Sometime last year, a friend of mine was raped and together we went to the Mirabel center at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) to get her checked. The Mirabel center is dedicated towards attending to sexual abuse victims and their services are totally free. (Just thought to mention that). Anyway, while my friend was being attended to, I had to wait at the reception and there, this group of people walked in.
Amongst them were two police officers, an elderly woman and a very small, skinny girl – about 4 years old. This girl was looking so weak, she could barely walk. Her clothes were also torn and dirty, almost like she had been scrubbed on the floor. I watched as the police officers hastily laid her on one of the seats and demanded that medical attention be given to her urgently.
As I watched, I began to pray and hope that this small girl, this very skinny small girl, who couldn’t have been more than 4, had not just been raped. I couldn’t bring myself to comprehend how or who could have done that to her. My hopes were soon dashed anyway, because not long after, I concluded from the conversations between the elderly woman and the police officers that indeed, this girl had been raped, and by own father, who was, according to their guess, about 64.
I couldn’t stop looking at her. Like why would a father rape his own daughter? Why would anybody even rape anybody? I’ve thought about this several times. What if this had happened to me? But as I have come to realize, rape is only one of the many ways a person can be sexually abused and the effect of some of these can equally be as traumatizing as it would be if it were rape.
So, today, I am going to share 3 short stories with you, of different ways myself and a couple of other people have been abused or harassed, as well as some key lessons that we can take out from them. Ready?
1. Sleeping in Public?:
This incident actually spurred me to write this post. It happened some days ago, at a vigil we had in church. (hmmn, hmmn, in church).
We had arrived church pretty early, so when we got in, almost all the seats were empty. It’s important I say this – The kind of seats we use in Church is the kind where each individual gets their own seat but each seat is joined to the other by a hook at the sides. Due to this, there are spaces at the bottom of two conjoined chairs but these spaces are very small and barely insignificant . . . until this particular night.
As the time for the vigil came closer, people started pouring in and soon, the seats around us got filled up. A particular family took the seats in front of us. Amongst them were a young man, a young woman who had a child (she sat directly in front of me) and another woman who sat beside her. Then a particular man took the seat beside me.
At first, I thought he sat too close for comfort, so I was very uncomfortable. Also, no sooner had he walked in, he started sleeping and he slept quite loosely, almost sliding into my own seat, so I had to wake him up several times, either asking him to shift or adjust his leg. He made me really uncomfortable and I remember looking at his face a couple of times, just to get why I felt that way. Nothing. So I brushed it aside. Because he was sleeping and probably wanted a comfortable position, he put his feet on top of the metal leg-rest underneath the chair in front of him, which was the chair on which the one of the young women (the one without a child) was seating.
Again, I didn’t think much of this until I realized that he had moved one of his feet and had placed it at that tiny space between the two chairs in front. All the while, his eyes were still closed. Again, I didn’t think much of this. I mean, he was asleep, right? But still I thought common sense should at least tell him that this posture was getting him closer into my space, so a few other times, I would tap him and tell him to shift and put his foot on the leg holder instead of in that tiny space.
All the while this was happening, the lady in front of us had slept and was laying on the row of seats beside her. Her posture made it so that her bum was exactly at that space between two chairs – the exact space where that man was uncomfortably trying to fit his foot.
I actually did not think anything was happening, until this man suddenly removed one of his socks and placed his foot back into that space. At this point, I was low-key angry but then I realized that this man did not remove his other socks. I looked at where his leg was and saw that he had fit his foot into that space and was twitching his big toe, in circles, against the bum of that young lady who was sleeping in front of us. The movements of his toes were just too often and controlled, for a man who was supposed to be sleeping.
I was disgusted and really hoped that some noise from the church or something would wake that lady up so that she could move and change her position. But she too just kept sleeping! Like who sleeps like that in a public place? The man kept doing this for a long time but I knew, at this point that he was no longer sleeping (if he ever was) even though his eyes were still closed and I could also tell from how often he kept flickering his eye lids that he knew now that I knew what he was doing and was watching him.
When after a while, the lady still did not wake up, I tapped him and told him to move his foot as he could obviously see that he was pressing it against somebody else. That was exactly how I told him and it was then, he shifted his foot and slept through what was left of the service.
Amazingly, this lady still did not wake up throughout the service and till we left Church, she had no idea that something of any sort happened to her.
2. Familiar stranger:
One time, I boarded a particular bus to Church. This wouldn’t be the first time I would be taking that bus, along with the same set of people, so everyone in the bus kind of knew each other.
This day however, the bus was so filled up and we still had people who had not boarded, so everyone was told to lap at least a child, so that the adults could have more space to sit. That was when a particular ‘uncle’ volunteered to carry one of the female kids in the bus. This girl was about 4 or 5 and she was asleep. At first, her guardian (who I’ll call A.) was hesitant but because she too was a small girl who could be lapped, it was easy for the uncle to shout at her and collect her sister.
The other adults weren’t suspicious of anything but after a while, A. started shouting, asking the uncle to give her back her sister. We all knew the guy, so all the adults close to her didn’t understand why she was shouting. They asked her why but A. wouldn’t talk. she only said the Uncle knew what he was doing and that she wanted him to give her sister back.
After a lot of pestering, he agreed but one of the adults had grown suspicious and so when we got down, she asked A. why she had been shouting at the man. It was then A. said that not long after the man had taken her sister, she saw him insert one of his fingers into her. She also said that this wasn’t the first time she would see him doing such a thing with another child and that was why she had been so hesitant to hand her sister over to him.
From where I was, I could see the man standing a few feet away and I knew from the way he stood, (cos he just stood there, instead of going into the Church) that he was guilty. Till today, whenever I think of that incident, it beats me, what kind of sexual gratification a person could possibly derive from inserting his finger into a sleeping 5-year old child!
Anyway, the adult A. talked to reported the man to the bus admin, and I’m not sure how the matter was taken up from there but that was the last time that uncle followed us in that bus to Church.
3. Once upon a bus assault:
This final incident I’m sharing today happened to me, back in my 2nd year in Uni. On this particular day, I was travelling back from Oshogbo to Ife and being one of my very first personal trips, I was pretty nervous about being on a bus and at night.
Maybe this was why I was so distracted and did not notice that the man beside me had inserted his hand underneath the bag I had on my laps and had placed it on my thigh. Till today, I don’t recall for how long that man’s hand had been there or what he was doing. His touch was so feathery, so much that when I eventually felt that something was moving up my thigh, it was with a start. I lifted my bag up and there was his hand.
He did not move, even after I caught him. He just kept looking right back at me until I told him, in a way I now describe as being annoyingly calm, to remove his hand.
I recently shared this incident on social media and it amazed me, the number of people who said the same thing had happened to them. Apparently, it’s a thing but my second experience of it didn’t happen until few months ago.
This time, I was on my way back from work and was engrossed with my phone, so much that I wasn’t aware of anything going on around me. I remember the bus ran into a gallop at some point, but only God knows what I was doing on that Instagram that made me so unaware that the man beside me had seized that opportunity to put his hand on my thigh, holding it. He then covered it with his suit and left it there.
Like the first time, I realized this contact with a start and hastily pushed his hand off but this particular incident traumatized me for a long time because (i) this man looked really respectable (ii) I was wearing a short gown that day, so his hand had been placed on my naked thigh (iii) he too pretended like he didn’t do anything and still had the effrontery to talk to me after and (iv) I still see him.
Public buses make me so uncomfortable now and I’ve become so suspicious of every guy that sits beside me. Sometimes, this can be so mentally draining, because I constantly have to watch you if I can’t see your hand upfront and so on … and this is just for having some men put their hands on me. Imagine then how traumatizing it is for other sexual abuse victims who have had it worse.
As girls and young women, it is very important that we are very conscious and observant of the things happening around us or to us when we are in public places. These days, there is actually no safe place, but the peculiar thing about all the stories above is that we all were not aware, so, let’s be careful of how we let our bodies go, when we are surrounded by strangers.
That’s all for today, guys. Could you relate with some of these experiences? Did you take any other lesson out of this post? Do share it with me in the comments. You can also drop an advice or encouragement for a sexual abuse victim who might read this post. Thank you!