(125): Rape: Blaming the Victim as the Perpetrator
By Amina Haruna and Muhsin Ibrahim
Sexual violence and rape occur worldwide. Some rape incidents defy any logic, while others may be associated with sadism, paedophilia, other types of paraphilia (i.e. sexual disorders). Consequently, throughout history, people weaponize sex. Women, including underage, are mostly the victims. Soldiers raped numerous women during and in the aftermath of World War II. Years later, more soldiers and militias raped women in the Yugoslav Wars of the early 1990s. Most recently, in 2015, French peacekeepers were charged for sexually abusing children in the Central African Republic in exchange for food and money. The stories are similar during several civil wars in other parts of Africa and beyond.
Rape happens in peacetime, too. Now and again, news of rape springs up in countries, particularly India. In a widely watched documentary, in 2013, the BBC World Services described India as the most dangerous place to be a woman. While there are rape cases in Nigeria such as Boko Haram insurgents’ loveless, abusive marriage to the mostly schoolgirls they have abducted, other ‘ordinary’ cases primarily remain below the radar. Why?
As Nigerians, many of us may recall stories of rape cases in our neighbourhoods. However, the matter is usually discussed in whispers for some outdated socio-cultural and, perhaps, religious reasons. More often than not, talking about rape is considered a hot-button issue, and, outrageously, the victims end up being blamed. Some of those helpless victims carry the scars of the blame to their graves. In other words, the victims are not only accused of inviting the assault to themselves but also stigmatized after it. The stigma can sometimes become permanent.
With the Covid-19 pandemic ravaging the world, people remain under a lockdown or other kinds of restrictions. Nigeria has reported an alarming spike of sexual violence against women and children in the past few weeks. The whole situation is practically adding insult to the injury, which Nigerians survive in. The news of insecurity, abject poverty, massive loss of jobs, among other ills, barely ruffles Nigerians anymore. They are, sadly, considered the norm. Human lives are no more than numbers. Nevertheless, there is every need to remember and humanize the majority of rape victims suffering in silence due to the stigma, as mentioned earlier, and humiliation. We need to combat rape and other misogynistic attitudes towards women.
Regardless of age, the effect of rape goes far beyond physical injuries. The trauma alone can lead to anxiety disorders, depression, low self-esteem, troubling flashbacks and other unpleasant memories. The world would not seem like a safe place anymore. The victim can, often, no longer trust people around her, not even herself. And out of everywhere, the victim-blaming starts. Yes, the victim is blamed. One wonders, why?
Some people are always quick to question the victim’s mode of dressing or how sexy she appears, or why she was at a particular place at a specific time. But then why are babies and children also raped and assaulted? No doubt, modesty in dressing is protection to woman, it does not and cannot always save a woman from a rapist. Another flimsy nay groundless excuse is the supposed victim’s silence during the assault. Some query why didn’t she shout and fight? Failure to do so means she wanted it. Do you know that during an attack, the brain and body shut down in shock, therefore making it impossible to think, speak or even move, a term known as tonic immobility?
The recent rape and murder of 22-year-old Uwavera Omuzuwa, a university student at a church in Edo State, is a typical example. Some insensitive people interrogated her presence at the church; adding why was she studying there while school was not in session? In other words, saying she was at fault, and she, not the perpetrator, bore the responsibility of the attack. Perhaps one may ask, why then was the 18-year-old Barakat Bello gang-raped and murdered at her family house in Oyo State? Also, why the 3-month-old Rukkayya, surreptitiously stolen from her mother’s bed, was mercilessly raped and dumped in Nassarawa State? Among many more such examples.
A lot of rape cases are underreported or unreported. The victims do not even know who to talk to, as people become suspicious. The victims are blamed and advised to change to avoid getting raped again. That is heart-wrenching and demoralizing. The conclusion and blame game put the lives of millions of women at risk. Many will resort to keeping mum and eventually die in silence due to frustration and depression. Regardless of the circumstance, the one who should feel guilty is the perpetrator. Let’s say this out loud: Women lives matter!
Worse still, Nigeria has a meagre conviction rate for rapists and other sexual abusers. Thousands of cases stay longer in courts to the extent that the victims become exasperated, hopeless and eventually give up. The government should look into this and act accordingly. We wholeheartedly support the proposal of castrating any convicted rapist if not all other sex offenders. In their book, The Causes of Rape, Lalumiere et al. (2005) report that convicted rapists are more likely than others to commit sexual offences once again after their sentences. Thus, there is a need to terminate their sexual urge permanently.
Notwithstanding all the challenges entails in rape cases, it is high time people spoke out more about the horrible topic and encourage the victims, too, to speak up. The victims need our support, understanding, empathy and sympathy. Talking about it can be therapeutic to some of them. The healing process can be painful. It’s also noteworthy to mention the efforts of some human right groups that assist in the often tortuous, expensive legal battles. But, what about countless others that remain unidentified or muzzled? While women must be more careful, the perpetrators MUST be held accountable.
We hear you
We see you
We believe you!
About the authors
Amina Haruna lectures at the College of Arts and Remedial Studies, Kano. She can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org
Muhsin Ibrahim teaches and studies at the University of Cologne. He can be contacted through email@example.com