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Girls & Women

Nigerian Women Escape Boko Haram, Sexually Abused by Government Officials: Report

In another blow of tragic social injustice against girls and women displaced by Boko Haram, a new report from Human Rights Watch says that more than 43 women across seven displaced-person camps in were raped and sexually exploited by government officials in north-eastern Nigeria.

Thirty-seven of the women were goaded into sex with promises of marriage. Some women said they were abandoned once they became pregnant. Four women reported they were drugged and rapped by government officials and authorities in the camps.

All of the girls, some as young as 16, and women, who were displaced by the violence, starvation, and brutal sexual abuse of the Islamic militant group Boko Haram, are some of the most vulnerable people seeking food, aid, and shelter. Instead they found new exploitation and horrors.

Read More: Nigeria to UN: Help Us Negotiate With Boko Haram to #BringBackOurGirls

“It is disgraceful and outrageous that people who should protect these women and girls are attacking and abusing them,” said Mausi Segun, a senior researcher at HRW in Nigeria.

Another organization, NOI Polls, assessed the camps across Nigeria for people displaced by Boko Haram in July and found that more than 70% of camps lacked access to consistent meals, clean drinking water, and healthcare.

They also reported that 66% of sexual abuse in the camps surveyed was at the hands of “camp officials.”

Read More: 'Join Boko Haram or Be a Slave': Kidnapped Girls Share Details of Captivity

In dire need of counseling and adequate basic needs like food and water, the camp officials take advantage of Boko Haram victims in the worst ways. For one 17-year-old she thought she had found a friend in the policeman who was supposed to be guarding her.

“One day he demanded to have sex with me,” she told HRW. “I refused but he forced me. It happened just that one time, but soon I realized I was pregnant. When I informed him about my condition, he threatened to shoot and kill me if I told anyone else. So I was too afraid to report him.”

For other young girls, the tales are just as dark. Another girl, 16, who previously escaped an attack by Boko Haram, reported telling a man who was in charge of distributing aid that she was too young to have sex. She woke up bleeding and in pain after accepting a drink from the same man.

"I knew something was wrong when I woke up. I was in pain, and blood was coming out of my private part," she said. "I felt weak and could not walk well. I did not tell anyone, because I was afraid."

Read More: Boko Haram Frees 21 Schoolgirls Kidnapped in Nigeria

Another victim tells of the shame she faced, shunned by her family after being raped and becoming pregnant.

“My step-mother who I lived with in camp pushed me out, saying I was a disgrace. I reported [him] to the police in camp several times but they have not done anything to him because they work together,” she said. “It is because of him that I have lost everything.”

Only five of the 43 victims in the camps reported seeking and receiving psychological counseling. Much of their hesitation comes from the immense shame they feel from the situations they have had no control over.

HRW is calling for the right authorities to take action to improve conditions in the seven camps they investigated.

“Authorities should provide adequate aid in the camps, ensure freedom of movement for all displaced people, safe and confidential health care for survivors, and punish the abusers,” said HRW researcher Segun.

The president of Nigeria responded the day the report was released by HRW with concern and a promise to act.

He asked the Inspector General of Police and State Governors to investigate the situation reported by HRW.

"President Buhari has instructed the inspector general of police and the state governors of the affected states to immediately commence investigations into the issue," Buhari’s spokesman Garba Shehu said in a statement.

For the sake of the girls and women who are now victims twice over, let’s hope action is swift.