I recall that while growing up, guys had some silly way of explaining away forceful sexual encounters with girls. Having been brought up to believe that women would naturally turn down advances even if they were interested, these guys pleaded that they did not consider forced intimacy with girls a crime. As far as they knew, the girl desired it as much as they did but since she was too timid to own up to it, they merely helped her to make up her mind. So they did not think they did anything criminal.
I do not remember that any of these cases went beyond some manner of amicable appeasement from the family of the aggressors to the families of the victims. Certainly, none of these neighbhourhood incidents got as far being reported to the police. In the estimation of families in those days, these were issues to lock up in the cupboard, skeletons never to be exposed to the outside world. They talked in hushed tones fearing that if anyone outside the two families got wind of the gist, there would be a lot of stigma surrounding the victim and her family such that the girl may never find a suitor.
There are two things that I think this disposition imposed on us. The first is that it made boys and men think it was okay to forcefully take girls, being sure that no one would talk about it. The second is that it made girls and women, who are victims, see rape as the least of the evils that could happen if they ever shared the story with anyone outside their support bases. In this society, the luck to be married irrespective of the misfortune it bears is worshipped and so anything that diminishes the prospect that a man would seek the hand of a girl in marriage, including exposing people, who may have taken advantage of her, is to be avoided as a plague.
With that, rapists had a field day defiling unsuspecting female victims. And the victims suffered in silence in spite of the fact that both the Criminal Code Act and the Penal Code define and prescribe copious punishments for those who engage in the act.
I am persuaded to conclude that this silent treatment of rape still reigns over our society although there have been an increase in the reportage lately.
The story of the part-time Accounting lecturer at the University of Lagos, Akin Baruwa, who was alleged to have raped an 18-year-old girl, broke a few weeks back. This girl and her family reported the incident to the police after the parents saw the trauma that their daughter was going through. A couple of days after that, a 70-year-old man was said to have raped two minor girls in Kaduna.
It then happened that some days after I saw the latter news item on television, I was invited to the premiere of a Nigerian film with the title, Code of Silence. I came out of this event wondering if this society pays enough attention to the incidence of rape and how to reduce its occurrence to as negligible as possible.
Although rape is not a problem that is peculiar to Nigeria with a 2013 global review of available data indicating that about 120 million girls worldwide have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives, the culture of silence that it bears in Nigeria is worrisome.
For instance, a research by producers of this movie in which a university undergraduate was raped by a prominent politician and his aide with threats of dire consequences for her and her family if the issue ever got out, showed that 195, 285 cases of rape were recorded in Nigeria between 1980 and 1992.
Between March 2012 and March 2013, the police in Lagos State said it recorded a whopping 678 cases of rapes. It also pointed out that the preponderance of these cases affected underage girls, a lot of whom were abused by their parents and relations. Yet, it is believed that seven in every 10 cases of rape in this country go unreported! This is sure evidence that we have a huge problem on our hands unless proactive measures are taken by every member of this society in the interest of the future.
For starters, I think parents must start to expose their children to the evil that rape is. I think boys should be made to realise that there is nothing manly, nothing to be proud of in forcing a girl into a sexual relationship. They must also know that it is a crime to subject a girl to forceful sex. I think boys in our society should also know that there can be no excuse for anyone to rape a girl, not what clothes the girl has worn or has refused to wear. I listen to arguments situating rape in the increased rate at which girls wear skimpy attire and I wonder, really?
So, why do such boys and men not get tempted and rape mentally ill women who walk on the streets stark naked?
I think every male in this country should be made to realise that there is nothing macho about forcing anything, let alone sex, on anyone.
And for girls, no age is too early to let them know the importance of every part of their bodies and the limits that they should allow anyone, especially people of the opposite sex go.
As much as it is a free world, it is important for ladies to evaluate the level of risk in places where they visit and what dresses would make them secure on every one occasion. Ladies should watch out for red flags and know when to “flee from any appearance of evil.”
In this matter of rape, records have shown that there is no relation too close for suspicion. Whether he is a friend, uncle, father, or even brother, once the alarm in the head rings, the person concerned should be ready to take off. And if it ever happens, they must learn to report. No matter who the person is, ladies must report, pursue the issue to a logical conclusion and save others from that monster on the loose. They should remember that it is the shame of the aggressor and not their own shame.
More importantly, the society must free itself from the prison of silence in which it is encumbered for years. It is important that we support everyone who claims to have been raped to get proper counselling and get justice. It is important that we do not stigmatise victims, that we encourage more people to speak about their experiences and bring those who committed the crime to justice thereby ridding our society of such individuals and testing the ability of our laws to protect us.
Lives have been permanently ruined by the culture of silence and tacit culture of condoning that we all give to rape. I recently heard the story of a 23-year-old girl, who decided to give in to any man who comes to her once they can pay for it, because her parents would not deal with a cousin who forcefully deflowered her 11 years ago. In the last 12 years, this girl was said to have been with close to a hundred men, including a few men who were as old as 78! Even then, every year since she was raped, she was an emotional wreck in the week of the anniversary of the sad event. She would lock herself in, cry and nurse suicidal thoughts until she came in touch with a counsellor last year. It is possible to save our children from this lifelong trauma and make the vulnerable in our society safe and we must start now.