Mrs. Itoro Eze-Anaba is the founder of Mirabel Centre, a foundation set-up to provide free-of-charge rehabilitation for rape victims. For being a trend setter and with her hard work and persistence for setting-up the first rehabilitation centre for rape victims in Nigeria, she emerged one of the three finalists at the much celebrated Vlisco Women’s Month Award 2015, which held at Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, last Sunday. In this interview, Itoro speaks on her two-year journey of giving special care and support to over 562 rape victims, as well as enabling them to recover and move on with their lives. Excerpts:
By IKENNA ASOMBA
You are involved in the fight against rape and there is a huge story behind how you got involved, can you tell us that?
It all started in 2000, when I drafted the Domestic Violence Bill (DVB), the first of its kind in Nigeria. I went to 12 states in Nigeria to lobby its passage into law. I also went to the National Assembly. So, while I was working with Lagos State, I decided to test the bill by going to the streets to talk to people. Then, I came across a 14-year-old girl who told me a story that was so touching. She said her father had been sleeping with her since she was 11. She said when she summoned the courage to speak with her religious leader, he didn’t believe her, leaving her with no where else to go to. I said to myself that my mother used to tell me that when there is a problem in the streets, you run home, but when there is a problem at home, where do you run to? I decided then, to know if her case was an isolated case, but I discovered that there were a lot of young girls in secondary schools who are being molested in their homes by people that were supposed to love and protect them.
Then I said to myself, what do I do to help this girl?
Incidentally, in 2003, I went to a Sexual Assault Reform Centre, and the idea came up that I need to do this in Nigeria. So, since 2003 to 2013, my whole focus was helping rape victims. Fortunately for me, in 2013, I got funding from a programme of the Department of International Development of the British Council, to set-up the first Sexual Assault Reform Centre in Nigeria and that’s the second one in West Africa.
What do you do at the centre?
At the Mirabel Centre, we provide sacrificial support as well as medical treatments to survivors of rape and sexual assaults. Everything we do at the Mirabel Centre is free. We give medical treatments, drugs, transportation refunds, we give food to rape survivors if they have not eaten. We carry-out pregnancy test, HIV/AIDS test. It’s a full circle and we provide it free of charge.
The youngest person that has been to our centre is an 18 months old baby, who was raped and the oldest person is a 70-year-old grandma who was raped by her son’s tenant. Majority of the people that come to the centre are between the ages of 11 and 15. Interestingly, over 90 percent of the perpetrators are known to them. So, it’s usually cases of acquaintance rape.
Rape cuts across genders
However, the argument that rape only affects women is not true, because we have over 15 boys in our centre that were raped by men. They have come to our centre to receive treatment. So, rape is not an issue only for the girls or women; it cuts across genders. Anybody can be a victim or survivor of rape as the case may be.
How have you been able to overcome the barriers associated with the stigma against victims of rape, especially when dealing with them?
One of the things we do at Mirabel Centre is that we maintain a high level of confidentiality. We don’t give out information about our clients. I will like to say that since we opened the centre, as at the last count, we have had about 652 people coming in to receive treatment, and we have treated their cases as a confidential matter. But the most interesting thing is a child or a woman works into the centre looking suicidal, looking dejected, feeling bad, and when she walks out after the treatment, you could actually see the light in her eyes, and then she will confirm that, so, I can actually move on with my life, I can actually handle this.
Just yesterday, we had our first-ever Survivors Forum and I got to meet a 16-year-old child, who, after she had been raped, wanted justice. But there was so much pressure around her that she must drop the case. The pressure was much that she ran away from home. But she said, someone committed a crime against me, so that person must be punished for it. So, she ran away from home to the centre where she passed the night. Of course, we got in touch with the parents, but she insisted that she wants justice at the age of 16.
We do have a lot of adults that are going through the same process, but would not want to go through the obstacles she had to go through in order to seek justice. So, there are too many of them. For us to have had over 652 cases in our centre doesn’t mean these are the number of people that have been raped in Lagos State within this period. But these are the courageous ones. I call them our diamonds and pearls because these are the ones that decided to seek comfort, these are the ones that have decided to speak about it and decided that this crime must be put to stop.
In less than two years, we provided support services to 652 persons. So, you can imagine what will happen if I have numerous support. We are going to go to all the schools because majority of our clients are from schools. A lot of them have economic challenges. For instance, just yesterday, one of our clients said she was looking for just N5, 000 in order to pay her daughter’s school fees. After the incident she suffered, we had to relocate her, change her accommodation and school, and for her to get into another school, she has to pay N5, 000, which she couldn’t afford. Interestingly, one of our ambassadors gave her the money to pay.
Huge financial needs
Honestly, there is a huge financial need for the survivors that come to the centre. Also, the funding we got for the centre will come to an end this month (May). So, we need funding in order to continue to provide these free services that we are giving. Somebody has once asked me, what we will do if the money is no longer there to run the free services; the person was asking if we were going to fold-up. But my response is that we will not fold-up, it will be criminal to do that. There are so many people that need the services, there are so many people that need a place to go to, where they can seek comfort and not be judged. That is the major challenge they have.