Sexual abuse and violence is often swept under wraps in Nigeria, as many rape survivors are shamed into silence. The country’s deeply entrenched cultural values deter victims from sharing their experience and getting the right help needed.
A survey carried out by UNICEF in 2015 disclosed that four in 10 girls and one in 10 boys in Nigeria will experience some sort of sexual violence before the age of 18. For Ayodeji, she refuses to be a statistic. Election touts for refusing to take a huge bribe and compromise her beliefs, raped her during the 2011 elections. Violated but undeterred, she pushed forward to achieve great things.
Ayodeji’s personal experience pushed her into creating Stand to end rape Initiative (STER). STER is a not for profit organisation giving sexual abuse a voice in Nigeria. Established in 2014, the organisation provides support for abuse survivors through various mechanisms. We talked to Ayodeji about her experience and running the organisation.
Tell us about Stand To End Rape [STER] Initiative. What drove your interest in starting this youth led organisation?
STER came from a personal experience. It was a realization that there was no system that responds swiftly to issues of sexual violence in Nigeria. Not just in terms of the justice system but in terms of providing holistic support for the survivors. I felt like there was a gap there and someone needed to fill in the gap, I volunteered. I established STER to ensure that anyone who had experienced sexual abuse or violence was able to receive some form of support. The support, medical, psychosocial or legal comes at no cost to them. I just wanted to make sure that no survivor of sexual abuse had to look for an organisation to get help or stay silent because their was none to run to.
Can you give us insight on some of the services STER offers?
We partner with government owned medical facilities where our survivors frequent for medical evaluation. These evaluations are to prevent and check for unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. This is very important for us because a lot of women who contract HIV/AIDS can be linked to sexual violent experiences. Basically, sexual violence is a contributing factor to HIV/AIDS IN Africa. In the long run it is important for us to do our part in preventing the spread of these sexually transmitted infections and diseases.
We also offer psychosocial services because we understand the importance of mental health for everyone. For someone who has experienced sexual abuse, which is usually traumatic, it may be difficult for him or her to cope. The case can lead to depression, scare factors, anger and very many triggers. So, we have a department that addresses mental health.
Our legal services are intact as well. Many times people don’t want to be mere statistics; they want to see that the person who perpetrated the violence against them gets punished. While we are not a prosecuting agency, we facilitate prosecution by ensuring the cases are reported at the police station. We also follow up to make sure investigations are carried out and that the case gets to court. STER also has legal counsels that monitor proceedings of different cases; they are always present at hearings to document and monitor.
Finally, we have empowerment schemes where we try to link our survivors to job opportunities, especially if their perpetrators provide their means of livelihood. These empowerment schemes are wide ranging; it could be educational, accommodation, work opportunities or learning a craft. Pretty much anything that will alleviate their current living condition and separate them from their abuser.
Tell us about some of your projects across Nigeria overtime?
All our projects are carefully thought out because they all address specific needs and problems. One of the ones I really enjoyed was our HIV program; we visited 5 local governments in Lagos state to engage community members on sexual violence and how it is linked to HIV/AIDS. We set up booths in these communities for free HIV/AIDS testing and counseling. We also provided self-defense lessons for the boys and girls in these communities, because we acknowledge that boys get sexually abused too. This particular project was good because we were able to relay our message to the grassroots communities; we reached at least 10,000 people.
We also had a project on contraceptives and teenage pregnancy for teenagers. We realize that young people are sexually active as early as age 12; the younger ones are usually confused as to whether or not protection during sexual activity is important. So, it was important for us to talk to them and pass on the appropriate information on contraceptives and the need to be safe when sexual activities are involved. A lot of young people enjoyed the project, they were open and asked questions about their bodies, menstrual cycles etc because we created a very open conversation. This one covered about 100 young people.
We had a partnership with Google UK. The idea here was for survivors to find and locate hospitals or police stations close to them to report sexual violence cases. We have many more projects on the website, standtoendrape.org.
There is almost always hesitation due to cultural practices across the country when it comes to openly discussing sexual health and sexual violence. What has been your experience regarding this in the communities/people you’ve reached and projects you’ve worked on?
This is unfortunately the norm, staying silent for the fear of being stigmatized. For us, we always approach our cases differently; make the survivors comfortable so that they are able to come forward without fear.
What is STER’s operating model? Tell us about your team.
Our team is not based on a particular structure per say. We have the decision makers of our many projects but we try not to assign typical roles because everyone in the picture is part of the STER team.
Tell us about your goals for this year. How can the public participate in your activities?
Our goal this year is not awareness based alone, we want to build structures too. We want to create mechanisms that help to counter sexual violence. We will be working a lot with young boys in schools; we will be working with university students to address sexual harassment cases in campuses. Like I said, we are trying to work more on prevention and solutions to sexual abuse and not just awareness.
We can be contacted via any of our social media platforms; we are @Standtoendrape on twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We need a lot of people across Nigeria because STER cannot function on its own; we need ambassadors and foot soldiers across. We are looking for volunteer teachers, social media managers, paralegals, accountants, protesters, and writers. There is no irrelevant field; every person can be a part of STER.
Based on your experience. What do you think the future holds regarding advocating for sexual and reproductive health and rights in Nigeria?
I think advocacy for sexual and reproductive health and rights in the country is actually getting better so I am optimistic. There was a project we did with young children from the age of 13 – 24 , for example, it was about understanding sexual activities and the need for protection. They were very open and their parents allowed them to participate because times have changed and they understand the need to address these issues. We are in the era of advocacy now and people are definitely speaking up more on sexual abuse and reproductive health compared to years before.
You can find more information on Stand to end rape initiative and their activities on www.standtoendrape.org