by his fellow men.
According to a recent baseline media monitoring conducted under the project title: Mainstreaming Gender Reporting on Affirmative Action of Women and Girls Rights Issues by Journalists for Christ (JFC) Nigeria, it was observed that there is a preference for men to be quoted as sources over women in issues that concern women. This only poses a critical thought that if the presence of women as sources in media reports is low especially in issues that relate to them, does this not indicate an infringement on their basic right to defend themselves? This observation distinctly reveals the triviality accorded women in Nigeria media.
Due to reprisal attacks ranging from threat of failing a female victim by lecturers to physical violence; even death by other culprits, most cases go unreported. The shame of being stigmatized and lack of information to access justice are also factors. Though an academic terrain, where victims and culprits are supposed to know the consequences and laws guiding sexual violence, the traditional practices of keeping mum in a male-dominated environment still seeps its way through the walls of these higher institutions of learning. Most students in tertiary institutions in Lagos State are not even aware of the legal repercussions of committing sexual violence crimes, they do not know that these crimes can lead to life imprisonment, hence, offenders can always go free and brag about their actions consequently stoking negatively the fire of this sinister act. The schools are also culpable in these crimes because most of them do not have detailed rules to resolve sexual violence crimes and their attendant issues.
Female students on school campuses had been accused of indecent dressing making them susceptible to sexual assault, thus, the resultant rape cases. However, no excuse in any form should be accepted as a reason to sexually violate a woman. Sexual violence is a violation of women’s rights; it portends health problems such as those causing victims to contract the deadly HIV. Reports have revealed that increase in HIV developed from sexual violence cases, and the emotional pain caused by this health issue is also a form of violence.
Conversely, female students who are considered vulnerable to sexual crimes are not the only victims; male lecturers have accused the women of sexually seducing them in order to gain good grades. When they do not comply, the female students usually resort to blackmail. Some male lectures have even complained of threats of rape by female students who seek academic favours and this situation makes them feel insecure on school campuses. Similarly, female lecturers have also been accused of sexually harassing young male students.
In order to curb cases of sexual violence on campuses of tertiary institutions in Lagos State, The Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) recently began various sensitization and enlightenment campaign across the city. This is in addition to the massive actions been taken by other women and gender based organizations to address Gender based violence in Lagos state .
The need to especially focus on curbing sexual violence and indeed Gender based violence in higher institutions of learning in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. It is therefore imperative for civil society organizations and all stakeholders to extend their advocacy to tertiary institutions to enable a peaceful environment for students to be educated in order to fulfill their potentials in life.
Damilola Adeoye holds a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree in Botany from Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye,Ogun State. She works with Centre for 21st Century Issues and coordinates the organizations projects on women’s rights and environment including Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).