Let’s consider a very startling possibility: that girl, woman, lady beside you might have been a victim of sexual abuse at some point in time but no matter how close you are, you might never find out.
Why? Hold on, I’ll get to it soon… First, some figures on rape to push this conversation forward.
- In the United States of America, 1 out of 6 women have been victims of attempted or completed sexual assault in their lifetime.
- 68% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police while 98% of sexual offenders will never spend as much as a day in prison.
- Approximately 4 out of 5 percent of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.
- 47% of rapists are either friends or acquaintances.
These figures are just for the USA alone. That’s a country with a security and legal system that’s far better than Nigeria and with an even more outspoken society. The figures are staggering in more developed climes so I wouldn’t even want to consider how bad it is here. It’s absolutely awful and we can’t hide this fact simply because there’s a lack of data.
Why isn’t there adequate data on issues of rape and sexual assault in Nigeria? Simple: victims aren’t really keen on discussing their ordeals here. It’s as if nobody gets assaulted but we all know this isn’t the case.
I needed to draw the above parallel with the United States because Nigeria today is basically the USA of the 1950s in relation to the perception of victims of sexual assault. Consider the Bill Cosby allegations of sexual assault in a timeline dating back to Kristina Ruehli in 1965.
Consider that most of the women didn’t speak out until a damning deposition from 2005, thought to have been confidential as part of the lawsuit settlement was leaked by the New York Times. It was an allegation of sexual assault by Andrea Constand.
In the deposition, Cosby spoke of Constand, but also of other victims, including a 19-year-old model who sent him a poem and ended up on his couch where she pleasured him with lotion. Describing the sexual act he had with Constand, Cosby explained that he believed it to be consensual.
‘I walk her out. She does not look angry. She does not say to me, don’t ever do that again,’ he said. ‘She doesn’t walk out with an attitude of a huff, because I think that I’m a pretty decent reader of people and their emotions in these romantic sexual things, whatever you want to call them.’
But why didn’t this women say anything back then? Isn’t it America? Here’s your answer in part:
Victoria Valentino, a former Playboy playmate, claimed that she and her roommate went out for dinner and drinks with Cosby sometime in 1970, and he allegedly offered her a pill that would cheer her up.
It doesn’t help that here, we have a really permissive society regarding how women are treated. In a culture where women are primarily perceived as add-ons to men, it is mostly taken for granted that whatever happens to a woman at the hands of a man is her fault. Here, a woman isn’t an individual perse; she belongs to someone – her father, elder brothers, family members, husband, boss or some random male on the street. Her body isn’t hers; whatever she does regarding her physical appearance should be in consideration to the male gender. As a result, whatever a man does to a woman is the woman’s fault.
So whenever a woman is assaulted sexually here, the comments that usually follow are:
- She’s lying. He couldn’t have done it.
- What was she doing with him alone?
- Why was she dressed like that? (Never mind the fact that some rape victims are burka-wearing females)
- How could she walk alone at that time of the day?
- She shouldn’t have led him on.
- Why didn’t she stop him?
There’s more but there really isn’t any need to elaborate because these comments are all aimed at blaming the person at the receiving end of the offence – the victim.
Rape and related sexual offences are mostly kept secret because the damage done to the victim is only compounded when reported. Here, it’s more reasonable to keep quiet, lick your wounds and ‘move on’. Talking about it is taboo. There’s no retribution, no punishment. Anyone who reports should expect the ‘customary’ one sided backlash. Whichever way the pendulum swings, the victim suffers more.
A trending topic on social media today is the alleged rape of a twitter user called @sugarbelly some years ago by the son(s) of a former governor of Kogi State, the Late Abubakar Audu. But this isn’t about Sugarbelly at all. A lot has been said about that and it’s quite messy with accusations thrown back and forth. It’s safe to say I don’t know shit so I’ll just leave it be for now; trending topics generate a lot of opinions and I haven’t formed one yet. I probably wouldn’t.
But I do have an opinion on rape and the abuse of women in general – it’s downright condemnable. A few months ago, a teenage girl was raped by a university lecturer, someone her father entrusted her to for assistance with her admission into the University of Lagos.
This is one of the few reported cases; incidences like this rarely get public attention for the aforementioned reasons. I know this because a close family member was almost raped by a relative and it was simply ‘kept in the family’. With the number of assaults perpetrated by people known to the victims, cases rarely get to the police station. Even when they do, nothing is certain.
We need to stop paying lip service to punitive measures on rape. We need to see to it that sexual offenders and not the victims, are made to pay for these sins. Most importantly, we need to stop this despicable trend of victim shaming.
If we must say anything, it is to attack the act and the culprit. Anything else is a disservice to the victim and we’re not really helping anyone.