The emotion in her voice was unmistakable. From her narration, the torment she experienced as a result of the tragedy that befell her only daughter, aged nine, was better imagined than experienced. For 39-year-old Habiba Jauro (not real name), a housewife in Gombe, May 30, 2010 was a day she will ever live to remember.
On that day, four hefty men lured her daughter to an uncompleted building in the neighbourhood and gang-raped her. After discovering the horrible incident, Mrs Jauro tried to ensure that the culprits were apprehended and prosecuted but all her efforts were frustrated by her husband.
His reasons? Efforts should be made to safeguard the name and honour of his daughter and family.
“My husband warned me against disclosing the incident to anybody, so as to protect the name of the family. When I insisted on reporting the case to the police for the law to take its course, he threatened me with divorce.
“Months later, my daughter tested positive to HIV,” Mrs Jauro recounted her ordeal in tears.
But the woman’s plight is indicative of the anguish of many others in Gombe, where cases of rape are downplayed and swept under the carpet due to fears concerning the victims’ stigmatisation in the society.
Such fears are not unfounded, as there are many stories about the stigma which hapless victims of rape face in the society.
Karimatu Yakubu, a 42-year-old housewife and a mother of six, narrates the tale of a rape case in her neighbourhood, which brought serious consequences on the victim after it was made public.
“Everybody runs away from her (the victim) like a leper because her image has been tarnished by the misfortune that befell her. Since then, the girl has been living with the stigma,” she says.
Besides, Bappawuro Nuhu, a vegetable seller, recounted how a 60-year-old man raped his six-year-old niece. Mr Huhu recalled that he tried to convince his brother (the girl’s father) to report the matter to the police to no avail. He stressed that virtually all the family members then kicked against his suggestion vehemently, insisting that the disadvantages of reporting the case to the police far outweighed the advantages.
Observers maintain that this situation has tacitly encouraged rapists to go on with perpetrating the crime because of the fact that they are likely to get away scot-free.
“When confirmed rapists still move around free as air, what then do you expect?” asked Ibrahim Lawal, a lawyer. “They will always be on the rampage looking for unfortunate girls and women to rape, knowing well that nothing would happen,” he added.
An evil to fight
In spite of the development, however, many people in Gombe State regard rape as a heinous crime which should not go unpunished. The people’s viewpoint notwithstanding, observers say that little can be achieved in efforts to curb the menace of rape in the state if people prefer to keep mum and refrain from reporting rape cases because of extraneous factors, including the victims’ stigma.
However, the people’s attitude regarding the concealment of rape cases had been a source of concern to the police authorities, says Abdullahi Kamba, a deputy superintendent of police and the former police public relations officer in the state.
“From our records, over 57 cases of rape were recorded and successfully addressed in the past three years. But our investigations indicated that the figure was just a tip of the iceberg, as there were several cases that were not reported.
“Such cases mostly had to do with minors, whose parents and relations prefer to keep the incidents secret for fear of stigmatisation in the society,” he said.
Mr Kamba added that unless the society resolved to tackle the factor of victims’ stigmatisation squarely, rapists would always have a leeway to perpetrate the crime.
The frustration of the Gombe State Police Command on the issue was also re-echoed by Caleb Ubale, the chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association in the state.
He underscored the adequacy of the law in dealing with the crime by prescribing stringent prison terms, including the maximum penalty of life imprisonment, for proven rape cases.
Mr Ubale, nonetheless, noted that the failure of people to report rape cases to the police had made efforts to stamp out the crime somewhat futile.
“From experience, most parents of the victims are reluctant to report incidents of rape. Their reason had always been that their daughters may find it difficult to find suitors who want to marry them in future,” he said.
Sharing similar sentiments, Altine Sani, the commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps in Gombe State, said that there was palpable fear about being labelled a “rape victim” in the society.
“After discovering such cases on our own and the culprit is charged to court, some parents even pressurise us to withdraw the case for fear that the matter may tarnish their image,” Mrs Sani said.
Anita Dogo, the Gombe State coordinator of the Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative also said that her organisation was also facing a similar challenge.
“The greatest challenge we are facing is about the intransigent attitude of some parents, who bluntly refuse to cooperate with us,” she said, adding: “This often results in culprits getting away with their acts, only to commit the same crime another day.”
Danger in concealment
However, analysts contend that the dangers inherent in concealing heinous crimes such as rape can never be underestimated.
Dije Reubaino, the director of Social Welfare in the Gombe State Ministry of Women Affairs, describes the situation as extremely worrisome.