The Director of the Lagos State Office of the Public Defender (OPD), Dr Babajide Martins, has said that the state government can compel hesitant survivors of rape and other gender-based violence to testify against their attackers in court.
Martins made the suggestion on Thursday while speaking at a webinar organised by the Centre for Women’s Health and Information (CEWHIN) and the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT).
The webinar had the title: “A Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue: Towards an Enhanced State Level Response to Sexual And Gender-Based Violence in Lagos State”.
Martins said: “There is so much pressure on the witness not to come to court.
“Some of the pressure is due to a lack of understanding on the part of the parents and some of these survivors come from the lower end of the social strata.
“When a lot of money is offered to them, they back off and it is usually very difficult to get them to come to court,” he said.
According to Martins, the Office of the Attorney-General has the power to compel a rape victim to come to court as the offence is committed against the state.
“Many people have this misconception that it is for the survivor to let go.
“Rape and defilement are offences committed against the state, and the attorney-general representing the state, has the power to compel survivors to come and serve as witnesses.
“We have ample provisions under Sections 81 to 84 of the Lagos State Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) to summon witnesses.”
The OPD director said that due to the endemic nature of sexual offences in the society, there was the need to continuously train prosecutors and police officers.
He called for establishment of a Witness Anonymity Order, which would protect reluctant witnesses testifying in court from identification and subsequent harm.
The director noted that though under Sections 200 and 202 of the ACJL, members of the public could be present during sexual offences trials, facilities should be provided in Lagos courtrooms to shield the identities of survivors testifying in the witness box.
Prof. Olufunlayo Bammeke, the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Lagos, in her keynote address, said that one of the challenges facing prosecution of sexual and domestic violence in Lagos was reluctance of survivors to desire prosecution of the cases.
According to her, this has led to the number of prosecution of crimes to be disproportionate to the number of reports of the crimes.
“There is a huge reluctance on the part of survivors to prosecute.
“For example, the DSVRT found that out of 20 per cent of survivors who were initially interested in prosecuting, 18 per cent withdrew and only two per cent were left with the prosecution.”
She said that survivors also prioritised other institutions such as family and the church in reporting the crimes more than law enforcement agencies, adding that they viewed these agencies as a last resort.
Bammeke said that other contributory factors were cultural beliefs and values such as perceptions of gender roles, gender hierarchy, victim-blaming and stigmatisation.
“There is also lack of awareness of the new orientation of the police.
“The police have benefited from a lot of training to make them more gender aware and to make them respond better to cases of sexual and gender-based violence.
“The knowledge of this training is not wide spread and members of the public do not know that there are changes within the Police Force.
“They have this traditional image of the police’s attitude to domestic violence and this discourages them from reporting.
“As awareness is increased, members of the public will be encouraged to report to the police,” she said.
The Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), said that one of the objectives of the webinar was for stakeholders to seek new ways to respond to gender-based violence.
“With the current national outrage against sexual and gender-based violence, there is no better time than now to have this dialogue.
“The objective is to mobilise strategic actors in the field of sexual and gender-based violence in Lagos State for a joint review of the state’s response system.
“It is also to develop strategies for addressing existing challenges and gaps within the state’s response system and to strengthen networking and partnerships among strategic stakeholders,” he said.