Following increasing cases of rape of the girl- child in the country, Nollywood star actress, Stella Damasus has expressed fears over the safety of her daughters from such 'predators'.
In fact, she told us that her fears have got to the point that she feels like whisking them out of the country to a safer haven. But since that has not materialised, she said she has, as a stop-gap, tutored them on the best way to avoid losing their sexual innocence to men that may want to take advantage of them.
With all these efforts in place, she asserted without reservation that she would not bat an eyelid before killing any man that does such to any of her children. With her level of education and exposure, one would have expected that she would prefer the laws to take its course but she says that would be the last option she would consider. She stated that she would first kill the perpetrator before the law would take its course.
Going to jail, according to her would be a welcome development as long as the perpetrator would have gone six feet down. By so doing, Stella, who spoke to us at the end of a men's summit organised by Project Alert to seek men's support for fight against violence against women, has invariably sent a warning signal to paedophiles who carry out their acts with impunity. Excerpts:
Rape stories hurt me
Whenever I hear or read stories of violence against women, it hurts me so bad. I am always shocked and upset because these are things that can be avoided. They are things that can be stopped, but because everybody sees the country as a lawless, they do whatever they like with the belief that they can get away with it. I am involved in this fight because I also have two daughters and I would die first before anybody would touch my daughters.
With all the stories that I hear, with all the cases we take care of in Project Alert, everyday my passion for it grows stronger because we have to start to prove that this country has laws that can be used to protect our people. We need to be supported by the law. We need to make people have the belief that they can be safe in this country. I will not lie to you, I have been tempted on many occasion to take my children out of this country to where I know that no matter how difficult it is out there, their safety would be guaranteed.
Other countries protect their women and their women with everything they have. In this country, the women are always relegated. When Project Alert is handling some cases in court, the people there treat the victims as nonentities. It is only when that person dies, that is when you will see everybody crying and signing condolence register.
Aseroma's case stunned me
This is the first time I have heard that Fred violated his wife. I am utterly shocked because I have always known him to be a very quiet and respectable person. I would never have believed it, if not that the case is in court.
I really don't know what to say, but this goes to confirm that the people who do this are not poor alone; some of them have connections. Some of them are big people. I wonder what kind of sickness would enter somebody's head that would make him look at his wife and turn her into a punching bag. I don't care who it is, whether it is my uncle, brother, once it is proved that you did it, you must be punished according to the law, irrespective of your status.
Why women don't speak out
Women should speak out. As I am talking to you, there are so many women that are going through it everyday but they are afraid to talk. They are afraid because they are not sure that the law would give them the justice they are looking for. They often feel that when they complain and nothing happens, the men that violated them would come after them again. Out of fear of the unknown, most of them keep quiet and sometimes die in the process.
Most of the time, the churches fail them too. They will tell them to stay with the man that beats them on a daily basis. When I joined Project Alert, they showed me pictures of some victims and I fell on the floor because I could not believe that such could be done by a human being. I mean their husbands and their boyfriends. When I asked what happened to the perpetrators, I was told that when they took them to the police station, police would keep them in custody and ask for N100,000 bail.
Who cannot come up with N100,000 to wriggle out of such heinous case. Police would take money and release them, before you know it, the case is buried forever. We want a separate act against violence, not just against women but also against children.
There are so many young girls that have been violated even by their biological fathers. With the noise we are making, more and more people are getting to know that it is good to come out and talk. Before, people were not coming out, you could have about 18 people coming out to talk in a year but now, you could have as many as 300 women coming out to complain.
What we are out to achieve is to get a larger group of men to work with us. We have formed another body under Project Alert for men so that they can go out and do their own advocacy. It would be an opportunity for men to talk to one another. What we have realized is that the major perpetrators of these acts are men. Since they would not listen to us because they are always feeling that we are accusing them, may be if it comes from their fellow men, they would not call us feminists, they would see themselves as partners in curbing the menace.
We can do some other works like going around but there are some ways the males can help us. There are some contacts you could have in government, courts, hospitals, National Assembly that could help because this has to stop. We admit the fact that women can't fight the battle alone. All we are saying is that men should come and join us in this battle. The problem has persisted because of the kind of the society we live in.
I am ready to kill, jailed
I taught my daughters that when any man, be he their uncle, brother or even my friends in the industry, comes to the house, they should greet and go to their seats. If the visitor says, give me a hug, give them side hug. If he says give me a full hug, tell him mummy says that I shouldn't do that. If he says sit on my lap, say no, I want to sit on the chair. If he says come, let me buy you ice cream, tell him thank you.
I told them that if any man touches them between their chests and thighs, they should scream and run. I warned them that they should not stay there and later come and tell me story. If his hands start to come to any part of your body that he should not touch, shout. I remind them of this every morning because they have to be taught. Thankfully, none of them has reported such to me. If that had happened, I would probably not have been sitting here with you, I may have been in jail. If such happens, I will kill the man and go to jail.
Every woman is sexually abused
No woman would say she has never gone through sexual harassment. I am telling you that no woman would stand up and tell you that she has never been sexually harassed since she was born. It may not be by pushing one down and forcefully raping her. It is very common to see men making passes at you and expecting you to return their overtures. There is no woman that would tell you she has never experienced such.
Government should help us
The government and policy makers should look into this. They should have good punitive measures for rape, battery and use of acid on women. In the developed world, they don't even wait for the man to touch you. Part of their laws says that if you make a woman uncomfortable, if you use words that make them feel threatened, you will go to jail.
It makes their women feel comfortable. I am looking forward to a Nigeria that would protect not just the women's rights, but also children's rights. If there are no serious punishments to serve as deterrent to those that do this, they would continue with impunity.