1 in 3 countries worldwide do not have laws in place to protect women from sexual violence at home, or from sexual violence that is committed by a family member or intimate partner. But gender-based violence always takes away a woman’s right to safety, emotional & physical wellbeing and bodily autonomy.
This year, MTV Shuga is sharing stories from women around the world who have experienced gender-based violence to highlight the issue and to break the culture of silence that surrounds it. Inspired by the 16 Days of Activism campaign, Chinwendu Nwanga has shared her personal story with us and has provided us permission to share the story online.
**Please note that this article contains sensitive content that relates to sexual abuse**
I am Chinwendu Nwanga and when I was 8-years-old, I began to age, because in these climes the mark of ageing is the ability to endure trauma.
My dad had just died when my 21-year-old cousin started raping me. I was 8 at the time. He threatened to kill me if I told anyone and eventually he told me that I had been silent for so long that if I told anyone, they would either disbelieve me or accuse me of wanting and liking it.
My mom was barely home because she was working, so there was enough room for him to do whatever he wanted. He would rape me at least once every day (except when I travelled to my grandparents or stayed at a family friend’s house for holidays) for 5 years.
Then I got pregnant at 13. I told my mom who was responsible for it. She called a meeting involving him, another cousin, her and I. She confronted him and he said I was just a whore who had sex with just about anybody. He tried to slut shame me.
Eventually, I had a safe abortion (my family has quick access to a private hospital). But that was all that happened. My cousin was allowed to keep living with us untill I left Nigeria for university several years later.
For a huge part of my teenage years, I blamed myself. I told myself there was something about me that was asking for it. This was easy because almost everyone who ever heard about it found a way to make it about me and never about the culprit. I was both directly and indirectly victim shamed.
It took years of consistently reminding myself that the blame was never mine and that I live in a world that tries to belittle women and make women take the fall for every crime a man or society commits against them. It took years for me to finally get to a point where I can speak about it without feeling hurt.
Interestingly, the opinions of a lot of people haven’t changed so much. It was sometime in 2016 that a would-be boyfriend asked me if I enjoyed having sex with my cousin as a kid and when I acted offended, he said he was just joking. In Nigeria, people still feel very comfortable making rape jokes even in the presence of victims and they act surprised or offended when victims get triggered.
When it comes to women, people always try to blur the lines of consent and they act like a woman has no right to bodily autonomy. This should not be so.
Families should stop enabling rape by staying silent about it. Refusing to speak about it empowers the rapist. When I began to speak about being raped by my cousin, a lot of people tried to shut me up. They said I should be ashamed to speak of it, but why are women told to be ashamed of a crime that was done against them? Why does our society give more power to the criminal?
I look forward to a world where people stop enabling rape, where justice gets served, where the culture of silence is broken and where rape stops.
Chinwendu Nwangwa is a Nigerian content strategist and the founder of The Wakaabout, a travel and lifestyle brand.
If you have experienced any form of abuse and need to talk with someone, you can get help here. If you have a story that you’d like to share with us, please get in touch via our social media or by emailing email@example.com