Monday, 10 March 2014


"There are no voiceless; there are only the silenced."
Entertainment Splash came on the radio just as we passed what used to be the Ibadan toll gate, and after the stories about Lupita's Oscar and the imminent AMVCAs, the show moved on to the Obesere rape allegation. The presenters, two male, one female, went over the victim's story: she had been introduced to the musician because he had connections that could benefit her. She went to see him at his house, he made advances that she refused, then agreed to stay in his guest room till morning because it was so late. During the night he came to her room and raped her, penetrating her with a heavy gold ring as well.

I didn't have to wait long for the disbelief. Male Presenter 1 spoke up: "Sorry o, but this lady's story is strange." Female presenter: "Exactly! Why did she stay at his house if he had already made advances? Is she a child? She's 29 years old for God's sake, she can't tell me she doesn't know better." Male presenter 2: "She called it a business meeting yet she was there till midnight? Is she a learner?" They all agreed amid laughter that she was indeed a learner. By the time the show was over the other people in the taxi had more to add: she probably slept with him for money and then cried wolf when he refused to pay her, she just wanted to blackmail him because he's famous, you can't trust these women.

I listened to these comments in unsurprised despair. Rape is a seriously misunderstood and misrepresented concept in Nigeria; it is the most underreported crime in the country, with statutory rape being permissible under customary law and marital rape not even being illegal. A January 2013 poll gives some disturbing insight into the way Nigerians perceive rape, with 'indecent dressing' being listed as the top cause of rape, alongside 'lack of moral values, unemployment and inability to control the sexual urge', and the majority of rapes going unreported due to 'pressures that seek to compel women to remain silent about rape in order to conform to the expected societal standards of women remaining chaste till marriage.'

The sad truth is that Nigeria and its average citizens promote the deafening silence of rape victims: when women come forward with their stories, they are invariably described as attention-seeking liars. And when it cannot be disproved that they were indeed raped, they are responsible for their rapes because of something they did or didn't do. She went out at night. She went to his house. She wore a short skirt. She dated him. She was a prostitute. She was working late. She was going to sleep with him anyway. The list is endless, but the meaning is always the same: these women made themselves rapeable. In doing or not doing so-and-so, how could they expect anything other than to be raped?!

I am a Nigerian woman. I have been raped. It never once occurred to me to report my rapist: I was sixteen, I snuck out of school to see my 26 year old club-owner toaster, I went to his house, and he raped me. I knew without being told that I would be blamed for it, so going to the police never entered my mind. I continued my life as yet another unreported rape victim, because the country I grew up in, with its patriarchal culture and religious fundamentalism, had taught me that I was responsible for my rape, my shame was mine alone, and my truth would not be believed.

Rape in Nigeria is a systemic, institutionalized issue protected by culture, ignored by the law and decried only in theory. We have a culture that tells people that women's sexuality is not valid outside of the context of a man and babies, that men are animals unable to control their sexual urges and women are somehow responsible for this absence of self-control, that women's bodies are public property, that a woman cannot be defined outside of a man's ownership of her, that her chastity is what defines her value as a person, and her marriage is what cements her womanhood. And so a raped woman is, very simply, a woman who has cheated herself, by herself.

She knows her options are limited - almost non-existent. She goes to her family, and she is begged to be silent. She goes to the police, and she is disbelieved. She goes to her lover, and he is offended that someone else has eaten from his pot. She goes to her friends and she is asked why she did what she did to bring the rape on herself. So she goes to no one. She picks up the pieces, cries herself to sleep, reminds herself to calm down every time she passes her assailant on the street or at work or at home, prays it never happens again, suffers through the same cycle if it does.

In Nigeria, the rape victim almost always has no allies, no friends, no support. In fact, she barely exists: a victim is someone against whom a crime has been committed, hapless, innocent, deserving of justice. Nigerian people can almost always find a way to blame a woman for her rape (assuming of course that it even happened at all; you know you really can't trust these women). And if you can be blamed, you are not a victim. If there are no victims, there is no crime. If there is no crime, we do not have a problem.

Nigeria does not have a rape problem.

No comments:

Post a Comment