Victim blaming and its chilling effect on justice for sexual assault victims

“When people want to believe that the world is just, and that bad things won’t happen to them, empathy suffers.” — Kayleigh Roberts via The Atlantic 

“ You shouldn’t have been drinking.”

“You shouldn’t have dressed half-naked.”

“You shouldn’t have been so naive.”

In various ways, both great and small, many have unjustly accused victims of sexual assault of what happened to them, which has ultimately led to a dire lack of progression of victim recovery, their wellness, and a halt in the wheels of justice. Hence, there is a need for today, the International Day Against Victim Blaming.

The day sheds light on sexual assault and relationship violence, promotes consent and healthy relationships, and fights against rape culture. But to truly understand why and how sexual assault victims are blamed, you first need to understand why the crime happens.

The menace of sexual assault

In May 2020, the police command in Dutse, Jigawa, arrested 11 suspects for allegedly raping a 12-year-old girl.

This caused a national uproar, and, in turn, a declaration of a state of emergency was made by former President Muhammadu Buhari and the 36 Nigerian state governors to tackle the sexual violations that have long since become an epidemic. The Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) also called on all states to set up a sex offenders’ register and to sign on to two federal laws which punish rape and violence against women and children.

Four years later, this sex offender register is still not fully active. Only 10 out of 36 states have yet to upload any data. The menace of sexual violence against women has become even more prominent in recent years.

Every year, the caseload of women who have been victims of sexual assault gets bigger. However, more of these sex offenders can get away with the crime.

A UN Women Report, “16 Facts About Violence Against Girls and Women in Nigeria,” states that almost one in three (31%) of women in Nigeria aged 15-49 have experienced physical violence in Nigeria. However, only 0.9% of perpetrators are brought to trial, with almost none being convicted.

Most of the cases are settled out of court. Nearly half (45%) of women and girls (15-49 years) facing physical or sexual violence do not tell anyone about their experience of violence. Only one-third (31%) sought help, while only 5% of children below 18 years who experienced physical violence sought help.

The physical and psychological trauma of sexual assault

It is easy to focus on legal cases without reflecting on the psychological trauma that sexual assault does to a victim, which, without proper treatment, could scar them for life. Some of these include:

  • Deliberate self-harm or self-injury
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections
  • Substance Abuse
  • Dissociation: This is a mental process of disconnecting from one’s thoughts, feelings, memories, or sense of identity. It is one of the many defense mechanisms the brain can use to cope with the trauma of sexual violence.
  • Panic Attacks: A panic attack is a sudden feeling of intense fear and anxiety that happens in situations where there may be no immediate danger. They tend to affect people who have experienced trauma, abuse, or high levels of stress.
  • Eating Disorders: Sexual violence can affect survivors in many ways, including perceptions of the body and feelings of control.
  • Pregnancy
  • Sleep Disorders: Symptoms of sleep disorders can include trouble falling or staying asleep, sleeping at unusual times of day, or sleeping for longer or shorter than usual.
  • Suicide

You may ask, “Why don’t they just speak up?” “Why not be courageous?” This is due to victim blaming and a cultural act of silence.

Victim blaming as a barrier to justice

 Victim blaming puts the responsibility of a crime, trauma, or hardship on the victim and not the perpetrator. Of all victims who experience sexual assault, nearly 75% experience victim blaming in addition. Saying things like “she was asking for it” or “boys will be boys” reinforces victim blaming. Victim blaming can prevent survivors from reporting abuse and getting the support they need.

In Nigeria, survivors of sexual assault frequently share distressing experiences of how they did not report the crime due to fear of being disbelieved and blamed.

Let’s take a look at the statements of two rape victims via Amnesty International, Lucia, and Bola how their complaint was received. In Lucia’s case, she decided not to go to the police at all, while Bola received a seething response.


“I did not report to the police. When you go there to report your case, you end up being labelled a liar or attention seeker, or that you enjoyed it… I do not trust Nigeria’s justice system at all.”


“Why would you allow a man to rape you? If it was my daughter, she wouldn’t have done this. It seems like you were enjoying it… Very soon you will get pregnant for the rapist.”

Such acts by the police contravene Section 96 of the Police Act 2020, which stipulates that a police officer shall not, in discharging his duty, discriminate against a person in Nigeria based on the person’s gender, socio-economic status, etc. Furthermore, a police officer shall not “use a language or act in a way that suggests a bias towards a particular group.” This is according to Principle Three of the Nigeria Police Code of Conduct.


The duties of a police officer to a victim of sexual assault. Image Credit: Amnesty International Nigeria


Some survivors do not report rape due to the social stigma that comes with it. They are often scared to speak up and report because of how they would be perceived in society. For some, protecting the family name is sacrosanct.

Osayande Osagie, Chief Medical Doctor at Bwari General Hospital and head of Awyetu Sexual Assault Referral Centre, Bwari, explains more about the phenomenon.

“In Nigeria, the family name seems to be tied to the vagina. Nobody wants the family name to be soiled, so, they don’t want to talk about rape. That could also explain why they don’t want to go to court, because they believe these are personal things that should not be said in an open court.”

How to treat a victim of sexual assault

There are various ways by which victims of sexual assault should be properly treated. Some of them are:

Recognise that it is NOT their fault.

100% of the blame, shame, and responsibility for sexual violence and abuse lies with the perpetrator or perpetrators. And victims and survivors should never be blamed or made to feel guilty for what happened to them. Many people will already be struggling with shame, guilt, and self-blame – so it’s important to let them know they don’t need to feel this way.

Remain Calm

It’s normal to feel outraged or even shocked by what your friend or family member has experienced, but expressing these emotions may cause your loved one to experience more pain or even confusion. Listen to what your loved one says without having large emotional outbursts.

Ask Permission

Most people want to reach out and hug the person who has been assaulted. But it’s important to remember that this person may not want to be touched. As a result, ask permission before hugging your friend or family member.

You also should refrain from putting your hand on their arm or holding their hands until you ask permission. Simply asking, “Can I give you a hug?” goes a long way in re-establishing your loved one’s sense of safety and control.

Believe them

People rarely lie about child sexual abuse, rape, and other forms of sexual violence. There’s little to gain from lying about it; being a victim or survivor in our society can be challenging.

You might wish that what they told you wasn’t true, but it’s essential to make it clear that you believe them. For many people, not being believed can feel like a huge betrayal and might stop them from telling anyone else or trying to get help.

Be patient – and respect their boundaries

Many victims and survivors find it difficult to trust people because of their experiences – especially if they’ve been let down or not believed by others they’ve told in the past. So, if someone’s trusted you by telling you what happened to them, it’s important not to betray that trust. Be patient and try not to push them to tell you more – or to do anything else – before they’re ready.

Where can a victim seek support?

There are several available support options and care groups for victims of workplace sexual harassment in Nigeria.  Some are government-owned, and others are non-governmental, but they are all designed to protect victims and ensure victims obtain justice.

Some of the institutions are highlighted below:

The National Human Rights Commission

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is a special federal government agency created to promote and protect human rights across Nigeria.

Address: 19 Aguiyi Ironsi Street, Maitama, Abuja, FCT. It has offices in all the states in Nigeria and their addresses are available on their website.

Phone numbers: 08006472428 (Toll Free), 092903746, 092908829, 09032192577 07041678566, 07053529460.



The Legal Aid Council of Nigeria

Legal Aid Council of Nigeria (LACoN)provides free legal services to indigent persons in Nigeria. An indigent person is by law assessed as someone who does not earn the national minimum wage (presently, the national minimum wage is about N30,000.00 per month).

Address: 22 Port Harcourt Cres, Garki, Abuja. It has offices in all the states across Nigeria, and their addresses are available on its website.

Phone number: +234 903 043 6616



FIDA (International Federation of Women Lawyers)

FIDA is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization comprised of female lawyers; their major role is to protect, promote, and preserve the rights of women and children in Nigeria. They have branches in 34 states in Nigeria, including the FCT. FIDA services include Free legal representation for indigent women and children, advocacy and policy campaigns, education and training, mediation and counselling services, and publishing information resources.

Address: Court of Appeal Headquarters, Three Arms Zone, Abuja.

Phone number: +234 708 849 6115



The Mirabel Center

Mirabel Centre is a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) created to provide holistic and high-quality medical and psychosocial services to survivors of sexual assault and rape. Mirabel Center focuses on Medical examination and treatment by trained forensic examiners for illness and injuries caused by the assault, Counselling (face to face and telephone) to help cope with the emotional and psychological effects of rape, help in reporting cases matter to the police and provides information on the legal system. It also makes referrals to other agencies for help not provided by the Centre.

Address: Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, Lagos.

Phone numbers: 08155770000, 07013491769, 08187243468, 01-2957816.

Email: and


Victim blaming does not only start with legal enforcement of law but also a 360° change in societal mindsets. It is the responsibility of us as Nigerians and people to not only support legislative changes but also participate in awareness campaigns and engage in community education efforts to combat victim blaming and support survivors.

One small act of kindness could change a person’s life — especially that of a sexual assault victim.



  • ChiAmaka Dike

    Chiamaka is the Features Editor at Marie Claire Nigeria. She is a woman who is passionate about God, women, and top-notch storytelling in all formats. Send all feature pitches her way -

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