In 2000, Mrs Itoro, a Legal Practitioner, travelled across Nigeria, lobbying to get her bill, the Domestic Violence Bill (DVB), passed into law.
In the course of her travels, she happened upon a 14-year-old girl who reported that her father had been having sexual relations with her since she was 11-years old. This was not an isolated case, and questions arose in her mind, chiefly,” what can I do to help?”
In 2003, her questions were answered when she visited a Sexual Assault Reform Centre, and the seeds for what would become the Mirabel Centre were planted.
After a decade of ground-laying work, the seed bore fruit, assisted by funding from a programme of the Department of International Development of the British Council, and the first Sexual Assault Reform Centre in Nigeria -the second in West Africa- was established.
What does a Sexual Assault Reform Centre do? They provide:
- Medical examination and treatment for illness and injuries caused by the assault.
- Counselling to help cope with the emotional and psychological effects of rape.
- Help reporting to the police.
- Information on the legal system.
- Referral to other agencies for help not provided at the Centre.
The Mirabel Centre, does all of this for free.
” The Mirabel Centre is more than an office; it’s a safe and welcoming space that provides holistic and quality services and support to survivors of sexual assault in a compassionate and caring manner. We pride ourselves on the work we have done to make sure the survivors leave our offices knowing they are not alone and that they still have many reasons to smile. We work not only with the survivors but also with their families and we support them every step of the way. We go beyond providing testing and medical treatment, the Centre provides counselling, help in reporting to the police, information on the legal system, refunds of clients transportation costs, feeding during visits, and referrals to other agencies for help not provided at the Centre.”
Doctors and nurses working at the Centre are trained forensic medical examiners and the counselors who have undergone training on sexual assault trauma. Confidentiality is a key principle at the Centre.
Mrs Itoro relayed in an interview on PJNigeria.Org .”One of the things we do at Mirabel Centre is that we maintain a high level of confidentiality. We don’t give out information about our clients. I will like to say that since we opened the centre, as at the last count, we have had about 652 people coming in to receive treatment, and we have treated their cases as a confidential matter. But the most interesting thing is a child or a woman walks into the centre looking suicidal, looking dejected, feeling bad, and when she walks out after the treatment, you could actually see the light in her eyes, and then she will confirm that, so, I can actually move on with my life, I can actually handle this.”
Asides from the heart-rending nature of the work they do, the Mirabel Centre also faces financial challenges as its funding ended in May, 2015 and its services are free.
They recently engaged in a fund-raising drive amidst fears of having to shut its doors to the public and have raised over $10,000 dollars on GoFundMe, N189,000 through their bank account, and $6000 from donations.
The Mirabel Centre is located at the Lagos State Teaching Hospital, Ikeja and is run by Partnership for Justice (PJ), a non-profit organization of professionals who share a commitment to equality, justice and globalization of human rights standards.
PJ works at all levels to offer services to victims of human rights violations and create linkages for the promotion and protection of human rights in Nigeria and its mission is to impact public policy and social change and provide innovative range of services to achieve equality and justice.