The Mirabel Center is a Sexual Assault Referral Center (SARC) located at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Lagos. The sexual assault centre was set up by Partnership for Justice and provides support for victims of sexual assault. Services provided by the Mirabel centre includes medical examination, counselling and legal advice.
Aljazeera recently profiled the centre and I'll like to share some stories from the article written by Wana Udobang.
Our attention is taken by a young girl rushing down the corridor. She bangs forcefully on the door of the toilet. I recognise her as Mercy, a 15-year-old I met at a survivor's forum a few months ago. She didn't talk much then, but today she comes and sits by me in one of the consulting rooms that belong to the hospital.
Mercy was raped by a cousin when she was six years old. She now suffers from fistula. She is wearing a bright red dress and a glow in the dark rosary. We hug and exchange pleasantries. She left school when she was 11 and is learning fashion, she tells me. She seems happier than the last time I saw her.
She was six years old when it happened and living in Benue state, in the north central region of the country. One day she returned from school with three friends. A 17-year-old male cousin had been harassing her, and that night he brought four other men to the house. For Mercy, everything from the moment he began to rape her is a blur.
Her next memory is of waking up in the hospital the following day, and being told what had happened. All of the girls were raped, possibly multiple times by more than one of the attackers, but Mercy does not know for sure because she blacked out. One of her friends did not survive; another died last year as a result of the injuries she sustained on that night. Mercy and one other girl are now the only survivors.
She had to leave school because of the fistula that developed resulting from the attack. Doctors had told her that she was too young to undergo the restorative surgery known as VVF. And, unable to afford adult diapers, she must rely on cloth to soak up the waste that leaks from her. "The thing [the fistula] always disgraces me," she says.
Valentina, one of the counsellors, asks if I would like to meet another client. A 12-year-old girl is sitting in the counselling room next door. Habiba keeps her head lowered and avoids eye contact. She is on the autistic spectrum and speaks so softly that I struggle to make out what she is saying.
But Valentina is right there with her; animated and smiling, offering high fives as Habiba shares her story. The counsellor has the air of a kindergarten teacher or children's television presenter. But the topics she deals with are altogether tougher.
"So where did he put his kokoro," she asks the girl, "inside the front where you wee wee or the back where you poo poo?" The answer is both, and in her mouth too.
Valentina tells Habiba she has helped to save other girls by reporting what happened to her. Then she asks her what she will do if anybody ever touches her inappropriately again. "I will bite him," she answers with a smile.
Valentina takes Habiba to the doctor who will examine her, and then speaks to her father. He is anxious but elated that there is help available.
The person Habiba says raped her is the 20-something son of the family's landlord. Her father asks Valentina what should happen next. They talk about getting the police involved and pressing charges, but Habiba's father seems despondent. He says the family is not ready to leave their current accommodation, but he would like to teach the landlord's son a lesson.
"I have a police officer friend," he says. Valentina perseveres, patiently, subtly explaining the dangers of allowing a perpetrator to go unpunished, urging him to think about it and to consider going through the proper channels.
The final client of the day is Mary, a 17-year-old who says she was raped by the choirmaster from her church. At first nobody believed her, she says, but then she threatened to kill herself.
Her father was a pastor at the church and the family lived on the premises. When Mary's accusation became public, her family was excommunicated and forced to seek their own housing with what little money they had.
Mary is at the centre with her brother, Seyi. He is riddled with guilt but believes that going down the legal route is futile. "I think I am just going to leave it to God," he says. When I turn off my recorder, Mary asks me with the heavy lateral lisp that impedes her speech: "Auntie, why can't he admit that what he did was wrong?"
I have no answer to offer her. But I urge her brother not to give up seeking justice, no matter how long it takes.
The Mirabel centre covers the cost of a victim's medical tests - those for sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy among other things - and medication, like contraceptives and antibiotics. Although the HIV test is free and the post exposure prophylaxis, an anti-HIV medication taken as soon as possible after possible exposure to HIV, is subsidised by another non-profit and then supplied and administered by the hospital.
To Contact Mirabel Centre:
Tel: 08155770000, 07013491769, 08187243468, 08125152683 01-2957816