A BellaNaijarian, who has asked to remain anonymous, sent this story to us – narrating her experience as the victim of a sexual assault. She decided to share her story after reading something on BN about assault and how the victim was being blamed.
We hope that someone will read this and realise that the change we need collectively, starts with one person. If you’re that person who blames the victim, look inwards, and think… it could be you.
My daily internet consumption rounds consist of visits to some sites that I have no business wasting my time on. But “waste” is rather relative, and quite honestly i’d rather be exploring the web and its bounty than writing what currently feels like a 1,000 pager on my research.
Anyway, a regular part of my rounds includes skimming articles on issues of interest to the everyday Nigerian – particularly the young Nigerian woman in the diaspora. A few days ago, in fulfilling my daily ritual, I came across an article (here on BellaNaija) on a woman’s experience of molestation as she slept through a flight. Basically, woman took medications and slept heavily during a flight; man violated woman sexually during her sleep; woman woke up to find that she had been violated. Man attempted to justify his actions. But the meat of the conversation surrounding this narrative was not in the text of the article. Rather, as with any blog conversation involving Nigerians, it was in the comments section. People had a lot to say about the issue.
What struck me most, however, was the fact that there was contention over the credibility of the story. How could this woman claim to have been asleep during what the perpetrator described as something she had “enjoyed”? What kind of medication could possibly cause one to sleep a sleep so deep?
And suddenly an extremely sexist theme that I’m tired of noticing, manifests itself yet again in this comments section: the idea that women must be the cause of sexual violations perpetrated against them. Furthermore, that these women must first prove that they are not the cause of the problem in order to be paid any serious attention. This concept has become so ingrained in society that it no longer even requires agents other than the victim, in order to be fulfilled. I have seen from personal experience, that even the victim can become the doubtful policer of his/her own experience.
About a year ago, I was returning to Chicago from a trip to Ghana and Nigeria. I had a connecting flight in Frankfurt, from where my trip took a rather disturbing turn. As I boarded the plane, I rejoiced in the fact that I was seated at a window seat and would therefore have the opportunity to do my favourite thing on the planet: sleep. Beside me sat an elderly man who ended up switching seats with the man beside him. The man who was now sitting beside me, must have been in his forties or at most in his early fifties.
So this man, who I will call John Doe, warmed up to me in a conversation where he established his credibility as a respectable professional. He had supposedly gone to medical school at the University of Michigan and worked extensively there. He had also completed studies at other prestigious institutions. We began with conversation that revealed the fact that we were both Nigerian. The usual conversations about Nigeria ensued but somehow the topic of female genital mutilation (FGM) came up. I was already uncomfortable at this point, but I tried to see it as a contribution to our conversation on some global issues.
Next thing I know, he drops FGM as a topic, and proceeds to get personal with the conversation. Not long after, he tried to kiss me while rubbing my thighs. I politely declined this advance, but he soon tried again. This time he tried to make me feel the “boner” that he claimed I had caused him. He said that he knew I wanted it because my thighs seemed warm. For the sake of preserving social order and being respectful, I resolved to not call attention to this situation. Instead, I quickly got my hands off his hold and said as firm of a “No” as I could mutter in my horror. He then begged me to come home with him and spend the night because his family was away. He promised me good sex there as if my telling him no was an indication that I wanted him, but in a more private setting. Again, I said no and pretended to begin sleeping.
Needless to say, the rest of the flight was miserable. He did not try to make any further advances, but I was not at ease. I was anxious, helpless, and ashamed that I had found myself in this situation. John Doe had taken advantage of me, and although I was awake enough to cut it off easily, I didn’t. My light dismissal might have alerted him to my vulnerability, and he saw it as a good opportunity to strike. He wielded power without having to hold me down physically. My thoughts, my emotions, my comfort, were what he held captive in that moment.
So what had I done to get myself here? Had I led him on? But this started out as a conversation on intellectual issues. Had I presented myself seductively?
No, because I was in my lazy jeans and a simple shirt, and I was ready to sleep when he struck up a conversation. But even if I did present myself seductively, I was not asking for any sexual advances whatsoever, and it was therefore not okay for him to try to get into it without my consent. So why didn’t I stop the entire thing as soon as I realized that it was against my values and out of my comfort zone? If I was so innocent in this situation, why did I feel so ashamed and so guilty?
In the coming weeks, I was not myself. I was ashamed and I was worried. I worried that I would see the man on my many trips to Chicago. I was disappointed that I couldn’t truly call myself a “Strong,” “confident” person anymore.
So you see, even though no one knew my story, I still found myself policing my experience; asking myself questions that suggest that I could have been the problem.
Now, over a year later, it seems rather clear that the man in question was the sole problem in the scenario; but it took me way too long to stop blaming myself and carrying the shame that was meant for him, on my own head.
I share this story because from the comments on the article that I read a few days ago, it became more than evident that there are some conversations that we are not having on the unequal gender- based power systems at play in situations of sexual violation.
I am unapologetically a feminist because of many issues like the one I have described in this story. This is not my call for membership into the Feminist clan; it is rather an invitation to healthy conversation about these issues. Furthermore, it is a call to conscious redirection of blame where unequal power systems are at play.
Photo Credit: Dreamtime *** Image used only for illustration purposes.