In April 2019, I was invited to a seminar at the Ekiti State Ministry of Justice by the State Attorney-General, Hon Wale Fapounda. The seminar was about how to focus efforts on the needs of survivors of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV). Wale, my husband, and I go back a long way with regards to our human rights journey. We used to be young, idealistic human rights advocates, fighting for a world that is fair and just for all. The three of us have been involved in many initiatives around the world and across Africa, working on human rights issues, trying to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Since our training ground was social justice movements, we have also been keen to provide a connection between civil society organising and politics and governance. All the laws, policies and action coming from Ekiti State on GBV at the moment is the result of this history we all share. At the seminar I mentioned, Wale invited an old friend, Ms Itoro Inaba, Founder of the Mirabel Center in Lagos, to talk to us about the need for a one-stop facility that could provide a full range of services for survivors of GBV. Such places are known as Sexual Assault Referral Centers (SARC) and they are usually given operational names relevant to the local context. We all agreed that we needed such a resource in Ekiti State, and we proceeded to work on it. From that event, every time I gave a speech on GBV within our outside the State, I would talk about the forthcoming SARC.
We had wanted to get it up and running before November 2019, but things kept getting in the way, a lack of resources being key. We were offered a few small rooms in the Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital (EKSUTH) to start off with, but we turned up our noses because we wanted a much bigger facility. We asked for, and were allocated, some land next to the Funmilayo Olayinka Diagnostic and Wellness Center based at EKSUTH. We agreed to start with whatever the University could give us and then raise money to build the permanent structure. We started identifying various team members and providing training for them. We were operating an ad hoc SARC already, because survivors of GBV were being identified, treated and supported through the legal process on an ongoing basis. In December 2019, Barrister Seyi Ojo who had been the lead person on the SARC project, went to attend a training program on the management of SARCs in Abuja, alongside another colleague from the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development in Ekiti State. Seyi came back so excited and full of ideas about how to proceed. It turned out to be her last official assignment because she slipped away from us on December 24th 2019 due to complications from Sickle Cell Anaemia. We were all devastated, and of course our plans were put on hold.
Just was we began looking into the project again, COVID19 struck and the lockdowns began. During the COVID lockdowns, like in other places, there was a spike in GBV reports and the various responders in the State tried their best, but were still working with minimal coordination. In April I called an emergency meeting of the Gender Based Violence Management Committee, which I Chair, the body responsible for implementing the GBV Law in Ekiti State. We agreed that we needed to proceed with the SARC as soon as possible, and we would start with whatever we had. For seven weeks we all worked non-stop, calling in all kinds of favours. On June 23rd, the Ekiti SARC was declared open and we named it the Moremi Clinic. Two days before we opened the SARC, I got the wonderful news that we have successfully raised the money required for the building we were hoping for. This will be ready by October at the latest.
The Ekiti State Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) is a free, one stop, survivor-centred initiative that prioritises the rights and needs of survivors of sexual violence. The SARC aims to foster a supportive environment where a survivor’s rights are respected and where she is treated with dignity and respect.
Moremi Clinic, will provide medical assistance including use of rape kits, screening and preventive treatment for HIV and sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy prevention, collection of forensic evidence, screening for drugs where drink spiking is suspected, and providing a medico-legal report. Professional workers will meet anyone attending the Centre, explain all the processes and ensure informed consent to the forensic examinations. Examinations are conducted by a team of forensically trained female examiners. The Moremi Clinic will also be involved in:
Collection and management of relevant data: Primary data will be generated from SARCs for reporting rape and/or dealing with its immediate aftermath, in order to improve Criminal Justice System responses.
Counselling and psycho-social support will be available for survivors and others who have been sexually assaulted at any time in their life.
Information, support and counselling for parents, family members and partners.
Education and information for community or professional groups.
Support for going through the legal process
Collaboration with other government agencies for prevention, protection and care.
The Ekiti SARC will also provide services for child victims of sexual abuse, for which there are special provisions to note. On June 5th 2020, HE DR Kayode Fayemi, Governor of Ekiti State, signed the Sexual Violence against Children (Compulsory Treatment and Care) Law, 2020. Every child victim of sexual violence is entitled to free, immediate and adequate treatment in any Hospital in Ekiti state. Under the provisions of this law, no hospital in Ekiti state must reject or refuse care or treatment of any child who is reported to have been sexually assaulted. Failure will result in the payment of a fine of a steep fine. Any Hospital who fails to report any case of child victim of sexual violence it receives to the nearest police station and any other government or non- government organizations relevant to child care or welfare will upon conviction be liable to a fine as well.
The Ekiti SARC has 6 teams which include the Rapid Response, Medical, Counselling, Legal, Police and Community Outreach teams. All the team members are well-trained, experienced and deeply committed to the project.
Currently, there are 15 SARCS spread across 11 States in Nigeria. This is woefully inadequate. There needs to be a SARC in every State at the very least. It is hoped that by the end of the year, this would be possible. I am very thankful to all those who made this project possible. I am saddened by the fact that we need this kind of facility in the first place, when we should be looking for resources for our children’s education, for vocational training and growing businesses. However, these are the times we are in. While we continue to hold perpetrators of sexual violence accountable, we need to focus on the work that needs to go into helping survivors rebuild their lives. A compassionate face, a soothing voice, prompt and gentle medical attention, and an assurance of safety is a good place to start.
Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She is the First Lady of Ekiti State, and she can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com