Nigerian Women Take Action as Rape, Assault Cases Surge During Pandemic

By Reuters

Apr 29, 2021 06:03 PM

When Kehinde Osakede's university closed due to COVID-19 in 2020, the visual arts student returned home to Lagos. A visit to a family friend nearby turned into a horrific ordeal.

The friend began touching her, she said, and became violent when she asked him to stop. He then raped her, she said.

"The guy was hitting me, beating me," said Osakede, now 21, "The last notion I had was to commit suicide." 

Reuters was not able to confirm her account independently. Osakede did not share the name of her alleged assailant and said she did not want to get involved in the legal case.

Osakede is one of hundreds of women across Nigeria who have reported being raped or sexually assaulted in a surge since the pandemic began, according to police and officials. Some experts say this represents only a fraction of cases.

The president's office referred Reuters' questions to the Ministry of Women Affairs. The ministry said it had helped coordinate the nation's response to rape and gender-based violence, including by setting up a national response team and meeting different ministries and nongovernmental organizations.

Lagos state, where Osakede lives, saw a nearly 40 percent increase in rape and domestic and sexual violence in 2020, official data showed. After a string of high-profile attacks, including the gang rape of a 12-year-old girl in northern Jigawa state, President Muhammadu Buhari declared a nationwide state of emergency in June 2020 to tackle the crisis. Some Nigerian women are now acting to address the problem of sexual violence, saying that cases have ended in few prosecutions, widespread stigmatization and a tendency to blame victims.

The 2018 official Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey found that 30 percent of girls and women aged between 15 and 49 reported suffering sexual abuse. The government has declared a state of national emergency over rape and gender-based violence and says it has directed the police and the states to do everything they can to tackle it.

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