When Tarana Burke’s #Metoo Movement caught on in the US and was amplified on social media, women across the globe who could identify with the movement “toasted” in solidarity. “Times up” they all chanted amidst, nods, thumbs up, placards, t-shirts from internationally acclaimed personalities. The massive support the hashtag garnered represented the break of a new dawn for women. Finally, a word that victims of sexual violence could rally with to break the silence of the pain they have endured for years living with scars from their assault had been created.
While the movement gained a massive following with thousands of women coming out to trade stories of their assault, sharing stories of coping mechanisms, names of their abusers; sending virtual hugs here and there, the women who would represent a new dawn for African women who have been assaulted especially those who had no voice to air their stories, were taking notes.
According to the UN Women campaign against gender-based violence, 13 %- 53% of women in Sub-Saharan Africa experience sexual violence in their lifetime. Africa Unite, reports that this assault is perpetuated by an “intimate partner during their lifetime.”
Africa Unite also reports that in Uganda, 59% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
In South Africa, the prevalence of sexual violence against women is so high, it has become a norm. While the diverse voices of advocacy strengthening the #MeToo Movement in these countries are consistently calling on women to speak up, report their abusers and seek justice whilst putting structures in place to accelerate destigmatization and arrest of the culprits, the women (and some men) in Nigeria are addressing the rape culture one victim at a time.
For a country where sexual violence is aided and abetted by patriarchy, victim shamed and judged by rape apologists, Lady Boss and Photographer, Busola Dakolo opening up in an interview here how she was sexually abused as a minor by a renowned man of God has sparked a needed conversation.
Her decision to speak up has done five things for Nigerian women and girls:
Encouraged more women to speak up.
Broken the cycle of shame and stigma associated with assault of this kind- rape.
Triggered a conversation on how sexual violence is perpetuated often by people victims are familiar with, thereby correcting the stereotype that rapists are faceless unknown men.
Generated a conversation on sexual assault perpetuated by men in authority and why they must be held accountable.
Sparked a conversation on healing after assault.
Busola’s story might have generated a lot of reactions due to her social standing and the reputation of her abuser. Nevertheless, her decision to speak up isn’t only necessary but the timing crucial in driving the #MeToo Movement in Nigeria. Sadly, Busola’s story isn’t the only case of sexual violence in Nigeria that has gained visibility and stirred up much needed conversations.
In March of 2018, Stephanie Busari of Cable Network News Africa (CNN) did a piece on rape bringing on board 5 survivors who recounted in a riveting interview their experiences. An abridged version of the piece is captured below.
Arts Manager and Festival Producer, Brenda Uphopho told CNN she has been assaulted three times by three different men. The first was when she was just 5 years old, and a man who worked for her family forced her to touch him. Uphopho said she didn’t understand how serious the situation was at that age, so she kept quiet. When it happened again she was 18, and old enough to know she had been violated.
“During a party, I found myself alone with a stranger who wanted to force me to have sex with him. He beat me up when I refused and sexually assaulted me,” she told CNN. “I was too ashamed to tell anyone about it. “I just felt if I was going to tell anybody … they would ask me … ‘What did you wear? What were you doing there? How did you end up alone with this person?” she said, adding that she came to believe it was her fault.
“I could be walking on the street and I would get my butt slapped by a bike rider. My coworkers would make unsolicited sexual comments to me and I wouldn’t think it was out of place. “Uphoho and her husband have co-produced a play called “Shattered,” which seeks to encourage victims of sexual violence to speak up about their experiences. She decided to share her story to break the “culture of silence” around sexual abuse.
Eurel Nwafor, told CNN she was raped in August 2017 after some opposition union members stormed her former place of work. “There was a lot of chaos outside the office,” said Nwafor, who was working as a personal assistant at a market in Lagos at the time. “On opening the door to see what was happening, I received a slap from a man and before I could recover, he dragged me outside. “Nwafor said that the same man ripped her clothes off and forced himself on her. ”He didn’t listen, though I begged him to stop,” she told CNN. Nwafor has been fighting to bring charges against the man she says raped her, despite her family’s disapproval.
“My mom wants me to leave everything in God’s hands, likewise … other family members, but I refuse to suffer in silence.” She took to Instagram, sharing a video pleading for help. It went viral and caught the attention of support group, ‘Stand To End Rape’, which offered her counseling and legal advice.
“I cannot wake up every morning, knowing that the person that did this to me is out there going about his daily activities like nothing happened,” Nwafor said.
Project Manager at Women at Risk Foundation Nigeria, Chichi Ogbonnaya hides the scars of being raped at just 10 years old behind a warm smile as she recounts her ordeal. “This man was respected in our church and I called him ‘uncle,'” she said. Ogbonnaya was sent to live with the man by her mother, who couldn’t afford to take care of her. The abuse started soon afterwards.
“He made me lie on top of him while his wife was away,” Ogbonnaya said, speaking about the experience for the first time. “He tried to penetrate me but when he could not, he went to get something that looked like a lubricant.”He told me to stay calm and be quiet. I didn’t know what was happening,” Ogbonnaya said.
Ogbonnaya told CNN she remembers him handing her “the blood-soaked sheet to wash before his wife returned. “The abuse continued for five years — until she was 15. During that time she was forced to have an abortion, but the procedure was botched and left her hemorrhaging alone in her bedroom. “Even after I left the house, the act still continued and I just felt it was too late. I was too exposed to a whole lot of things … I didn’t have that sort of relationship with my mum to start telling her this happened to me.”
Founder, Stand to End Rape, Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi was working as a volunteer in a local election in 2010 when she says she was asked to register underage voters. She refused. Afterward, one of the candidates came to meet her. “He said ‘You are a young girl, after service, what is next for you? You want to get a job? I will give you money, get you a car, give you employment and make your life better.”
Osowobi turned down the offer, sparking widespread hostility towards her in the community.”Nobody was kind except this young man who came to my polling center to register,” Osowobi said. He offered her a ride home, saying it wasn’t safe for her to walk by herself at night. “He made advances at me. When I declined, his countenance changed and I knew I was in danger,” Osowobi said.
“I struggled to get out of the car but he chased after me and dragged me on the floor with my braids. He assaulted me while I pleaded with him that I was a virgin. I felt worthless after,” she said. Although the experience was traumatic, Osowobi said she was able to move on because of the support and counseling she got from her parents.
“I told my parents and apologized because I felt I had disappointed them. My mother said to me: ‘Your worth is not in your vagina; your worth lies in your capacity as a human being to think, work and impact your generation,'” she said. Osowobi said the experience inspired her to start Stand to End Rape — one of only two rape centers in Lagos.
CEO Dhassie’s Butchery Limited, Omodasola Omibeku told CNN she first experienced abuse at the hands of a distant relative at around 6 years old. “Anytime we were alone, he brought out his penis and asked if I knew what it was and wanted to touch it? He would put it my hand or mouth,” Omibeku told CNN.
The man lived in Omibeku’s home, which she said was full of “aunties and uncles, some not even blood relatives.” “I was in a lot of pain when he raped me some months after. I still feel the pain any time I talk about it. It was like trying to force a huge spiky rock into a tiny hole. “Omibeku said she was attacked again in university, while she was walking home to her hostel after lectures.
“I thought I was being robbed, so I offered him my bag and phone but he didn’t want any of that. “He pushed me to the ground, grabbed my right knee and raped me. “After the ordeal she was too ashamed to tell anyone. Both experiences have distorted her perceptions of sex. “How am I supposed to enjoy sex without having to think about how someone forcefully raped me? It gives me the idea that that is what sex is supposed to be. It messed up my first knowledge of sex,” she said.
Omibeku told CNN that she only began to heal after she met other victims of sexual abuse at Osowobi’s Stand to End Rape center. “Up until then, I thought I was the only person that had been raped in the world. I thought I was the only person carrying this pain,” Omibeku said. Now she supports other victims as a volunteer at the rape crisis center. “I want my story and healing process to help others out there and to let them know they are not alone,” she said.
Did you cringe? Shriek in horror reading their stories? There really is a lot to be said for the rape culture in Nigeria and it’s ripple effect when it goes unaddressed. The question now is as more women come out to share their stories, will they get a safe space to heal?
Will their abusers be held accountable for their actions?
Will the government let them down?
Will Nigeria let them down?