The debate over sexual assault or what constitutes it has gladly moved from the closet to the rooftops of social discourse. Sex is one aspect of humanity that involves every living being but that for so long has been spoken of in whispers. By bringing it up in the public sphere, we are breaking the glass ceiling. The ultimate aim should be to move beyond awareness and debate to finding remedies and proffering solutions.
Everyone knows someone who knows someone who has been sexually assaulted or has been a sexual predator or an abuser. We don’t need saints to break the ice and condemn what is bad in society.
That we are publicly debating and campaigning against rape is a big change from the Nigeria of decades ago. It is exciting to know that things are gradually changing in our society. This change is brought by the outrage over the incessant stories of rape involving traditionally vulnerable members of our society – women, children and the elderly. Although hardly spoken of, men and boys are as much aggressors as they are victims.
People are coming out of the closet to discuss issues that a few decades ago could not have been mentioned at homes because they were considered taboo subjects. Social and mainstream media have become the priests that people are turning to for confession. Government and law enforcement is taking these things seriously. Yes, the National Assembly has rejected calls for castration of rapists, but even that is advancement at some level. Years ago, lawmakers would have been too squeamish to even debate the issue. With the right pressure especially from our female lawmakers and a little help from societies that have traversed these routes, we could find the punishment that fits the crime.
A free society is one in which nothing is taboo. No subject on God’s planet should be shielded from public debate. For this reason was man created with brains. We should not be afraid to use it.
Sexual crimes have been swept under the carpet for so long that people of little minds now find excuses for the crime. Many victims have been shamed into keeping quiet leading to severe mental health issues. Victim blaming is a sad aspect of our culture that is in dire need of reform.
From homes to schools, faith houses to the workplace, victim blaming has helped the perpetrator and destroyed the life and psyche of the victim. It has emboldened the criminal. An emboldened criminal transforms into a serial offender. Early exposure could have helped tame many a monster. As a society, we have shielded the criminal for mundane reasons, one of which is that we do not want the shame brought to a family, a religious group or an organization. Unfortunately, our country is fast inching towards becoming the rape capital of Africa.
Leaders at all levels of the social strata have often helped in covering up this level of criminality. It is becoming obvious for those who have any modicum of respect that things need to change.
In the modern world, sexual offences are not statute barred. That means that whenever a victim feels confident enough to face their perpetrator, they could initiate criminal proceedings. This is well documented in many high profile cases both in Nigeria and abroad.
Relevant Nigerian agencies are talking of establishing sexual offenders’ register. This helps not just a victim but also potential victims. In most parts of the modern world, sexual offenders are required by law to register their presence when they move from one area to another. There may be difficulty policing this in Nigeria where homes have no addresses and states are still debating who qualifies as a citizen. Failure or hitches must never prevent us from experimenting and amending as we go along.
Every effort aimed at protecting the girl child from harm is a required step. Women are the preservers of life. Unfortunately, they are often the least protected in our society. We must keep this debate on the Bunsen burner until such a time when all victims irrespective of their gender (but most especially the girl child) are confident enough to walk and talk conscious that society listens, empathizes and protects them.
We should take this debate and the campaign to such a level that anyone having sexual liaison with anyone else consciously asks themselves whether they would feel comfortable if their actions become public knowledge.
The lame excuses of nudity or indecency, alcoholism or walking late are fatuous. Primitive man lived with decency without clothing and without assuming rights over the body of their partners. Only the weakest use alcohol or drugs as excuse, because inebriation in itself does not push anyone to commit a crime. In most cases timid and warped people use substances use or abuse as an excuse.
We must get to that level where people understand what consent means; who could give it and under what circumstances. Once these becomes part of the culture, then those who realize they need help would seek the help they need early enough rather than assume that they’ll be protected for their action or addiction.
The debate is late in coming, but as our elders say; whenever a person wakes up is their morning. Let’s keep talking, and saying it loud and clear – say no to rape!