While Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is a phenomenon that affects both men and women, females, including those in tertiary institutions are more frequently at the receiving end. In Yobe State University, the culture of silence is hindering many survivors of GBV from seeking the required support. Abdulazeez Yakubu writes for WikkiTimes.
In 2018, Mariya Hassan, a 100-level student of Yobe State University was raped on her way from school to her hostel in Damaturu, the state capital.
She had stayed in school till late that day and there were only a few vehicles headed her way that evening. After waiting for a while, Mariya got a lift from a private Honda Accord car.
“I accepted the offer and entered the vehicle due to the scarcity of the transport system at that very late hour of the day,” she recalled in tears. “On our way to the town, the vehicle owner veered into another route with the excuse that he wanted to collect his clothes from a laundry. Unknown to me, it was the first trap to confuse me.”
In a short while, Mariya realised that the driver was headed towards the outskirts of Damaturu.
“The vehicle owner stopped by the roadside a few kilometers away from the town, and did all he could to make me exhausted. I tried to counteract but he was stronger than me, and unknown to me the vehicle was locked.
“I struggled to open the car from my end but it was locked already, I was sexually molested and dumped by the roadside unconscious. A patrol team of police rescued me and documented my complaint,” she told WikkiTimes.
Five years after her abuse, the perpetrator is yet to be apprehended.
Following her experience, Mariya realised that while she survived abuse outside the school premises, many students like herself had dealt with various forms of GBV within the campus.
This sparked her interest in advocating against GBV and since then, Mariya has spoken and facilitated many advocacy and awareness of GBV programmes for women and girls, fellowships, conferences and lectures in Yobe State and neighbouring states. She has since helped more than 20 students in dealing with cases of sexual violence.
While Mariya was abused by a total stranger, Aisha Umar, who recently graduated from the Yobe State University told WikkiTimes she was raped in 2021 by her classmate Abbas Mohammed in a hotel in Damaturu, after he offered her a drink that was laced with drugs.
“After we’ve finished lectures, Abbas handed over a LaCasera drink for me which he claimed was a gift he brought to me all the way from their home,” she recollected. “I collected it and kept it inside my handbag but he insisted I must drink if truly I want him to believe that I love him, I opened the bottle and drank it all not knowing that he inserted a tramadol in it.”
She only realised she had been drugged and raped after the effect of the drugs had worn off.
“After I regained my consciousness, I observed that Abbas had forced himself into me, I calmed down and controlled myself. The next thing I would do was to report him to the police, he was arrested and detained for a week and was subsequently granted bail,” she added.
When asked why she didn’t report the issue to the institution, she said she was afraid of discrimination and shame from her mates and colleagues.
Survivors remain silent
According to Mariya, the prevalence of GBV on campus is usually heightened by the fact that survivors hardly report these incidents due to several reasons, including fear of reprisal attacks by perpetrators and uncertainty that the justice system would protect them.
Another factor that hinders them from reporting violence, according to some survivors who spoke to this reporter, is the fear of not being believed.
Like Aisha, many other survivors, including a pen-ultimate student of the institution, Fatima Ibrahim Koli, are mostly afraid of victim-blaming and worry that they would be blamed for the abuse, especially by family members and acquaintances.
Fatima had been in a three-year relationship with Mohammed Imam that started in 2019.
By 2022, Fatima learnt from her father that she would be married off to a different man, and the news infuriated Mohammed.
He requested that she return everything he had bought her in the course of the relationship and when Fatima could not, he lured her to an uncompleted building where he, along with another man Fatima had never met, beat her until she was nearly unconscious.
“One Sunday evening, he called me on the phone twice and I was afraid to answer. The third time he called me, I answered and he requested that we go for a short outing which we have been doing, and that would not last for more than 15 minutes. There, I was beaten by him and his friend whose face was masked. I came home with a swollen face,” she recounted.
Because of the fear of being blamed, she did not report the case to her family or relevant authorities.
“To date, none of my family members or the authorities know the reason for that. My family members were not aware of the relationship I was in and the resources he had spent on me. Fear of being in shame and embarrassment stopped me from reporting,” she said.
The culture of silence is further enhanced by the lack of awareness on the part of the survivors, of available reporting channels within the university, according to information obtained by female students’ leaders in the institution while speaking on why students don’t report such issues.
“In my own opinion and according to what some of the survivors told us, they are unaware of the rights given to them by the law and the wrath of any perpetrator of GBV,” she said.
Efforts to speak with the Head of the Information Unit of the Yobe State University, Abdulmumin Muhammad on the issue of inadequate reporting mechanisms, proved abortive as calls placed to his phone line on Friday, November 10 were not responded to. He also did not reply to a follow-up message sent on Saturday, November 11.
However, an official of the institution who pleaded anonymity for lack of authorisation to speak with the press said the management of the institution has constituted a committee to look into the affairs of Gender-Based Violence, and whoever found wanting would be punished accordingly.
He also revealed that some perpetrators have been suspended based on the recommendations of this committee.
In an assessment carried out by the Medical and Health workers in the state, the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Lawan Gana revealed that “In 2021, no fewer than 700 cases of GBV were reported across Yobe State in the last two years in the six Sexual Assault Referral Centers of the state.”
Experts from different angles have suggested how the menace of sexual violence would be curbed especially in tertiary institutions.
In a telephone conversation with this reporter, the Head of Gender Based Violence in Women for Peace Foundation, Dr. Patricia James has suggested some ways in which the issue can be addressed in tertiary institutions.
“Basically, the only possible solution in bringing an end to this issue in our tertiary institutions is the establishment of a GBV desk in the Students’ Affairs Office, round table meetings with students’ leaders, more advocacy and awareness on gender-based violence.
“I want to also make it clear that there should be more Servicom boxes in the institution where our students would confidentially lodge their complaints, training and facilitation on possible ways to protect themselves from becoming victims, I want to believe if these options would be strictly adhered to, the issue would be brought to halt,” she said.
In an interview with the GBV Coordinator of North-East Youth Initiative For Development (NEYIF), a non-profit organization based in Yobe, Mijinyawa Ali Baba has called for awareness creation among students.
“One of the very cardinal aspects of reducing GBV in our tertiary institutions is by creating more awareness to students, how to report the issue and how to prevent yourself from becoming a survivor and taking measures against the perpetrator that would serve as a deterrent to others.
“Another idea is, each institution should have a Students Vanguard Club who would be advocating for their colleagues, I assure you it would make more sense for their colleagues to advocate for them than an outsider,” she said.
This story was done with support from the Center for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID).