One in six women will be raped in their lifetime.
17.7 million American women have been victims of sexual assault.
While 80% of all victims are white, minorities are more likely to be attacked.
For most women, the line dividing consensual sex from rape is almost invisible. Because we have been raised in a society that constantly feeds us the message that we are weaker and somehow inferior, it is easy to blame oneself in instances of sexual assault. Some of you might have grown up having your mothers constantly tell you "Don’t wear tight clothes!" "Don’t invite boys over when you’re all alone!" "Never walk in an alley!". I personally knew a girl whose mother for years, gave her daughter a birth control pill every morning before she went to school. This began as soon as she got her first period. Her mom would say "Come here. Open your mouth." and pop in the pill. She never thought to question the pill for many years. And when she finally did and discovered it was birth control, she was shocked.
With the statistics being what they were, and with the stories propagated by mothers, my friends and I grew up extra-cautious and constantly aware of every situation. This state of alertness is mostly the same for every Nigerian child. It’s hard to kick back and relax when you might be raped, burglarised, mutilated or shot at any moment. Most of the sexual assault cases I heard about occured during burglaries. It wasn’t enough that they had taken all the valuables and beaten the owners up in the process, they also felt it necessary, as a final touch, to rape all the women on the household. Women everywhere were so frightened of being raped that all it took were cries of "Olé! olé!" ("Thief! Thief!") or "Ndé onyeoshi a biala!" ("The thieves have come!") to send them scurrying for the nearest hiding place. And they had every right to. It wasn’t as though these criminals carried around an STD test to show to all their would-be victims. One particular young lady who had just emerged from her evening bath, cut herself severly in her attempt to jump over the wall into her neighbor’s compund. (The walls surrounding most houses are spiked with broken pieces of glass and barbed wire stuck into the cement to discourage thieves from jumping over).
At a HIV conference I attended in July last year, one of the speakers talked about how she had been sexually molested as a child. She spoke about how she hadn’t thought anything was wrong with the way her father’s chauffeur touched her until she was much older. She likened the experience to a seduction, he had paid her special attention, plying her with sweets and toys until she completely trusted him. I fully understand. I was in that situation twice at the ages of 4 and 7. It took me years before I could fully comprehend what had happened to me. It never occured to me after it had happened in both instances, to tell my mother what had taken place. She still doesn’t know and I don’t think that I will ever tell her. I remember her calling me into her bedroom when I was about 13 and asking me whether anyone had tried to hurt me. She had found a blouse of mine with rips and tears like I had struggled with someone. She looked so worried. I explained to her that the dog had ripped it when I hung it out to dry. The look of relief on her face was enough to make me resolve never to tell her. She already worried so much about me and I didn’t want to add to her list of problems.
It’s very easy to assign blame to oneself, constantly thinking "If only". "If only I hadn’t worn that mini skirt." "If only I had stayed home instead of going to that party." "If only I hadn’t led him on by smiling and making conversation." "If only I hadn’t had that drink" etc. There is no situation in which nonconsensual sex is acceptable. I keep telling girls and women, it doesn’t matter If you both were naked in a bed. If you say "No I don’t want to do this." and he forces you to have sex, it’s rape." We have been programmed to think that our words and actions hold us responsible for how these situations turn out but that is not the truth. No one walks around with a sign on their chest that reads "I want to be raped."
It doesn’t help either when the attackers are familiar faces. I have always had more male friends than female friends, and have always been considered ‘one of the guys’ among my male friends. Imagine my shock when I was attacked by not one, but two people whom I had considered friends, for two consecutive years. By this time, I had begun to ask myself if I was to blame. It has taken a lot for me to be able to speak about it. But I figure that I can’t let these experiences dictate the way the rest of my life turns out. And also, if speaking about my experiences will help give others clarity, then i’m willing.
Aside from the psychological effects of sexual abuse, there are also health risks to worry about. STDs, HIV, unplanned pregnancies etc. Like we women don’t have enough to worry about already. For any of you who have been attacked or molested, I offer myself up as a lifeline. I’m not a guidance counsellor and I can’t tell you how exactly to live you life. But maybe I can help you define what you’re feeling and work with you to get past it. You can email me at ywoclc@advocatesforyouth. Simply include my name in the subject line and the email will be forwarded to me.
"Letting go has never been easy, but holding on can be as difficult. Yet strength is measured not by holding on, but by letting go."
~ Len Santos