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Revulsion over Nigeria rape video shows power of social media

In Nigeria, rape video depicting an apparent gang attack on a woman by college students sparks a criminal investigation, and raises questions of how much smartphones have changed Nigerian society.

By David FrancisCorrespondent / October 12, 2011

Lagos, Nigeria

On Sept. 17, a popular Nigerian blogger named Linda Ikeji wrote that she was in possession of an hour-long tape of five students from Abia State University gang-raping a young woman. Ms. Ikeji is a widely followed and popular writer known for her accurate celebrity gossip and entertainment reporting. Her claim to be in possession of such a tape drew immediate attention.

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Ikeji, who declined to comment, offered a 10-minute segment to anyone who could help identify the men in the video.

“These boys can’t get away with this. Please if there’s any Women Rights Group, police, lawyers, journalists, who can take this up, please contact me; I will bring the video to you, wherever you are or send via email,” she wrote.

Within days, the video was widely available. Taken with a mobile camera, it graphically shows five men taking turns raping a young woman in a university dormitory. They laugh as the woman asks them to kill her.

Public reaction to the rape video, even a month later, has been characterized by shock, as one would expect in a society where rape is rarely reported and where rape victims face public shame if they come forward. But just as significant as the public anger itself is the way in which that anger has been transmitted: by the very smartphone technology that has transformed Nigerian society and the way it shares information.

According to the website Nigeria Police Watch, only 1,952 rapes were reported in 2009 in a nation of 154 million people. Victims are often afraid to come forward because of public shame associated with being raped. When rape is reported, is it rarely prosecuted.

The video circulated around Abia State University for weeks before being sent to Ikeji. After it went viral, it was brought to the attention of police, who declined to investigate it. Officials at the university, located in the Niger Delta, said they would not investigate the video because they could not confirm it was shot on campus. State officials also declined to intervene. Mercy Odochi Orji, the wife of the Abia state governor, claimed “no such inglorious act and ugly incident” took place in her state.

Her statement combined with the general negligence of the authorities turned online anger into outrage. Social activists mobilized and began campaigns to remove officials in Abia, while women’s rights groups here protested and said the refusal to investigate would discourage other victims from coming forward. Vigilante Internet users indentified the men and called for revenge. One Twitter post offered a $1,250 reward for information on the attackers.


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