The average Nigerian student entering tertiary institution whether University or College, is most likely going to be between 15 and 19 years old.
Their self-esteem will most likely be shaky. Their world views and philosophies unshaped. They want to feel valued and accepted. It is also at this age that sexual curiosity spikes.
Combine all of these, and vulnerability rears its head. People in this bracket are perhaps the most likely to get raped, especially women.
Let’s start with Tola.
Tola is a smart young lady. Settling into University life wasn’t as difficult as she thought, classes are coming and going. She’s making new friends, interesting friends. There’s one she likes. Like really really likes. He wears really nice shirts, and speaks really well. Most of all, he listens. He listens to all her stories. Wonder who made it easy for Tola to navigate the Jambite registration process? Him.
His name is Steve.
So one day, she’s bored, and asks him if he’s downloaded any new movies. Of course he has. Of course he has the newest episodes of the best shows. So empty USB flash in hand, she heads to his house.
Finding his tiny student-size apartment is not so hard, not like it’s her first time going to collect movies, or charge her phone.
Today, Steve doesn’t look so well. He’s cuddled up under his blanket. He tells her he has a fever. By the time he says this, she doesn’t even care about the movies she came to get. Today, she’s going to care for her friend.
He shows her where he kept some painkillers. It’s at the bottom of a shelf. When she turns around, Steve is no longer on the bed. He’s now standing in front of her, at just a breath away. Bare chested.
“I really like you,” he says.
She’s shocked. And confused.
“What are you doing?” she asks. He draws closer. She says stop. She says it again. But he’s all over her like a beast on prey.
10 minutes later, he’s panting. She’s crying.
“Why” she asks, “why did you do this to me?”
“What? I thought you liked it.”
This is what rape looks like in Nigerian student communities (and outside), and Tola is not alone.
In a survey of 349 women, 1 in 8 of them said they were raped while in school (University/Polytechnic/College of Education).
The numbers are probably higher, considering that many victims themselves don’t have a clear understanding of what is rape and what isn’t. This begs the question;
What is rape?
Rape is a form of sexual assault where a person has forced sexual intercourse with a victim without their consent. According to the Violence against Persons' Prohibition (VAPP) Act, the definition of rape has expanded to: "Rape is non-consensual penetration of a person's vagina, anus, mouth or body parts with an object or penis or other body part". Also worthy of note is that the legal definition differs from state to state.
But what about sexual assault?
While rape is a form of sexual assault, it is much broader. Sexual assault in the simplest terms, is the non-consensual contact that does not include penetration. Examples of sexual assault are: attempted rape, unwanted kissing, unwanted fondling, and unwanted touching of the genitalia, buttocks and breasts.
So whether it is Yaba Market boys pulling the hands of passing girls, and touching them, in the name of getting them to buy whatever cloth it is they are selling. Whether it is a lecturer groping a girl in his office. Whether it is fondling her without her consent. Whether it is a guy pressing groping a girl in a concert. This is sexual assault.
Why is rape common in tertiary schools?
Let’s go back to Steve. Steve is a regular guy. But the guys tease Steve for being soft. The other day, one of his guys teased that he liked boys. Why? Because Steve has no body count — number of girls he’s slept with.
The guys also know about Tola. They believe he’s slacking because he hasn’t even kissed her. He likes her, they know this, and they assume she has to like him too.
So when they ask him how far, and he says he’s finally slept with her, he’s the man. When he even says she wasn’t interested at first, and that he finally got her to have sex anyway, they say he’s the chairman.
Perhaps, the biggest cause of rape in Nigerian schools stems from the attitude of men towards rape and the disregard for consent. It is the sense of entitlement that makes a man feel he deserves it, and he’ll get what he deserves by any means necessary.
“What was she wearing?”
Another major contributing factor to rape is the tendency for society to blame the victim, instead of seeking justice, and punishing the rapist.
A society that blames a rape victim, for any reason at all, gives the next rapist an excuse and even motivation to commit the irreversible crime.
How can we change this?
Back to Tola. Never in her life has she felt more alone.
She blames herself for ending up in that situation. She hates that she can’t tell anyone about it. She tells her friend about what happened, and her friend is not only surprised, she’s confused. The first thing she asks throws Tola off balance completely;
“But didn’t you say you liked him?”
We need to understand that this is a matter of control. There’s a stark difference between giving, and being taken from without consent. This is what rape is a about, taking without consent.
Now, Tola hates that she told her friend. She fears telling her parents even worse. They’d probably call her a disgrace or a disappointment. So she swallows all the pain, and drowns in her own grief.
You know the worst part? She’s in the same faculty with Steve. So she sees him every other day, and he acts like everything is fine.
Rape is a crime, like armed robbery and murder. And until we treat it like a crime where the criminal is held responsible without putting the victim on trial, it’s not going anywhere.
Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi, Founder of S.T.E.R (Stand To End Rape), also recommends that we as people push further for the implementation of the Sexual Harassment in Educational Institutions Prohibition Act, 2016.
Until we create a society where victims won’t feel ashamed to speak up, we shall have people living in fear for their safety, paranoia and hate.