Lawyer Assaulted By Police For Helping Victim File Rape Report
… Police Conduct In The Case Shockingly Unprofessional, Criminal—HRW
…As Groups Protests Today, Calls On Authorities To Ensure Victim’s Safety
A lawyer, Goodness Ibangah, with Women’s Aid Collective (WACOL), who helped a young woman file a rape report today accused police in Enugu State of assaulting her, leaving her hospitalised in critical condition.
Ibangah said that she had accompanied a 21-year-old woman to file a rape report at the Enugu State Police Area Command on January 27, 2020 and resisted pressure from the police to withdraw the complaint and settle the case outside of the criminal justice system.
HRW explained that in response, the police raided the office of the Women’s Aid Collective (WACOL), a Nigerian women’s rights group where Ibangah works, and attacked her.
Ibangah told HRW that the police officers were hostile from the beginning, adding that the officers asked the young woman if she was raped “with or without consent” and chided her for speaking about rape at her age.
The lawyer further stated that at her insistence, the woman was allowed to file the report, and the police later arrested the accused person.
Ibangah added that she soon began receiving a barrage of phone calls from the police officers, who had received the complaint, pressing her to convince the young woman to settle the case with the accused’s family rather than go to court.
Ibangah said that on January 30, four police officers stormed the group’s offices and demanded that she produce the young woman who filed the complaint, accusing Ibangah of preventing negotiations and an out-of-court settlement, threatened, verbally abused, manhandled, and beat her with their hands as they attempted to take her away with them.
Narrating her ordeal further, Ibangah said that the officers also attacked another staff member, who tried to intervene.
The Police officers, Ibangah said confiscated her phone and those belonging to her colleagues, who were trying to document the incident.
Ibangah said that she was eventually taken to the police station, where the same officers further intimidated her and forced her to call the victim and ask her to come to the station.
Ibangah said that she passed out after complaining about difficulties breathing.
Speaking on the matter, Nigeria Researcher at Human Rights Watch, Anietie Ewang, said, “The conduct of the police in this case is shockingly unprofessional, criminal, and in violation of the rights they are charged with protecting. Their actions appear to endorse violence against women, an injustice they should be at the forefront of combating.”
“Police have a duty to protect women and girls who report rape to them with investigations that are timely, unbiased, transparent, and conclusive. To do anything less is to send a message that justice is not important for victims of sexual violence,” Ewang said.
A statement issued by WACOL states that she was taken to a hospital about 20 minutes later by a lawyer, who was at the police station, in his private vehicle accompanied by two police officers.
“The victim insisted she wanted to follow through with the case, and I reinforced and communicated this to the officers during each of their numerous phone calls.
“I felt terrible; was angry and disgusted with the way the police officers carried on, but even as I was dragged and beaten, my heart was reaching out to the victim. She trusted the system. She had a little faith in the system, and they threw that faith away in the trash,” Ibanga later told Human Rights Watch.
Several Nigerian human rights groups have condemned police handling of the case.
In a statement issued on February 1, the Nigerian Bar Association called on the police Inspector General and the Police Service Commission to “investigate the rogue behavior by the police and bring all those involved to book.”
The Enugu State Police Command, in a statement issued on the same day, promised to investigate the incident and announced that a commission of inquiry would be established and led by a serving member of the police force.
On February 3, WACOL and other organisations held a protest against the police in Enugu City, the Enugu state capital.
Today in Abuja, groups will also protest, calling on the authorities to ensure the safety of the rape victim and activists supporting her, create an independent investigation, and ensure accountability for police conduct.
The groups will also be calling for a full investigation into how the initial rape report was handled.