Women’s Health

Open journal

ISSN 2380-3940

Sexual Violence and Victim Blaming in Nigeria

Emmanuel E. Nwusulor*, and Ifeoma I. Onwubiko

Emmanuel E. Nwusulor, MD(AM), PhD

Department of Traditional Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Federal Ministry of Health, Abuja, Nigeria; E-mail: dremmanuelnwusulor@gmail.com


Sexual violence is a major public health and human rights issue. Sexual abuse cuts across all societies, manifesting in different shades. It is not entirely limited to females; males are affected as well.1 According to the World Bank, more females have been sexually assaulted than males. Gender-based violence (GBV) or violence against women and girls (VAWG) is a global pandemic that affects 1 in 3 women in their lifetime. Sexual violence includes sexual harassment (including demands of sex for job or school grades), rape of any kind, female genital cutting (FGC), and child marriage, trafficking and forced exposure to pornography.2,3

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual violence as “any sexual act, attempt to obtain sexual act, unwarranted sexual comments or advances or acts to traffic a person or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion by any person regardless of the relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work”.4

Findings from a National Survey carried out in 2014 in Nigeria confirmed one in four females reported experiencing sexual violence in childhood with approximately 70% reporting more than one incident of sexual violence.5,6 In the same study, it was found that 24.8% of females aged 18 to 24-years experienced sexual abuse prior to age 18 of which 5.0% sought help, with only 3.5% receiving any form of support. It comes as no surprise that victims of sexual violence are often scared to tell anyone about what happened or even go to police.6,7

Besides not getting support, some victims were actually blamed when they sought help. Some were blamed for indecent dressing and wrong company; others for being careless or walking alone.8 Victim blaming is flourishing in Nigeria.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported in 2015 that one in four girls and one in ten boys in Nigeria had experienced sexual violence before the age of 18.5,8 Since the report of 2015, sexual violence has been on the increase in Nigeria.

Many women and children suffer from sexual violence, while the perpetrators of sexual violence often get off scot-free. One man confessed to the police that he raped over 40 women, including an 80-year-old before his case was reported.6 The rise in sexual violence was reported by the Police via Press Releases in official print and electronic media, based on documented confirmed monthly reports which were compared with those of pre-COVID-19 period.10,11

During the lockdown, as a result of Covid-19 Pandemic, sexual violence also became endemic in Nigeria. The Nigerian Police recorded 717 rape cases between January and May 2020.12,13 In another report, on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the sexual violence in Nigeria, in just two months of the lockdown there was widespread rise in sexual violence cases across the six geopolitical zones of the country as follows.

Northeast (NE): 50 in March and 115 in April. Northwest (NW): 52 in March and 87 in April. North-central (NC): 67 in March and 156 in April. Southeast (SE): 36 in March and 92 in April. Southwest (SW): 91 in March and 296 in April. South-south (SS): 18 in March and 35 in April.10,13

On the 5th June, 2020, human rights campaigners rallied in Nigeria’s Capital (Abuja) to raise awareness about violence against women after a series of high profile rape cases sparked an outcry in the country.14

Sexual violence is a severely traumatic experience that affects the victim emotionally and physically. Sexual violence increases shame, leaves the person more disconnected from their own feelings as well as make it harder to connect with other people. Many sexual violence victims sustain physical injury with attendant pain as well as develop sleep disturbances excessive fear, suicidal tendencies and hatred for men. Yet there is limited attention to this crime and the flourishing of victim blaming.

Blaming the victim refers to the tendency to hold victims of negative events responsible for those outcomes.15 In Nigeria this is very common occurrence following sexual violence events where the victim is blamed in various ways as follows. “Look what they were wearing”. “They deliberately go to where they get raped”. “Girls always want sex”. “They can’t tell their story the same way twice”. “She went back to him after he raped her”. They are married so it couldn’t have been sexual violence. “Where was the mother when it happened?”

Sexual violence has led to death of victims. Between January and June 2020, cases of death following sexual violence have been reported.10,11,12 Vera Uwala Omozuwa was raped and killed in a church in Benin, Nigeria. Eighteen (18 )-year-old Barakat Bello was raped to death in Ibadan Nigeria. In Jigawa, Nigeria, 12-year-old girl was gang raped by 12 men including a 67-year-old man; and so on. Sexual violence is evil and victim blaming is offensive. Both sexual violence and victim blaming need to stop. This study was conducted to determine the trend and pattern of sexual violence and victim blaming in Nigeria.


Questionnaires were administered to individuals. Before the emergence of COVID-19 pandemic, questionnaires were administered physically as well as electronically via online social media groups. Following the emergence of COVID-19 only the online method was retained and maintained. The questionnaires comprised of a section for demographic information as well as employed the Likert scale. Five points were utilized on this scale, namely: (1) Strongly agree (2) agree (3) Neither agree nor disagree, (4) Disagree and (5) Strongly disagree. Points 1 and 2 were interpreted as “Blamed the victim”. Point 3 was interpreted as “Indifferent”. Points 4 and 5 were interpreted as “Blamed the perpetrator”.



The victim of sexual violence such as rape should be blamed.


This study was conducted to determine the trend and pattern of sexual violence and victim blaming in Nigeria. The result shows that sexual violence and victim blaming are common in Nigeria. The fact that a greater percentage of respondents are in favour of victim blaming calls for deep concern. A look at the table shows that more males are in favour of victim blaming and more females are indifferent. During the study, most females declined response to the physically administered questionnaire but they responded very well to the online questionnaire. Apart from victim blaming, another barrier to campaign against sexual violence is stereotyping where most females avoid discussing sexual violence so as not to be labeled former victim. As a former victim, she could be jilted by a friend, fiancé or even spouse on the ground that she might have contracted dreaded diseases or had been promiscuous. Prospective suitors would also avoid her. This may have informed the reluctance of female respondents in responding to the questionnaire administered physically and for the higher number of females remaining indifferent.



Male Female Total Interpretation Total Percent (%)
Strongly agree 20 10 30 Blamed the victim 150



100 20 120
Neither agree nor disagree 7 14 21 Indifferent 21



6 24 30 Blamed the perpetrator 80


Strongly disagree

20 30



153 98 251   251  
Percent (%) 61 39 100    



In Nigeria, there are at least five legal provisions which provide access to justice for victims of sexual violence, but certain prevailing attitudes tend to encourage this crime and contribute to the underreporting and low conviction rates.16,17

Victim blaming is one of the prevailing attitudes in Nigeria that discourage survivors of sexual violence from reporting their ordeal to friends, family members or even the police. Survivors hide in guilt and shame and perpetrators continue with impunity.

Other barriers to seeking victim support and care include rape myths. Rape myths are those ideas or beliefs that deny or minimize victim injury or blame the victims for their own victimization. Rape myths that are commonly accepted include “She is too proud and deserves to be raped”;she asked for it through her provocative behavior or dressing”, “There was not much physical damage”, “A woman can’t be raped by her husband”, “When women say no they actually mean yes”, “Stranger rape is more offensive than acquaintance rape”, “After enjoying it she is here to blackmail the poor guy”.18 There is growing body of evidence showing that despite years of public education about sexual violence, rape myths and gender stereotypes are still accepted, believed and propagated by communities in Nigeria.13,19,20,21


Sexual violence is associated with a range of health consequences. Some consequences are direct, such as physical injury, sexually transmitted infections (STI) including HIV, damage to reproductive structures as seen in cases of child sexual abuse, and unwanted pregnancy. Emotionally, sexual violence is associated with chronic somatic disorders, anxiety, depression, high-risk sexual behavior, and chronic illnesses, aversion for sex and hatred for men. There are also socio-economic consequences that generally impact negatively on the victim’s quality of life. Victim blaming is a way of encouraging the perpetrators of sexual violence to continue with impunity. This further gets the victim humiliated and dehumanized. The person feels invaded, defiled and disowned through victim blaming and gender stereotyping. The victim of sexual violence almost always resorts to blaming themselves, because in the culture people tend to blame the victims in general. The government and people of Nigeria should take steps to end sexual violence and victim blaming through preventive measures, such as centers for providing comprehensive care to victims of sexual violence, community activism by men, psychological care and support for victims, stiffer penalty for perpetrators, school-based awareness programmes, medico-legal services and enforcement mechanisms.


All the respondents who provided valuable information are highly appreciated.


The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

1. The World Bank, IBRD-IDA. Gender-Based Violence (Violence against Women and Girls). 2015. Website. https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/socialsustainability/brief/violence-againstwomen-and-girls. Accessed September 25, 2019

2. Adidu V. Violence against women and girls: A situational analysis. Paper presented at: Ahmadu Bello University; 2001; Zaria, Nigeria.

3. United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). Ending Violence Against Women and Children: A situation Analysis of Children, Women and Youth. 2005.

4. World Health Organization (WHO). World Report on Violence and Health. Chapter 6. 2002. Website. https://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/world_report/en/summary_ en.pdf. Accessed September 25, 2019.

5. UNICEF Nigeria. UNICEF Annual Report 2015; Progress Report – A Year of Actions (2015-2016). Website. https://www. unicef.org/reports/unicef-annual-report-2015. Accessed September 25, 2019.

6. Rising cases of rape. Vanguard Newspaper. January 17, 2014.

7. Jewkes R. Intimate partner violence: Causes and prevention. Lancet. 2002; 359(9315): 1423-1429. doi: 10.1016/S0140- 6736(02)08357-5

8. The Cece Yara: UNICEF Implementation Partner Annual Review: Official Newsletter of the Cece Yara Foundation. 2019.

9. BBC News. Rivers schools closure na fake news’ – Education Commissioner. Kano state. June 10, 2020

10. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). Response: Thematic Brief on Gender-based violence (G-BV)/Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). Website. https://www.unodc.org/documents/Gender/ Thematic_Gender_Briefs_English/GBVAW_and_UNODC_in_ COVID19_final_7Apr2020.pdf. Accessed September 25, 2019.

11. Daily Trust Newspaper. “65 cases of rape had been reported between January and first week of June, 2020”. Updated June 6, 2020.

12. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). A Nigerian Feminist Response to the Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). 2020. Accessed September 25, 2019.

13. Premium Times. Website. https://www.premiumtimesng.com/. Accessed June 15, 2020.

14. Aljazeera Reports: Nigerians take to streets to protest against sexual violence. Website. https://www.aljazeera.com/ news/2020/6/5/nigerians-take-to-streets-to-protest-against-sexual-violence. Accessed June 5, 2020.

15. Eigenberg H, Garland R. “Victim blaming”. In: Moriarity IJ, ed. Controversies in Victimology. Brazil: Elsevier Press; 2008: 21-26.

16. Offences against morality, criminal code Act; Chapter 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria. Chapter 21. 1990.

17. ABC News. Website. abcnews.go.com. Accessed June 5, 2020.

18. Ojo M, Olufemi D. Assessment of rape myths among Nigeria under survey. Psychology and Social Behavior Research. 2013; 1(4): 98- 104. doi: 10.12966/psbr.10.02.2013

19. Ige OK, Fawole OL. Evaluating the medical care of children sexual abuse victims in a General Hospital in Ibadan, Nigeria. Ghana Med J. 2012; 46(1): 22-26.

20. Cavan G. Beliefs about the causes of four types of rape. Sex Roles. 2000; 42: 807-823. doi: 10.1023/A:1007042215614

21. Muzdalifat A, Projestine M, Massawe S, Mpembeni R, Darj E, Axemo P. Knowledge and attitude towards rape and child sexual abuse – a community – based cross – cultural study in rural Tanzania. BMC Public Health. 2015; 15: 428. doi: 10.1186/s12889-015- 1757-7


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