“You went visiting a man alone, what did you think would happen?”
Those were the first words my friend, Bintu received from her family when she placed a phone call home informing them that she had been raped. She had dropped by her boyfriend’s place to talk things out because their two-year relationship was suffering. That evening, he invited himself into her body without her consent as some form of tasteless retaliation for whatever it was their union was undergoing. Bintu suffered chronic pelvic pain and vaginal inflammation forcing her to remain in the hospital weeks after the event.
Her family disregarded the emotional and psychological trauma the rape had caused her, and resorted instead to victim shaming. They held her responsible for the rape, called her names and at some point insinuated that she merited such an agonizing ordeal for ‘visiting a man’. Consequently, not much was done about the rapist. He was allowed to walk free under the nonsensical guise of protecting the family name and maintaining her modesty.
Bintu’s tale is not of a singular female who has been exposed to Nigeria’s disgraceful rape culture. She is a symbol for women who have been subjected to sexual abuse/violence and have had their rights shoved aside.
Rape culture is an environment or society in which core social practices, cultural ideologies and institutions (passively or actively) encourage and tolerate sexual violence/abuse by normalizing and excusing the act. Rape culture is propagated through blaming the victim, objectifying women’s bodies and trivializing sexual assault/violence — thereby creating a society that deserts women’s welfare and rights.
Nigeria has a rape culture and this rape culture is why our society has normalized marital rape/abuse/violence. For example, a husband forcefully having sex or hitting his wife for refusing sex is acceptable because he has paid her bride price and as such is entitled to using her body as much as he wants regardless of how she feels. Despite such a concept being insensitive and irrational as it insinuates that a woman is merely a commodity that can be bought or sold, it is the reality of many. This rape culture is also why perpetrators of sexual violence/abuse are absolved from blame. In 2011, for instance, a video of the gang rape of an Abia state university (ABSU) student by five men was posted on social media. What happened after the video went viral was typical, notwithstanding video evidence, the governor of Abia state instantly denied that anything of such happened in the state. The police state command excused the perpetrators of the crime suggesting that the victim consented to the rape because “we did not see the victim resist” in the video. Subsequently, the case was dumped. No charges, no arrests.
The most cringe worthy part of our rape culture is that it is impeccably tucked under the pretext of ‘modesty’ and partly driven by the fact that the nation is patriarchal. This so-called modesty and overactive scrutiny of the sexuality of females is what sanctions society to tell women what they should or should not wear to restrain their exposure to men and sexual violence/assault. This, in simple terms, infers that the body of a woman who is not dressed as society deems fit ought to be available for sex whether or not she permits. It is why what was she wearing? is often echoed first when a woman is raped, as if whatever she had on when the rape occurred is enough to exonerate the rapist from his actions. It is also this same faux modesty that places importance on females remaining chaste without holding males to the same standard. Why, for instance, are women tagged dishonored and shameful when they are sexually violated? What about their rapists? Is it the obligation of women alone to remain virtuous?
We, as Nigerians, need to do better and ask ourselves if this culture we preach is really that of modesty or rape. We need to create more awareness on the plague that has enveloped our society in form of sexual assault. We don’t have remain silent till the Bintu’s in our environment get sexually violated before declaring that the issue at hand needs acknowledgement.
Our deceptive modest culture, for the sake of posterity, needs to windup in other to shrink the country’s rape culture. Although it is not as simple as it seems, we should, for example, start by teaching our sons not to rape instead of teaching our daughters not to get raped. In place of asking girls what they were wearing when they got raped, we should openly humiliate rapists and instead of victim shaming we should aid rape victims in overcoming the distress from their assault.