End the silence of domestic violence
By Adebola Aduwo
‘I just assumed it was one of those things that comes with being female.’
Adebola Aduwo spent time speaking to women in Nigeria about their experiences of gender-based violence for this year’s 16 Days of Activism campaign. The theme for 2018 is #HearMeToo, highlighting the urgent need to counter the silence that has veiled the issue of violence against women for too long. In the spirit of speaking up for women, but also of listening to and empowering women, we share more of the stories that Adebola recorded.
*Please note that this article contains stories of a sensitive and potentially triggering nature about sexual violence and abuse.*
- ” When I was 12, I ran into my friend on my way home. We talked about university life, something my parents were never in the mood to discuss. I found the conversation quite interesting. He asked we go inside instead of standing in the sun. I didn’t see anything wrong with that. We went inside his house, I sat down and he went to lock the door. I became uncomfortable instantly and told him I had something I needed to quickly pick up for my mum. He refused to let me go and instead, forced himself on me. I was in pains for one week. I tried so hard to hide it but my walking posture was different. After that day, he kept on blackmailing me to come have sex with him on the grounds that he would tell everyone if I refused. That went on for about 2 years until my family moved to another estate. I couldn’t report because I was scared people would blame me for it. My mom would have made noise about it. We lived in a small quiet estate. The story would have gone round and everyone would have been referring to me as the girl that was raped. Mothers would have prevented their children from playing with me. People would have passed and pointed accusing fingers at me. Back then, nobody spoke up for sexually abused victims instead they were blamed and dragged in the mud. I couldn’t ruin my childhood. My best option was to keep quiet.”- Survivor, 23.
- “He was in town and didn’t have anywhere to stay for the night, so I accommodated him in my apartment. He took my virginity. His mum was the inspector of police; the case wouldn’t have scaled through if I had reported.” – Survivor, 22.
- “It happened when I was 3, 5, 10 and 16. I was sexually abused by my neighbour, friend, senior colleague and the landlord’s driver. At first, I didn’t speak up about it because I was too young to understand what was going on. Later on, I felt ashamed. I just assumed it was one of those things that came with being female. At first, I repressed them into my subconscious so I never really thought about them. I didn’t even see it as that big of a deal. After getting to know my current partner, I finally opened up and realised the wounds were still fresh. With his help, I’m slowly healing and overcoming.” – Survivor, 23.
- “I went to visit a friend. We’ve had what I considered a cordial relationship so I felt the possibility of rape was remote. And he said he couldn’t come to the first place I proposed for us to meet up because of his very tight work schedule. We were having a great time until he started running his hands through my legs. I shoved him aside and told him clearly that I wasn’t in for that. I immediately started putting my things together to leave. The next thing that happened shocked me. He pounced on me and started trying to have his way. His mood totally changed. You could see that beastly look on his face and that resolution to have me by all means. I kept on begging and pleading and cursing. Of course, my strength was nowhere compared to his, so the struggle I put up was of no effect. I managed to pull myself out from his grip and ran into the bathroom but couldn’t lock the door before he ran in again. He dragged me out. My underwear was totally torn. I even pleaded with the fact that I’m a virgin. And I truly am. The thought of having my first experience through rape was unimaginable for me. After what seemed like an eternity, he managed to fix his penis somewhere in between my thighs since I clamped up my vagina really tight. He stayed in that position and kept on humping on me. I was so disgusted. I’m grateful that he didn’t exactly penetrate me. I had always felt that the rape thing won’t happen to me till that day. It messed with my mental health for a bit. I’m over it now.” – Survivor, 25.
- “She was 21 and I was 5. She took me into a room and asked me to undress. She stripped herself naked and lay on her back then asked me to come and lay on top of her and I did, without knowing what I was doing. My appetite for sex was ignited at an early age.” – Survivor, 35.
- “I had just been recently transferred outside Lagos and was finding it hard to adjust to the town and system. One of my male colleagues was quite helpful, showing me around and all. We got talking and I felt I could call him a friend. One night, I got locked out of my compound and couldn’t reach my neighbours so I called him and he told me to come over to his house but I didn’t feel that comfortable so he booked a hotel room for me. I didn’t have so much money on me so we agreed to split the bills. We got into the room and I told him it was late so he should leave and that’s when he held me. I was initially shocked and confused. I begged him first but when he wasn’t loosening his grip, I began to cry and hit him hard. It was my first time. When he was done, he apologised and said he didn’t know I was a virgin. I left town that weekend. Luckily I got another job less than a month later. It has been over a year now but I still hate myself for staying late at work and getting locked out. For agreeing to let him pay half my bills. For agreeing to let him see me off to my room. For so many things.”- Survivor, 25.
- “The house-help rolled around in bed naked with me. He also touched me while I was sleeping. I was 10 and it happened more than once. I didn’t speak up about it because I did not understand what was going on at the time.” – Survivor, 24.
1 in every 3 women worldwide has experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. 95 per cent of the respondents could not speak up about their experience; they could not report these incidences because they were too afraid, overwhelmed and fully aware of the level of stigmatisation that would have come their way. As I read the responses to my questionnaire, I had to take a step back. I badly needed to breathe. And then I asked myself, “Do you honestly think you’ve done a great job at being an unyielding voice for the women who have lost theirs?”
You should ask yourself this too. These are the conversations we should be having. The fight to end rape and gender-based violence should not be left to activists and the media. No. It is our collective duty as men and women to amplify our voices and eliminate this culture that is spiralling out of control. This fight will be everything but a walk in the park. It will be exhausting and heartbreaking, but it will be worth it in the end. You will only be handed what you have the courage to demand. If the system has refused to protect us, we must protect ourselves. It is time to roll up our sleeves and get it done.
In the words of Audre Lorde: “I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.” #HearMeToo
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