YOLA, NIGERIA – Reported rapes in Nigeria have tripled during the COVID-19 pandemic to a few thousand, but the U.N. Children’s Fund says one in four girls have been victims of sexual violence – meaning countless thousands of rapes are going unreported. A Nigerian programmer has created an application for rape survivors to report the attacks and seek help while avoiding social stigma.
22-year-old Nigerian student Angela Felix – not her real name – says her cousin raped her during last year’s pandemic lockdown.
Too ashamed to tell her family or police, she instead considered suicide – until she stumbled onto a mobile application that probably saved her life.
“What got my attention with the app was the fact that I do not need to be in touch with the person before reporting my case or getting help,” Felix said. “So, I decided to try it. So, I downloaded the app, stated my case and you could imagine that it could help.”
The SmartRR app allows rape victims to report the crime to authorities without going to the police in person. Users can also get counseling and support online. It effectively shields the identity of women who previously wouldn’t report the rape due to fear or stigma.
The app is currently operational in the states of Adamawa, Cross Rivers, Lagos and Borno.
It’s creator, Dirug Samuel, says he was motivated by the rise in reported rape cases during the lockdown.
“It’s simply kind of solving the issue of stigma because you can report to your service provider and you can be in contact with your service provider without nobody knowing that you’ve asked for help except you, the service provider, and maybe the perpetrator who knows what happened. So, with that, it increases reporting,” said Samuel.
The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says one in four Nigerian girls and women have been victims of sexual violence.
But only a few thousand rapes are reported each year across the whole of Nigeria, a country of more than 200 million people, meaning countless thousands of rapes are going unreported.
That’s crippling the fight against rapists, say activists.
The Hope and Rural Aid Foundation’s Bibiyana Adams hopes the app can help.
“There are so many referral channels, but we discovered that the SmartRR is easier,” said Adams. “The guiding principles are inclusive; the need for confidentiality is there. So, you can’t use it without the consent of the survivor.”
While better reporting should help, critics say Nigeria’s legal system still fails most rape survivors.
Saadatu Umar is with the Nigerian Association of Female Lawyers in Nigeria’s Northeastern Adamawa State.
“The issue of conviction is a very big issue and a big step for us. If we can have conviction, it will serve as a deterrent to others and that will minimize the cases of rape,” said Umar.
Despite the jump in reported rapes during the pandemic, Nigeria’s national police force said last year there were only 103 convictions nationwide.