Rape stigma is a conversation long worn out, but just like feminism, people still don’t get the picture. I’ve written on this before ( read it here ) and I am not going to go into the basics of what constitutes rape and the extent of consent because Priceless Wilkie already did a great job (RAPE 101).
To start off, l want to briefly highlight some things from the Sugabelly story that came out on the 27th November. Let’s take her as a figurehead for all the little girls and women who have been let down by society. I believe the one reason why her story is widely talked about is because she might be the face of our rape culture. We see society reflected in her story and it’s worse because we are dealing with actual people here, real names with families and careers. It’s not like every other story where we are told of some ‘uncle’ or ‘pastor’ or ‘cousin.’ Here, we are given names, a background and seven-year-old posts to give us insight. It triggered a range of reactions. Obviously, we had people who resulted to throwing insults at her and blaming her for her plight and we had those who resulted to assassinating the guy’s character. My favourite being the wife of one of the alleged rapists, who placed ‘women’s right advocate’ in her bio but threw curses at Sugabelly’s way for coming out. One thing to learn is that it’s easy to denounce rape and say it’s bad, but the challenge comes when it hits too close to home.
I really don’t want to go into what I learnt from the Sugabelly story because I believe it was brilliantly summarised in ‘The Courage of Sugabelly‘. I’m bringing up Sugabelly because I made it clear that I believed her and someone messaged me to ask how ‘twitter feminists’ felt about the false accusation. I was confused because I wasn’t aware of any ‘false’ accusation. Long story short, their point was that Sugabelly could have easily made the whole thing up and we were too gullible, asking for no proof. After hours of going back and forth, defending my ‘gullibility’, the person said she basically ruined the accused’s political career and if it happened a long time ago, why bring it up now?
The person’s line of defence was sympathising with the accused. Never did they stop to think about what she went through and had to endure. It was all about a false accusation, his career, and her lies. The person actually never read her story, they passed judgment on what they had heard and previous knowledge of the ‘Sugabelly’ twitter account. The person refused to read the story, claiming there is ‘no time’ and I wondered if it’s because they were scared to actually go into the mind of a rape victim and relive her experiences through her words or were they just scared of having to face the other option – sympathising with a victim? I concluded that they were a lost cause on this issue and they said I’m overly sensitive to the issue, so it’s affecting my judgment.
Hmm, let me think about this.
I can’t explain what is but at a very young age, I didn’t need to be told to empathise with rape victims. I felt like it was the humane thing to do and it is unfair to blame them or cover for the perpetrators. Years ago, at a Sunday school class, I was made aware of rape for the first time and guess what had to be said about it? Ladies, watch what you wear and don’t tempt men unless you want to find yourself in a situation way out of your control. Every statement insinuated that rape is a result of a lady’s inability to be modest. Even at that young age, I spoke up. I refused to accept that rape is any one’s fault. I wondered why they weren’t explaining ‘No means no’ to the boys. But then again, it’s the same way they emphasize on a girl’s purity and just briefly mention the importance of virginity to boys.
Also, I always wondered why in secondary school, this female teacher only gathered the girls to the Inter-Science Lab to warn them about the evils of growing up and the move from pinafore to skirt. I watched as the boys played ball freely outside while we were told about the joys of being modest and pure, and how it will get us husbands and respect. No teacher was gathering the boys to tell them about the evils of growing up, how to get a wife or respect because that is simply what they are entitled to. Husbands and respect are what women have to earn.
These examples basically explain why I’m ‘overly sensitive’ to the idea of rape. Our society puts females at a disadvantage a lot. It is the one thing we are consistent with- looking for ways to put women down and reduce their self-worth to either their past, if not their dressing. We are constantly making it hard for women to prove themselves and after going through such an ordeal, the last thing any victim wants is doubt, which results in self-doubt and blame, then silence. Another thing is no one is immune to rape- if you don’t walk around with a pepper spray in your bag or get scared that someone may have drugged your drink when you leave it for a minute, then you have no right to tell me I’m overly sensitive.
We’ve had twitter users saying they’ve had to write a letter of apology to their rapist and then we have youareneveraloneng.tumblr.com . it’s hard not to be overly sensitive. Nigeria is a country with reportedly only 18 rape convictions in its legal history so it’s very hard for me to sympathise with the accused first because the system most likely works in their favour rather than the victims’. There is hardly any justice for rape victims and the fact that it could happen to anyone makes it hard not to be moved when you tend to see a bit of yourself in every victim.
It’s easy to claim my judgment is clouded, but I stand on this: Male privilege is existent, so to sympathise with the accused is to fuel male privilege, and further oppress the oppressed. While a false rape accusation is equally as disgusting as the act itself, our instant reaction shouldn’t be to discredit the victim or try to shut them up. We should offer a shoulder for them to lean on by giving them a voice. Creating a stigma is part of the problem and giving them a stage to come out is the first step to eliminating this. The law will decide whether it’s a false accusation or not and it’s not something we can discern on our own. But to use the possibility of a false accusation as a means to shut the victims up in order to avoid destroying careers equals to telling rapists it’s okay to rape because we have their backs.
SIDE NOTE: RADAR was an event hosted by Lucid Lemons to raise awareness about domestic abuse and rape on the 29th of December 2015. The Mirabel Centre and S.T.E.R Initiative were present and it was an enlightening experience. For more info, please click here
*Post was first published on December 27, 2015