A Few Things The Sugabelly Rape Issue Reminded Me Of

I have struggled with writing this post. Struggled since the few days that I heard the news that practically everyone on Nigerian Twitter and in Nigeria heard: Sugabelly's rape story. If you have not heard it by some strange turn of events read it here. You should not be able to avoid it. No Nigerian should. It has opened up the rot that we would rather remain covered for eternity. The rot that is our culture and our way of life; a culture of rape, abuse and subjugation of girls and women just because they are female.

In many ways I am in awe of what Sugabelly has been able to do, In telling her story she encouraged the story to be told, the perpetrator to be confronted and the nightmare to be cut short. For so many women. You cannot imagine the number of people who came out with rape stories just in support of her, Different women from different places. It was crazy. But what was crazier were the insults. People who wondered why if she was raped by the Mustapha Audu character, she still went back. In her defence as she even explains, she was 17, and frightened and confused.She was 17, he was 25.  Shame is the tool of the abuser.

I was raped at 21/22 and I continued dating my rapist
It was during my National Youth Service, in Makurdi, Benue State. He was a guy who used to come around in an SUV. I do not know if I knew he was married at that time but I never used to go to his house.  One night he came around to our quarters probably because I had told him not to come again and then he took me to a house which apparently was his. He had been cycling and wanted to change into regular clothes. The room was just on the edge of  the house and opening the door led outside. I sat on the edge of the bed and that was all I remember. Except for the fact that I was crying and struggling and his 'boy' knocked to ask what was happening and he said something in their language which made him back off. I felt ashamed during and after because of the things people would say, the questions they would ask, the insults they would give me. Serves you right for hanging with a married man. What were you doing in his house. Why did you not shout louder, fight harder? I 'dated' him afterwards because it was a small community and I was afraid he would spread the news. Dated is a nice word for going to different places with him. I don't know if I even liked him. He dumped me when he was bored and I went looking for him.  But it was over. And I cried and cried. At 22. And people expect  a 17 year old to have been able to control herself.

When I was in University, more than once, when I went to visit male friends in their rooms, they tried to grope me in a bid to have sex. I was too mortified and insulted. Male friends with whom I had only a platonic relationship. This happened more in my first year than any other year. One day I remarked about that to another friend and he simply said that if I was not interested in sleeping with a guy I was not supposed to go to his room. I always wondered about that faulty logic but finally succumbed to it. No more platonic visits.

I was raped two more times in my own home by people I let in myself
This happened several years later  and again it was not brutal.  But it was rape. In the first one I was 26. I had just moved into this neighbourhood and I happened to stumble upon a guy that I worked with in the same industry.  A year or two before, I had I had turned down his request that we be in a relationship. He was married and definitely not my type. He was surprised that I was in his neighbourhood and wanted to know where I lived and I was happy to let him drive behind me, down the long, winding street to mine. Along the way, he stopped at a pharmacy so I had to park until I saw that he was tailing me again. We got to my house and I gave him a tour; I had nothing but my bed in the room and a few utensils in the kitchen. Again I cannot remember how it happened but he had overpowered me on the bed and clamped his mouth over mine so I would not scream. This would later be replaced by his palm. Apparently the stop at the pharmacy was to buy condoms which he was wearing. I remember distinctly though that if I kicked for instance, he would say 'oh you want to lift your leg? ' and would proceed to adjust my leg to suit him.  Luckily it didn't last too long and I told him to get out. He left his condoms.
The other incident was almost 10 years later if not more, This was a guy I actually had slept with once or twice in the past. He came to my place one night which was not unusual.We were watching TV and he got too comfortable and began tearing at my clothes. My 'no's turned into 'stop's but he wasn't listening. I remember him grunting like an animal. I was broken before he came, I was a wreck when he left. I didn't leave my bed for four days. I was afraid to call it what it was; rape. Because I let him in my house at night. Because I had had a relationship with him before. Because what will people say?

What we are doing is raising men to be predators, because they are men, because they have penises. 
Their prey? Women, young ladies, and even children. Nobody tells them it is not okay. Even the women shame each other into silence. Slut, prostitute, aristo, runs girl. After rape by the first guy, I tried to talk to an older lady who worked as a secretary in my office. I did not tell her it was me, I told her it was my friend. She said at 26 you cannot say you have been raped. Maybe my friend just did not like that guy. In another unrelated discussion, a man in my office had said that if the rapist in question was not beating his victim no rape had occurred. When I told another man about the 2nd incident in my house, a man that I trusted and respected, he asked 'why didn't you shout "I am HIV positive!"' He did agree eventually that would not be natural but I wondered what sort of stupid question that was. Was that to protect myself or the man in question? Much earlier on, as a young teen, I was sexually abused  by my grand uncle. This I have documented here. It messed up my bearings; all the others were the spoils of war. A very respected filmmaker in Nigeria was my confidant when I was finally able to speak of it at 28. He said that at 14 or 15 I cannot say I did not know what I was doing. Or ostensibly that I could not claim not to have been an active part of the sexual relationship (as he saw it).  Victim shaming, victim blaming. Viva la Abuse.

More painful is that fact that the abuser goes on to live a normal life and is even lauded as a member of society but the victim struggles with many aspects of their life. That is so typical in my case as I have been unable to get it together even now that I am nearing 40, mostly due to a lack of confidence. My rapists however, are successful men by every superficial definition. My abuser died last month and was buried with ceremony , praise and accolades. He will be remembered as a great priest with immense achievements. I will struggle with getting my shit together, unable to maintain a healthy weight, a healthy relationship, a steady job. This is my one regret; that I did not show him up for who he truly was, and perhaps in doing so, empower myself.

One time in my life, for a very short time, I was not a victim. I fought back.

I was in maybe my 2nd year of university. I had chosen to join the drama society and we were engaged in rehearsals for a stage play. We had rehearsed into the night and one of the cast offered his room nearby for us to stay in. For some reason, it finally came down to just me staying in his room as other people chose other options. I was skeptical about it because it seemed a very dangerous arrangement but he promised me he would leave the room for me. We got to the room and he went through his nightly rituals of having a bath and everything, I just sat on his bed waiting for him to leave. I deliberately did not have a bath because I was trying to be as unappealing as possible. I asked him when he would go he said soon, so I lay down to sleep and he lay next to me. I asked if he wouldn't leave the room he said, we could sleep on the same bed nothing would happen. Time passed and I was awake and I felt him run his hands on my body and I pushed it off. He tried to climb on me to over power me so I lashed out and fought and kicked and bit every part of his body that came in contact with my mouth. And I lifted things and stoned him with it. He was clearly shocked because I was like a wildcat.  And he kept backing away until he got to the door and I locked him out. In retrospect I was lucky, I guess that he was not violent either, but I was mad and angry. In the morning I opened the door and walked out of his room and to my house. I did not attend rehearsals for 2 days and my lecturer was irate. But when I finally told him what happened he told me he was proud of me and that I should have bitten off the boy's penis. Now, in hindsight, I think I was able to fight off that guy because I found my voice through dance and drama.

Girls need confidence
Girls need to be encouraged to speak
Girls need to be empowered

Until Sugabelly spoke I had suppressed these and other memories. Of the men that groped when people were not looking, teachers, supervisors, father's friends, neighbours. Of those that held me back in the course of my career, or attempted to, because I did not seem to be agreeing to their demands for sexual favours. They were tucked in a far, far, place and almost forgotten because what will people say? Haba! Why is it only you people want to sleep with? But she wrenched it out with her bravery.

Lead with the truth

In his interview with Charlie Sheen over his recent HIV status reveal, Piers Morgan asked Charlie what he would have done differently. Charlie's response was to 'lead with the truth'. This totally resonated with me because I lead with the truth of my HIV status (I discovered I was HIV+ a few years ago) a practice I began a few months ago because I realised I needed to live life unfettered. Sugabelly may not have recognised that sentiment using these words, but she definitely lived it in her actions. Confessing from the beginning how she loved her abuser for a long time even after the physical intimacy, rendered any revelations of an amorous relationship by her rapist, powerless. And,  ironically, revealed her innocence then, and now.

 The innocent girl child in Nigeria is an endangered specie, the unbroken woman is going extinct. I am so grateful to Sugabelly because her courage in opening up will permanently change the course for those behind.

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