Silence, and our culpability as a society in the culture of sexual abuse
BY TAWAKALIT KAREEM
That magic wand that we wave in the hope that what has been done can be undone. The inaction we exhibit to somehow dull the deafening crash that a certain action has caused.
Silence is the tool that we have by ourselves, made a weapon in the hands of the abuser.
Some people are of the opinion that the occurrence of abuse seems to have increased in recent times. I disagree. I think the difference in this day and time is; there is social media and the very real reality that a story can go viral in a matter of minutes.
My friend, Adebola Aduwo, wrote an article on the concluded #16daysofactivism, where she asked Nigerian women to share their stories of abuse, and the responses were…heartbreaking.
I shared screenshots of some of them on my Whatsapp status and had a few people respond with stories of abuses they have been privy to. And it makes me wonder about how we became a people so dedicated to the art of keeping up appearances that we do not take note of the very real destruction of lives that go on right under our nostrils.
According to the United Nations Women, up to 70% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. Women and girls account for 71% of all trafficking victims, with three out of four trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Globally, approximately 15 million adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 have experienced forced sex at some point in their life.
In majority of countries, adolescent girls are most at risk of forced sex by a current/former husband, partner or boyfriend. Based on data from 30 countries, only 1% ever sought professional help. Think of the ripple effect that could cause; hundreds of thousands of young women who have to deal with the avalanche of emotions that accompany abuse and who even worse, have no one to work through it with because we have placed the burden of abuse on the abused and not with the right recipient of it; the abuser.
A few examples;
I think it is a Nigerian thing; this desire to uphold all forms of family ties even at the expense of the young humans who depend on us for everything, including their safety.
When we were growing up, every woman who was our mother’s peer was called ‘mummy’ and our father’s peers were ‘daddy’. Every person older than us was our older brother or sister, and our uncles were family as family could get.
A 12 year old is a child, wide-eyed and trusting of the people who fall under this familial tree. Why then, would she conceive that this person who is family would rip at her like that? Or that her mother who is supposed to be on her team against the whole world if need be would take this uncle’s side?
But that’s what happened. Silence. Silence. Silence. The poison that is keeping the incidence within the family, where there are no consequences and certainly no justice.
This one broke my heart into tiny pieces and I might have shed a tear when I read it.
Where is the accountability? Where is the trust? Where is the unconditional love that a child should expect from her own parents?
Look at this scenario with me; so her cousin sexually abused her the first time or the first few times and she got pregnant. Now, reason will dictate that even if at the very WORST, this mother was swept by the wave of silence and the need to “protect her family’s honor,” that she would immediately remove her child from that toxic situation, which is cut off all contact with said cousin.
But that didn’t happen, and she was impregnated twice. Two pregnancies, two abortions, all before the age of 12. She was not even a teenager yet. Do you see that? Before she ever crossed the threshold into her teenage years, she already faced the consequences of our society’s obsession with silence and how it inadvertently protects the abuser.
And then, this. The person who shared this said these 2 young men, who were sexually assaulted when they were about 7 years old and are now in their mid-twenties, are addicted to sex.
When I asked if they had considered counselling, she said they have just decided to deal with it, and that “it was in their past”. But the past bleeds into the present, even in minute amounts.
This evil persists in our society because we worship at the altar of silence and we pass judgment on the abused when cases come into the open. We hone in on questions like “What did you wear?” “Where were you?” “What did you do?”
With immense confidence, we say things like; “She probably seduced him,” like he is some rabid animal on the loose with no sense of right or wrong. We say; “It’s her fault that happened to her,” and we say it often enough that even she begins to question herself.
We force the cloak of responsibility on the abused and in doing so absolve the abuser of all responsibility. We give a resounding ‘yes!’ to the other abusers lurking in the shadows, wondering if they can get away with it.
We perpetuate the culture of sexual abuse, and we do this through our words. And our silence.
What can I do differently? What can you do differently?
PS: If you’d like to read Adebola’s article, and I do strongly suggest that you do if you’d like a window into the stories of sexual abuse in the direct words of the survivors, you can access it here: https://www.mtvshuga.com/naija/news/hearmetoo-women-in-lagos-share-their-experiences-of-gender-based-violence/
I think you summed it up perfectly when you said our society is more about appearance than it is about truth or justice. God forbid a rapist relative is called what s/he is- a rapist! No, it’s much easier to blame powerless victims with no status, to take the word of the older, more powerful person, to call what you don’t understand witchcraft and call the victim a witch for attracting deviant behaviour from the older person. What makes this whole situation even more tragic is the paucity of resources to support victims and protect future victims. And we wonder why people are acting out sexually in society. Kids raping or moles ring other kids. I don’t even know what the solution is except we changing or culture to one that embraces truth, to one that protects the vulnerable rather than amplifying the powers of the already powerful, to one that ascribes blame appropriately, to one that doesn’t try to cover what is wrong but exposes it so that it can be made right. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening any time soon. Even religion which you’d think would be an opportunity is complicit, our justice system is as well.
You know; I have an acquaintance who works in a rape center who told me most of the abused were children between the ages of 0 and 4 years old. Yes, you read that correctly.
I am very glad there are more centers offering tangible aid to abused persons, and I believe with increased awareness, this can only get better.
Can things change? Yes, I have no doubts about it. Changing a culture is not the easiest thing to do, but it has to be done and we have to start by unequivocally criminalizing abusers and putting the blame squarely where it belongs.
I personally know someone who was abused while she was younger. As much as she wants to be a normal person in her everyday life, she finds it hard to stay away from sex for a while and that’s because she was introduced to it in a very unruly manner. She wouldn’t even care if she knows you that well as far as she’s getting some sex. Tried so much to counsel her but she just usually tells me, I wouldn’t understand
She is a normal person, who just needs some help.
Have you suggested counselling to her? I know a lot of people think they can deal with it on their own, but help can be very valuable.
Please, put it to her if you haven’t. I really hope she can work through this.
Although we still have a lot of work to do, it’s good to see that the culture of staying silent is gradually fading away. I have learnt that just sitting and whining doesn’t do the trick. Shedding light on these issues and actively educating others helps in more ways than we can think of.
Thank you for talking about my piece, sister girl. It means a lot to me,
I just read this post and this truth is so hard for even me to handle. I know we love familial ties, I honestly pray to keep having it even in future. However, with these recurring evils of sexual violence, silence is really a huge problem. This need to uphold a certain image in society is such a burden. And we human, judgmental beings, are an even greater part of the problem. What can I do differently? Be less judgmental until I am judgmental no more. Then to always remember that with abuse, the abuser is the real problem who should face the full brunt of the shame, not the abused. The shame abused people carry is already enough for us to come and add those of their abusers on their heads. I hope we’ll be unafraid to vocally confront these evils.
I feel very strongly that this comment is for my “Silence, and our culpability as a society…” article.
Regardless, we must realise that silence only protects the abusers and seek justice for the abused in situations of violence of any kind.
Yes indeed. And yes, it is for that article. Read it on Sheroes and came over to the source.
I thought so. Thank you, V.