The Politics Of Rape - Onyinye Nwankwo
Last weekend, Nigeria was rife with rape allegation levelled against a popular pastor by a celebrity wife. I have no intention of rehashing the story nor of taking sides, but rather, my intent is to point out some sickening misconceptions about rape that this issue unearthed. I would address them under three headings: on proof, believability and character.
After the news broke, while some believed her story, others insisted that it is a fabricated tale, devoid of proof, insisting that she provide evidence of the alleged rape. In the law court of course, evidence is critical. Without it, the case is simply thrown out. Lack of sufficient evidence does not always mean that an event did not happen. Also, it is foolhardy to insist on proof for a twenty year old crime which was undocumented. In Nigeria, there is a poor record keeping culture. To insist on proof for a crime which is not only twenty year old, but unreported, is unrealistic and to argue that without the said proof, the alleged crime did not happen, is silly.
The rise of me too movement saw the down fall of men like Harvey Weinstein amongst others. When the New Yorker published the lengthy article which detailed a long history of sexual harassment and rape by the mogul against different women, no one screamed for proof. No one demanded that the women present torn clothing or bloodied panties before their stories will be credible. All that mattered, is that there were a lot of others who corroborated the story. That is all the evidence they needed.
Rape issues have very low conviction rates worldwide especially in Nigeria because of under-reporting. In the U.S, Less than a quarter of estimated sexual assaults are reported to the police. So to insist that an incident, such as rape did not occur probably because the victim did not report to appropriate authority is wrong. The best approach would be to say that it might be difficult to prosecute because of absence of sufficient evidence. Writing off a victim’s trauma because it does not fit your narrow idea of what proof should be, is wrong.
Unless there is a manual on how to get raped, rape cases will not always follow a predictable format, ultimately resulting in believability. It is not a movie script in which actions unfold in a chronological order, from one scene onto the next.
Unless you have been sexually abused in any way or have ever bothered to enlighten yourself on the intricacies of rape, you will never understand its dynamics. One of the reasons why victims are reluctant to speak up, is the fear that they will not be believed. Even the victims in some cases, have difficulty believing it happened. The memories of the incident is jumbled, fragmented and unlike the parts of a jigsaw puzzle, it does not fit. Unless their listener has set his/her bias aside, he can discredit their story easily with a flick of his hands.
Asia Argento’s story of Weinstein’s assault does not rank high on the believability scale. She did not fight him off. In fact, Asia went on to have consensual sexual relations with him over the course of five years. But this does not, in anyway, override the fact that he raped her.
This is not to encourage false allegations or made up stories on rape. I am pragmatic enough to know that there are false allegations. My point is, do not dismiss a rape story at the first instance because it does not sound logical enough. Rather, seek a way to honestly birth logic out of the illogicality of the story.
The conversation on rape follows a predictable pattern; first there is the doubt about the lady’s story which is quickly followed by an assassination of her character; how she dressed at the time of the incident, how wild and loose she is, her past behaviour, as though they all somehow, render her trauma invalid. This is an old trick. Really. This connotes that only bad girls get raped and well, given their precedents, they deserve it. To bring a woman’s character into question when addressing the issue of rape is not only unintelligent but downright cruel. It implies that rape is not applicable in certain situations. It simply says that when a sex worker is raped, we should not classify it as rape after all, sex is what she does to earn a living. It also implies that when a woman’s husband rapes her, it is not rape, after all, he is her husband and has a right to her body. These assumptions stink. If a woman spent the entire night in your arms and at the break of day, you ask for one more before you depart and she declines, then you use threat, force or other coercive means to sleep with her, irrespective of what you spent all night doing, you raped her. Rape should be examined in isolation. It should be divorced from her past and any real or imaginary personal fault. It should be examined as what it is: Rape.
“Why now?” they ask. Why is she speaking up now, after all these years. A culture of silence and shame surrounds rape which is worse in our socially conservative society. The world has evolved and the way we view certain issues, such as rape have gradually changed over the years. Hence, women are bolder now, breaking the silence on rape. The question should not be why now because, the length of time never ever lessens the trauma or pain of what the victim went through nor does it reduce the enormity of the incidence. Rather, there should be a rallying cry, encouraging others trapped in silence to speak up and commending the victim for being strong enough to confront her past.
From Aggressive Overtures To Sexual assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories by Ronan Farrow. The New Yorker, October 23, 2017 issue.
Harvey Weinstein’s trials: The Economist Jun 22nd Edition, United States.