Real AF is a candid series delving into the profound experiences of African women, covering real topics that shape their lives. Because in truth, we all have stories to tell.
Trigger warning: This article addresses issues related to sexual abuse, coercion and rape.
Sexual abuse is one of the most prevalent forms of violence perpetrated against women across all time.
When I was about 7 years old, I woke up to a d-ck in my mouth. My cousin, who I believe was about 14 at the time just couldn’t control his impulses it seems. I didn’t tell anyone for years. I was scared. My story is the most positive you might ever hear. Too many women have experienced worse. Too many women’s experiences have ended in death.
In 2021, WHO shared new data concerning violence against women. “Across their lifetime, 1 in 3 women, around 736 million, are subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner – a number that has remained largely unchanged over the past decade”.
This year alone countless women have been murdered and raped by their partners or members of their family. At a time, almost every week I would hear news of another victim, another death. Here in Nigeria and across the world, women are constantly violated and in countless ways, irrevocably damaged.
Worldwide, November 25th is recognised as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women issued by the UN General Assembly in 1993, defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
This day was formed because an insurmountable amount of women are repeatedly harmed- raped, assaulted, mauled, butchered and so much more across the world and the UN decided it was about time to raise awareness of the different types of violence faced by women. The aim is to help promote advocacy and create better opportunities for women.
The UN and numerous organisations worldwide are striving and fighting for a safer and better world for women, but the unfortunate reality is that as long as men continue to thrive in this patriarchal world, women will continue to suffer. One way to initiate support is by ensuring justice for the women who are forced into such distressing situations, holding the men accountable for the enduring trauma these women may carry for the rest of their lives. However, this is challenging because many women are hesitant to speak out about their experiences. And can you even blame them? How often do women who share their stories receive the justice they rightfully deserve? Many of these women have been abused since they were children. The few that tried to speak up were hushed by their mothers or family members, or in worst cases, killed for daring to shame the man who assaulted them.
“Fifteen million adolescent girls worldwide, aged 15–19 years, have experienced forced sex. In the vast majority of countries, adolescent girls are most at risk of forced sex (forced sexual intercourse or other sexual acts) by a current or former husband, partner, or boyfriend. Based on data from 30 countries, only 1 per cent have ever sought professional help”.
Gender-based violence has become one of the worst pandemics women have ever had to endure. If we live in a world where my uncle can rationally explain away the reason men would jump a woman instead of a man, saying women are smaller and easier to overcome, so, of course, we’re attacked first, we live in a terribly, viciously wicked world.
Below, three women share their stories, why they never reported their abuse and their thoughts on why more women don’t come forward;
My first abuse was when I was 6 and the most recent was with my ex. I was so young when I got exposed to sexual activities that it made me want to reclaim my own sexual identity. I tried to not be scared anymore and to learn how to say no when I wanted to and essentially toughen up.
I never said anything about being touched. They were family friends or uncles or fathers of friends. I believe there are so many women out there who don’t come out with their stories because it’s disgusting to dwell on. I have pretty much healed from everything that happened to me. I don’t let things get to me too much because I like to be positive.
To anyone trying to decide if they should come out with their story or not, it’s your decision to make. To either tell a friend, share in a form like this, or share on social media, it’s your choice and you can call out the bastard too but always be smart and informed about your decisions.
The next entry is much like Moremi’s story in Citation. Too often, it’s the people paid to educate us that go out of their way to harm us. Here in Nigeria, our universities are too known for their rampant production of perverted and rapist lecturers.
My story is about the time a lecturer in my department tried to have his way with me at all costs. I was a 400-level student at that time. I was 19, almost 20. He was also the current HOD and my project supervisor. On all accounts, I was f-cked.
The thing is, it didn’t happen just once. It kept happening whenever I went to submit my project. He would either forcefully hug me and touch me inappropriately or try to kiss me. One time he asked me to be his ‘bosom friend’ and gave me his number, asking me to call him so we could meet outside of school. I never made that call, so when next I went to submit my project for inspection and correction, he was angry with everyone and when it was my turn he openly said ‘You, I told you to call me but you refused’ and he said I will regret this while throwing my papers on the floor and asking me to get out of his office.
I didn’t care. All that was going through my mind was that it was better for him to treat me like everyone else, instead of treating me in a ‘special way’, expecting something in return. I was so afraid of him because he was one of the most feared lecturers in my department, and I couldn’t change my project supervisor because I would have to go through the HOD to do so. As already mentioned, he was my HOD as well.
When I was in my first year, I heard lots of stories about this man’s behaviour with female students, and that once he sets his eyes on you, he wouldn’t let you go. I was never the loud type in school and for my kind of department, it is easy to get noticed by lecturers because we held practical classes every day in the evenings. We were just 160 students in my class so I tried not to befriend any lecturer or even get close to them.
The first day I went to his office, I wore a big T-shirt and trousers because I had been warned about him, yet I still somehow managed to catch his attention. When he saw me he said he had never seen my face before and that I should show proof I was a student in his department. After that, he started keeping me longer at his office, trying to make small talk and body contact. It was my eyes that were getting me in trouble. I kept asking myself, how do I fight this? I always thought I tried not to dress fashionably and fully cover up whenever I went to his office but my body was not the problem. It was my eyes according to him. Like WTF.
I told my friends and my roommate about it. We all tried to come up with ways to get me out of the situation but there was nothing to do. This lecturer for some reason was one of the most feared people, not just in my department, but in the entire school because he was an alumnus, so he knew all the right people in power. I was also scared of causing a big scandal because I knew how the story would be twisted. I also didn’t know anyone to report the issue to. After all, it was a federal school. He was so feared, his nickname was ‘The Masquerade’. I wanted to tell my parents but I knew my dad would make it a big deal and the whole school would likely get involved. I was ashamed, so I kept it to myself. Eventually, I ran away from school because I just couldn’t keep going there and letting him forcefully touch me and try to stick his tongue in my mouth.
I remember encountering him a few times at a school event and he would always look at me with anger in his eyes. Before I made the decision to leave, there was a time I took the second chapter of my dissertation to him for corrections and he just took it and said that I used small letters instead of capital ones and that I should go back and make the corrections. This was someone we only got to submit our project work to once every Thursday. So, I tried to correct it as fast as I could. I didn’t want another week to pass by without submitting my work. Unfortunately, I met him already on his way to the car park. I started pleading with him to take my work, I even offered to help him take his bag to the car and he said there was no need for that because I knew what I was supposed to do but I was not doing it. He offered to give me a ride but I declined.
After my final year exams, most of my classmates were struggling to finish up their projects while some other people from my group were still lagging. I kept on wondering if some of the girls amongst us were suffering the same fate as me. I couldn’t talk to them and risk them reporting back to him because it was not a new thing for people to want to gain favour from a lecturer. The chances of them reporting to him were too high, so I kept it to myself.
Additionally, I wondered if anyone would believe my story. After all, I was not the only one who had yet to finish my project work in the group. I was scared no one would believe me and even more frightened at the thought that people would start a rumour saying I was the one trying to seduce him. So I kept it to myself. I remember having my first panic attack on a Thursday morning. All my roommates were so concerned because I was struggling to breathe. And this was only because I was scared to be in the same space as him.
On a fateful day, I decided to be bold and try again. He was in an office with another male lecturer and some male students. When I walked in, I could feel his eyes sizing me up and his lips curling up with a smile like a predator who had just seen his prey walk in. He asked me questions concerning my project and even though I was shaking, I tried to respond but he just brushed it off like I didn’t know what I was saying. I was pretty sure I knew the answers because I spent an extra hour preparing; more than I usually do. Ever since the harassment started, I tried my best not to get caught off guard by his questions. That same day, he mentioned something to me that I will never forget. He said, “I told you to be my bosom friend and you refused, if you had agreed to be my bosom friend you wouldn’t be here with the others”.
That is when it dawned on me that this man would never let me go. How do I fight someone as powerful as him? I couldn’t change supervisors. How do I win this fight? That was when I made the decision to stop going to school. As I said earlier, I couldn’t talk to my parents because I felt ashamed. Knowing African parents, they would make it a big deal and everyone would know what was happening. So I ran from the school; I gave up my four years and though I have never worked in my life, I started looking for jobs. Whenever my parents asked about school, it was one lie after the other. Then COVID came so it was easier to avoid it altogether. My friends and mates were done with school work and some were about to start their NYSC but I was still stuck and couldn’t move on.
February came and it was time for convocation. I tried reaching out to him again to find out if I could manipulate my way around it, and he invited me to meet him at a famous hotel but I refused to go. I also forgot to mention that whenever I went to see him, he would keep me waiting outside until almost everybody had left the premises so it would be just me and him and a few nonacademic staff.
My parents had been on my case about the NYSC programme so I decided to go in to see him on a Thursday after getting permission from work. In his office that day, he was even more forceful and eager. The kisses were rough. It was almost four o’clock and as usual, the department was empty. He offered me food but I refused. He then asked me why I stopped coming and why I didn’t reach out. I lied to him that I lost my phone.
He asked me to stay over at a hotel. That I could go home the next day but I told him my parents would not approve, which is true. When I wanted to leave he came around the other side of the table to hug me. He then proceeded to forcefully and roughly touch and kiss me. Like I said, this time he was more aggressive; as if he was trying to make up for all those times I refused him. I couldn’t get out of his grip. I started begging him. I told him someone could come in anytime and he said the door was locked. That is when it dawned on me that if I didn’t get out of there, he was actually going to have his way with me. I had never had sex before and nobody wants their first time to be so violent with an old lecturer.
I pleaded and made promises to come back the next day. The next day I went to work because, of course, I had no plans of seeing this man again. He kept on calling and at a point, I stopped picking up his calls. I decided maybe it was time to get another degree or go abroad to study, but again a big part of me didn’t just want my four years of school to go away because of one idiot.
The night he almost forced himself on me, I couldn’t sleep when I got home. I was afraid to be alone in my room. I was in the bathroom for over 30 minutes scrubbing myself and crying, and then when I got to my room, I had to call my male friend so he could keep me company till I felt a little safe and at ease. At that point, being afraid of him was inevitable. I couldn’t even go to school because I was afraid of seeing him.
Eventually, I was able to report him with the help of an NGO. A past student who experienced the same thing lent their voice too. After one year of reporting, he was finally suspended. While the case was still ongoing, I had to go back to school to try to finish up all pending work; even then I was still afraid of him. I was afraid of mistakenly coming in contact with him so I was always hiding, and during that process, some of the male lecturers tried to make things difficult by trying to cover his tracks. Thankfully, we had just gotten a new VC then so he was more than willing to help. A new HOD was also appointed; a woman. According to what I heard, the male lecturers who were his friends were also trying to back him up and make things difficult for her too.
The committee, primarily composed of his friends, posed challenges in securing my re-enrollment in school. Eventually, when they acquiesced, they misrepresented my reason for deferment, labelling it as a spillover instead of acknowledging the sexual assault. This significantly impacted my academic performance. My CGPA dropped, and the inconsistency between my result on the portal and the actual records created confusion, making it seem like I had three different sets of results.
I just had to settle because I was tired of the whole process and this is Nigeria after all, I wasn’t going to get any justice. I settled with the reason for deferment being a spillover and not sexual assault. It was the best option because if I kept pushing, I might have actually lost. I hated the idea of starting school all over again.
The suspension happened in June/July this year and this case I believe was reported in 2021/2022.
I was sexually harassed by my lecturer. He asked me to stop by his office before heading home because he had some issues to discuss with me concerning some courses I was taking. I did as I was told, and that’s when he locked the doors to his office, forcefully sat me down on his lap, kissed me on the lips and groped my breasts. Such a thing had never happened to me before so I was in a state of shock. He let me leave his office after I had given multiple excuses. Otherwise, I fear he would have raped me.
I didn’t report it, because to be honest, it wouldn’t have worked out in my favour and the last thing I wanted was to be noticed in that manner. So many women, myself included, don’t say anything because we don’t want to be shamed or we’re scared no one will take us seriously.
To anyone who wants to share their story; share it, sis. We honestly should stick together as women and create more safe spaces for us to talk about things like this without feeling ashamed or guilty. I know someone I shared my story with and they were more concerned about what I wore to his office. So most times people think that the girls/women were asking for it.
Women hesitate to share their stories because, despite the progress we’ve made, if a woman discloses, “this man raped me,” the initial response is often, “What were you wearing?”
Until women are no longer blamed or interrogated for their abuser’s actions, we will never feel safe coming out with our stories. And if we don’t tell our stories, many more men will get away with hurting other women and young girls. It is time for this to stop. It is time for this particular narrative to stop being all our narratives.
Join the United Nations in their yearly 16 days of activism initiative. It was launched in 2008 and its entire aim is to stop the Gender-based violence against women. It is managed by the UN women and they call upon women’s organizations, young people, the private sector, the media, and the UN system to join them in addressing ‘the global pandemic of violence against women and girls’. The initiative runs from 25th November to 10th December. This year’s theme is called, UNITE!