The use of gender-based violence, so categorically denounced in just about all contexts, usually means something different to the perpetrator.  Some say, “I was fighting for my rights”, others say, “I was trying to make a point” or “make her understand”…my question is this: “understand” what, dear abuser?

 

Oftentimes, the victims of rape, domestic abuse, and harassment in Nigeria have no idea that they are victims of this dirty game of human destruction and mental enslavement. I can recall countless interactions with various victims of rape, many of whom were young and somewhat naïve to the realities of their own abuse.  For many of these girls and women, the first early signs or acts were rationalized away as something that did not have much significance, or was in fact a mistake on the part of the abuser which they – the victim – felt was never going to occur again.

In most cases the abuser was either a friend, a husband, a cousin, or, as is quite common in Nigeria, an “Uncle” or “Aunty”.  In Nigerian terms, this could mean your dad’s brother, or even an unrelated adult stranger who has built certain ties with the family and is well-respected or seen as a good guide to you… especially when they come as lesson teachers.  They could also be a cousin from the village, or the Principal of an institution who is seen as the messiah of the daughter’s welfare, but unbeknownst to the clueless parent, betrays that child’s right to be educated and to experience the true meaning of freedom and dignity in oneself.

These scenarios happen on a daily basis in primary and tertiary institutions and even within the supposed safest havens of the girl child or women: their homes, at the hands of their loved ones.  Unfortunately, some of the worst violations are afflicted by those whom these young girls or women trust the most.  We can go on and on about how these issues happen, and I can clearly state here that as much as the invaluable awareness campaigns against violence and abuse against women and girls has been on the increase of late, many young girls and women still endure this abuse on a daily basis.  Because of this, it can be hard to assess how effective these campaigns truly are.  To stop this violent epidemic, I believe it is necessary to eradicate the vices that lead to the barbarism of abuse… and this shouldn’t be for the older folks alone, but also for the young ones who have no idea what level of harm is being inflicted upon them.

First, it is necessary that all parents, caregivers and guardians need to understand the necessity of having the forbidden talk with their children: Sex education.  This must be done by all families, whether from a very strong Christian or Muslim home, because when this act is perpetrated the villain does not ask which religious group you belong to before acting.  Abuse knows no religion, it knows only itself.  And to teach our young people about respectful relationships protects them from falling victim to intimate partner violence in their own romantic relationships.

Conversations about sex and love are necessary because this generation is one with so much access to information – which can be a good thing in some contexts, but when it comes to forbidden information, it seems that the bad information gets to kids before the good information.  When it is meant to be the other way around, the burden of this duty lies on the shoulders of the caregiver.  As the popular proverbial saying goes: “Charity begins at home”. 

Secondly, our educational institutions need to stop relying on the guidance and counselling department whose officials are mostly preoccupied with the computer systems before them these days rather than to handle cases of abuse being reported by student victims.

A few years back, I had an encounter with a certain counsellor of a tertiary institution to determine why certain abuse cases are not being dealt with, and her reply was amazing – and not in the good way.  Her reason for lack of action to protect people living with abuse was that: “Sometimes the victims insinuate abuse after seducing their lecturers or teachers.”  With a shocked look on my face, I asked whether it was the moral and ethical obligation of this tutor, lecturer or teacher to ensure that there could be no ambiguous sexual contact with students in the first place.  At this, I got no reply but silence from this counsellor.

Academic systems should have fora in which students can, on a weekly or monthly basis, touch base with their academic instructors so that their mental, physical or psychological issues are accommodated.  This then provides a space in which young people being abused can passively divulge their circumstances, rather than be expected to actively come forward.  Maybe it is time to have an Abuse and Sexual Violence Prevention and Management Department where students experiencing abuse, as well as staff experiencing or witnessing the same, can go and report so immediate action can be taken to protect the vulnerable.

Thirdly, more sensitization is needed through various media outfits.  Kudos to some of our Nollywood movie producers who are trying in this respect, but way more needs to be done via our media platforms to save more young people from becoming or remaining long-time objective slaves to criminals, manipulators, and perpetrators of violence.  A simple message or visual, disseminated effectively, could save any number of lives.

Fourthly, the government has a major role to play not just in passing laws that protect the vulnerable and punish the violent, nor simply partnering with International agencies to implement global policies, nor to make pledges without action.  They also have to ensure that the victims of abuse and violence are empowered by giving them listening ears, a chance of freedom through the judicial system, and ensuring that the laws passed on cases of sexual and violent abuse – not just against women and girls, but on all humans – are enacted and implemented appropriately and justifiably.

Finally, wherever you are reading this from: eradicate the vice of passiveness, defend dignity and autonomy in the vulnerable, and make a huge impact on our shared future through something as little as showing up, listening, and acting.  All of these could save a person’s life.