LOUD WHISPERS: Stop Blaming the Victim

I have a confession to make. One of my secret pleasures is reading the Fashion Court pages of Sunday Sun, one of the Nigerian national newspapers. The Fashion Court pages feature women in bizarre outfits  that provide ‘Too Much Information’. Some of the outfits are so alarming you wonder how anyone could leave the four walls of their home and venture into a public space, looking like an extra in a Conan the Barbarian movie. The ‘offenders’ on the Fashion Court pages are ‘fined’ by the ‘jury’  and the fines are handed out based on the gravity of the fashion offence. I have got over my issues with the pages never calling out men who appear in public with no clue how to ‘package’ their ‘business’ properly. Let us just say I have come to terms with the Fashion Court pages being about embarrassing and body shaming women. Do I have anything to say to women who appear in public wearing next to nothing? Sure I do, and it goes thus, ‘Sister, you look a bit funny in my opinion. However if you are happy with the way you look and are comfortable with providing a full page when one line would do, then go ahead and exercise your fundamental human right to freedom of expression. It is your choice to make’.

I however find it very difficult to make a logical link between the way women choose to dress and intense levels of sexual violence. Women, girls and babies are raped on a daily basis (men and boys too) and I find it hard to believe that they have all featured in the Fashion Court of the Sunday Sun. Rape and sexual violence has reached such pandemic levels in Nigeria and in many countries around the world, surely by now we should have moved past the age old reflex of blaming the victims? There is a reason why of all crimes and felonies, sexual violence continues to remain one of the most difficult to tackle. One word can be used to sum it up – impunity. There is an endless cycle of impunity that is difficult to break. Rape is a deeply personal invasion, an act of power meant to control, humiliate and subjugate. The victims are too afraid to relate their ordeal. Faced with stigmatization and shame, they choose silence. When they make this choice, the perpetrator is free to move on to another victim. When the victims choose to talk, they are faced with an endless barrage of questions – Where were you? What were you wearing? Why were you out so late? Why did you go there? By the time they get through answering these questions either at the investigation stage or on the witness stand, the victims have been put through their ordeal all over again. The narrative that emerges is usually the same, ‘she asked for it’, ‘deserved what she got’ orshe said no when she meant yes’. Again, due to lack of adequate forensic evidence to prove the case, indifferent law enforcement, no witnesses and no confession, the perpetrator walks. In many cases the families of victims are besieged by ‘rape and beg’ delegations, comprised of those who directly or indirectly enable the culture of impunity to thrive. The vicious cycle of continues as there will be yet another victim further down the line.

In recent weeks, we have heard the terrible news of the 14 year old school girl in Lagos, Obioma Orakwe who was raped and murdered. She was not on the streets at 1am in the morning wearing a bikini and ‘asking for it’ to use the warped logic of those who are inclined to think that way. She was in her parents’ home. A group of activists decided to stage a protest and marched to the office of the Lagos State Governor to express their displeasure at the unabating levels of violence against women. Of all the states in Nigeria, Lagos seems to have the most political will when it comes to providing an enabling environment to seek justice and provide support for survivors of various forms of gender based violence. However there has been a statement from a religious leader in the country, claiming that the protest should not be directed at the authorities but at women themselves. According to him, women are fond of wearing provocative clothing, so they should not complain when they attract the attentions of men who are ‘sick in the head’. This statement is not only an insult to right thinking men, it is in very poor taste and also irrational. Let us start from the issue of provocative dressing as an invitation to be raped. What was fourteen year old Obioma wearing when she was raped and slaughtered in her own home? What was the six month old baby who was raped in Kano State recently, wearing? Perhaps her diapers revealed too much thigh? What cleavage was the seventy year old woman who was raped in Ebonyi State a few months ago showing? Did the 80 year old woman in Ekiti State who was raped recently wear a mini skirt? The women who are raped and harassed almost on a daily basis in the Internally Displaced Persons Camps, how sexy is their clothing that it attracts so much attention from men who waylay them as they go to get water, firewood or food?

Now let us examine the assumptions that all rapists are ‘sick in the head’. I am not a mental health expert, but I know that it is very dangerous to assume that sexual crimes are committed by only persons who are ‘mentally disturbed’. Sexual predators are not all strange men who are only found in dark places, luring their victims into remote abandoned buildings, bushes or holding them in dungeons. Perfectly ‘normal’ pillars of society – teachers, religious leaders, political leaders, traditional rulers, entertainers, sports stars, have all been known to commit violent sexual crimes. It is even harder to make a case against these categories of people because they are almost always given the benefit of doubt.  They are therefore key beneficiaries of the assumption that only a ‘mad person’ will rape a woman, girl or child.

I do agree that there is a case to be made against the objectification and commercialization of women’s bodies. This is however a core feminist principle which advocates for positive images of women, self-esteem, and respect, and should not be hijacked or conflated with a reactionary agenda which seeks to shame and control women.

Rapists are violent criminals who believe they have a right to the bodies of women and girls regardless of what they are wearing. A rapist could be that kindly gentleman who offers a little girl a lollipop. He could be an Uncle who is fond of bouncing his three year old niece on his knee. He could be the father who his daughters love and trust implicitly. He could also be the hypocritical religious leader who preys on the women and girls in his congregation. In all these contexts and more, what the victims are wearing is of no significance whatsoever. Let us stop blaming victims and focus on the resources, institutions and processes that need to be in place for justice, deterrence, punishment and rehabilitation.

No one should be advocating for jungle justice. Yet, if these violent sexual crimes continue unabated, we should not be surprised when people start to fight back. All wielders of weapons of mass destruction need to be demobilized permanently. Shame on the predators, shame on the enablers and shame on the blamers.

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com




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9 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: Stop Blaming the Victim

  1. Olakunle Olajide August 7, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    Rightly said ma’am.. I for one would go for jungle justice at any instance with a rapist before reporting to the necessary authorities. The excuses for the wrong act are so untenable. Thank you for penning this down ma.

  2. Kathryn August 7, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    Wonderful write up ma’am. I believe all rapist are demented being and should be rehabilitated!

  3. Kes August 7, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    Seriously this issue of rape is quiet ubiquitous this days, those who engage in teenage or baby rape are ravenous beast that need to be apprehended and killed with immediate alacrity.

  4. Princess August 7, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    Any one caught in the very act of rape should be stripped naked and stoned to death according to the law of Moses.

  5. Ebonychyqui2 August 7, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    The victims should never be blamed because its not their fault. Those involved in this absymal act should be sentenced to death.

  6. Femi Diipo August 7, 2017 at 5:57 pm

    I’ve made this argument a million times over. The way women dress or choose to expose their body have nothing to do with rape and sexual violence. We must all put our best effort into eradicating this menace. Rape is evil and it must be stopped in the society

  7. Dom Dom August 7, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    As rightly written, there’s nothing that can or should ever justify rape regardless of all manner and circumstances. It is inexcusable and absolutely evil. Sadly, there’s still a long way to go in curbing this from human societies

  8. DSEED August 7, 2017 at 10:16 pm

    Weldone ma. Like serious We don’t need to start pointing finger of accusation against any one or passing blames. I think these act is getting more viral in most countries. I keep on asking myself why is this happening, but I can really figure out the WHY. Let us try and encourage the victim that we blaming them.

  9. Oluwatosino August 9, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    Hmmmmmmm. I wonder when this rape issues will be seriously addressed. It’s becoming a norm everyday.
    I remember having an argument with a friend of mine when she was blaming raped victims to what they wear… Big No.


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