In Nigeria, one in four girls have experienced sexual violence before the age of 18, yet just two in 40 cases are reported. National conviction rates are even worse, with only 18 people having ever been convicted of rape due to inept policing and lack of support from the government, as well as some community attitudes. I grew up deciding our voices must be heard, joining the We will not be silenced march in Lagos dedicated to spreading awareness of rape culture. This is what drew me to Law, the desire of wanting to be heard, to have an influence on society.
While my interest was initially sparked through a desire to see justice for abused women, my decision to study Law is based upon an exploration of wider legal issues. Undertaking work experience in a law firm in Nigeria, I worked on a tort case. A plaintiff was suing a healthcare company for providing inadequate services and was seeking reimbursement for overseas treatment.
However, her claim was rebuffed as the government had recently inspected the hospital positively. I was able to reflect on how a complex web exists between governments, citizens and companies, with differing levels of responsibilities to each. In this instance, the woman was poorly advised as her claims were not fully supported with evidence, nor did the company fulfil its legal obligations. The complexities of this case were challenging, yet thrilling.
Another experience that illustrated the extent to which law affects our daily lives was a visit to the Royal Courts of Justice. A case about the sentimental value of property was fascinating; I was intrigued by how the law has no limitations on what it can be applied to, that the law itself encompasses both the physical and emotional. I also had the chance to visit Matrix Chambers where hearing a newly qualified barrister talk about being inspired by injustice and the impact her work is having on real cases confirmed my desire to study Law.
Attending a mooting session made me feel the same exhilaration. On a charge of home burglary, it was clear from the evidence that the crime was motivated by poverty, and I successfully argued for a lenient sentence. On reflection, the most valuable aspect of the experience was understanding aggravating and mitigating factors: two people may be found guilty for the same offence, but receive different sentences. It seemed to me that the law is flexible when taking into account other factors, thus treating each case individually.
Building on my experience in standing up for womens rights, I have been following recent developments in UK law on Upskirting, now classed as a specific sexual offence. This has prompted a wider discussion of why misogyny is not included within the category of a hate crime. Current legislation covers offences motivated by race, sexuality and religion. It is important that offences such as sexual harassment are classed as sexual offences, rather than public misdemeanours as this toughens consequences for offenders. I hope this legislation will encourage such abuse to be seen as a real crime.
Taking a gap year to learn languages has given me the opportunity to experience and value other cultures and raised my awareness of wider issues. France is a European country with the highest number of femicides. French PM ?douard Philippes speech at the launch of a multiparty debate on domestic violence brought my attention to the collective efforts of associations and rallies to stop this indifference, and I anticipate the day victims can rely on the system to protect them.
For me the law is so much more than just a set of rigid rules designed to maintain order; it represents an avenue by which excluded groups can seek inclusion. Things like the colour of your skin or your gender should no longer matter, yet they do. It is important to appreciate what the law is now, but I am also fascinated to think further on what the law could and should be.