At the forefront of the war against domestic and sexual violence in Lagos State is the State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency (DSVA), whose mandate is to provide and coordinate end-to-end response to incidents of domestic and sexual violence.
The agency used to be the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) until September 20, 2021, when Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu signed into law the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency bill. The Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) was set up in 2014.
Speaking after signing the bill into law then, Sanwo-Olu said: “Raising awareness about domestic and sexual violence is an important piece of working to end the cycle of violence. It is important to reiterate the state government’s zero tolerance to all forms of sexual and gender-based violence. We will not rest on our oars until the menace is reduced to the barest minimum in Lagos.”
18 months after the agency took off from where the response team led the fight against domestic and sexual violence, what has really changed in the battle against the menace in the state?
The Executive Director, CEE-HOPE, and Coordinator, Hearts of Hope Shelter, Lagos, Betty Abah, said that in her personal estimation and based on her interactions with the agency, the DSVA is the biggest shiny light of civil service in the state.
“Indeed, the DSVA made me rethink my personal bias against anything civil service in Nigeria. This is because their fight against gender-based violence is not only altruistic, but also concerted and very inspiring. And I must say, this owes largely to the person at the head, Mrs. Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, a very passionate, goal-oriented, and accessible leader.
“Our organisation works also on sexual violence, especially in the informal (slum) communities, and in the last two years, we started running a shelter for women and girls affected by SGBV (primarily rape and domestic violence).
“And every single case we have taken to them, they have treated expertly and with compassion. Their collaborations with other Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) are top-notch as well.
“I believe that they are better now as a full-blown agency. With more funding from the Lagos State government, they do much more work and render more interventions and make incidences of SGBV less in Lagos,” Abah stated.
On her part, the founder/Executive Director, Initiative for Sustaining Family Unity, Kate Ibeanusi, stated that the political will to set up an agency to directly interface with and manage cases of domestic violence in the state is a good development.
She added that having a dedicated agency to manage domestic and sexual violence cases in the state shows a willingness to address these twin vices head-on by the state government.
“What I cannot say for sure is how the agency has made herself amenable to the use of the deserving public. How much awareness around its services are known by the populace; how easy is it for the ordinary person to walk into their office and receives attention without the ‘usual’ delays that led to its setting up in the first place.”
Has there been an improvement in the fight against domestic and sexual violence in Lagos State since the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team was upgraded to an agency? Ibeanusi believes that the roles of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are still prominent in the response to domestic and sexual violence in the state.
“When you talk of improvement, there are factors that need to be considered. What has been the situation with domestic and sexual violence cases in the state, and how have cases been managed, by this I mean a history of some sort will suffice to show where it all started from and what has changed with the coming of the agency.
“Do we still have security operatives who refuse to attend to cases of domestic and sexual violence? How are the courts responding to these cases? What is the timeline for a response from when a case is initiated to when it is concluded? How are victims and survivors managed post-conclusion of these cases?
“All of these will give insight into measuring impact. Impact in my view cannot be measured in a year especially where the premise of such measurement is not clear. So, talking about improvement does not make much sense to me until we see clear changes from the norm.”
On the areas that should be improved on by the agency in checking domestic and sexual violence in the state, Ibeanusi argued that the agency should improve on awareness campaigns, user education, recruitment of professionals, end-to-end supervision of services, continuous engagement with feeder organisations, and accountability in terms of giving feedback where referrals have been made.