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The Power of Social Media in Addressing Sexual Violence

Last week, the entire Nigerian social media conversation was dominated by horrific stories of sexual assault against Nigerian women. Sadly, these stories that circulated online are far from an aberration in Nigeria but rather a despicable norm because according to a report by UNICEF, 1 in 4 girls in Nigeria has experienced some form of sexual violence before the age of 18.

I decided to speak to a sexual assault survivor and a human rights lawyer to get their opinions on the role social media can play in obtaining justice for sexual assault survivors in Nigeria. These are their responses. For confidentiality all persons interviewed will remain anonymous.

Question : Why do you think our sexual assault statistics are so high? It seems like almost every Nigerian woman has a horror story to tell!

“That’s a complicated question. In Nigeria “(the) basic problem is corroboration…when a woman cries rape she becomes a victim and at the same time is criminalized and stigmatized… (And) we don’t have DNA evidence…all these problems boil down to the socio-economic realities of Nigeria.”
Dr X (anonymous human rights lawyers)

“Some boys were never taught to keep their hands to themselves…It has always been this bad… Nothing has really changed except for the fact that thanks to social media, people are speaking up now. We now understand that it’s not our fault and we deserve to be heard”
Jane Doe (anonymous sexual abuse survivor)

Question 2- Do you think social media can really help?

“It’s good that it creates awareness but it doesn’t have much impact in society. It’s usually banter by misinformed people.”
Jane Doe, an anonymous sexual abuse survivor on social media campaigns

“I think that the same way we use diamonds to cut diamonds so also can you use social media as a force to fight sexual violence in Nigeria” “On the flip side, there are portions of social media actually glorify rape. You see men raping women, recording it and putting it on social media and nothing seems to happen.”
Dr X anoymous lawyer

Their responses shed some light on the scope of the issue. It seems that in Nigeria there is a perfect storm of absurd rape laws, misogyny, and a patriarchal culture of victim blaming/shaming has led to the creation of a culture that is a perfect breeding ground for sexual violence with impunity.

Fortunately there seems to be a slow and steady shift powered by the Nigerian People against sexual violence using social media as their voice. In the last two years, there have been countless examples of social media movements growing into offline campaigns taking on the Nigerian culture of sexual violence and harassment e.g. the Yaba market march in December 2018. But can social media really help?

Ultimately, I think the role of social media is clear. The Nigerian youth who make up 60% of the Nigerian population are heavily influenced by social media. So perhaps these online campaigns have the ability to influence policy, public behaviour and affect the rate of sexual violence in Nigeria. However, it is apparent that as much as social media campaigns are a step in the right direction, it remains a very tiny step.

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