Henrietta Ifyede (2019)
I remember vividly that faithful day, it was my birthday, the 31st of June and I just turned 9 and as usual, uncle Chike, my mom’s twin brother came to pick me again from school. He was my favourite uncle, always showering me with gifts and even that morning he had brought a cake and birthday packages for my classmates. I was in Grade 6. We got to his house and this time he offered to bath me, but I told him I bath myself at home, he insisted, and I obliged. My breasts were just developing, and he kept asking me if I had been touched there before and I nodded in negation. He proceeded in washing my vagina and dipped his hand in and I told him my mom allows me to wash it myself with my hands, but he assured me he could wash it better because my hands were not long enough to go deep.
We finished, and he took me to his room, we were alone as my only cousin, his son was in boarding house at the time. He brought out his penis and I fidgeted, he asked me not to be afraid because he won’t harm me. He started telling me of how I am his favourite niece and that he just wants to show me what this ‘stick’ is used for. He asked that I be calm, and in his own words, ‘with time, you will enjoy it’. He started fondling my breast and I started crying, he petted me and said he’ll make sure he’s goes gently, I didn’t understand what he was saying, but he proceeded in putting his penis in my vagina and I screamed, he covered my mouth and kept saying sorry while still penetrating me until he released some whitish substance as I didn’t know it was called sperm.
He went on to say I could lick it that the taste was good, and he put it in my mouth and I swallowed. I froze and couldn’t move, then he cleaned me up and said to me, ‘don’t tell anyone this, or I’ll kill you’. He called my mom told her not to bother picking me up that he will bring me home, he carried me into the car and on the way home bought me ice-cream and a lot of all the goodies I liked. I did as I was told and never told anyone. With time I became used to it and it continued till I was 11. I knew what an orgasm was before I could spell the word.
My house was the typical Nigerian home where the word ‘sex’ was a taboo. To the point that if a Nollywood movie was showing and a kissing scene came on, the channel will be changed. Nigerian parenting 101 is raising kids with great high-handedness, in fear and in religiousity. In Nigerian parenting 101, the child is never right. If only my parents paid more attention to me. I was a timid child growing up but became a complete recluse when uncle Chike started abusing me but my parents thought it was just the usual ‘shy’ me warming up to teenage life. I hated my birthdays because it reminded me of the day I died.
On my 11th birthday, my mom came to surprise me with a cake in school, supposedly bought by uncle Chike who was out of town with my dad, and I remember my mom saying to me, ‘uncle Chike says he misses you and would take you out when he’s back’. On that same day, a class mate of mine had been reportedly raped by her pastor and her mom came to see the principal and so my mom overheard. I got back home that day and overheard my mom narrating the story to uncle Chike over the phone, saying ‘how are they sure that it was the pastor that did it?’ ‘a pastor cannot do something like that’, ‘what will a married man and a man of God be looking for in a 12-year-old?,’ and she ended by saying, ‘well, thank God it’s not my daughter o’. That night I cried myself to sleep.
The next day uncle Chike returned and picked me up from school to his place, he showed me all the beautiful things he bought for me and as usual tried to penetrate me and for the first time in a long while, I resisted and fought back in tears, I told him I was going to tell my parents and he laughed and said, ‘even if you tell your mom, she won’t believe you’ and he was right. Later that day when I got home, my mom was narrating the story to my dad and suddenly, I blurted out, ‘mommy uncle Chike put his penis inside my bum bum’ and they turned in shock. They spoke in unison, ‘uncle Chike?, that’s not possible’. She started yelling at me and was more concerned with where I learned the word penis from. They told me never to say such to anyone again because uncle Chike would never do that as I was like his daughter. I found my voice and broke my silence, but my voice was abruptly taken away from me by the people I loved the most.
No! This is not my story. My mother doesn’t have a twin, and if you haven’t already noticed, June 31st does not exist. Lol. But this could have been me, or you reading this, it could be your unborn children, it could be anyone. Actually, if you were raised in Nigeria as a child and you were not sexually abused or harassed even in the subtlest way by neighbors, family friends, uncles and aunties, priests and other religious people etc then you’re among the very lucky few. Sexual violence is a global menace and the war against it is not another gender war because both male and females fall victim.
Abusers thrive because people, parents cover up abuse especially when the abuser is a friend, family member or someone we respect, and so abusers are so confident in the trust these people have in them and continue to perpetuate evil. I mean, How would a parent believe that her twin whom she shared the same womb with would molest her 9-year-old? Or that her pastor who has been performing miracles for the past 10 years can molest their child? Sounds ridiculous right? But that’s the reality of the average Nigerian child and more often than not, the child is silenced because, ‘what will people say?’ ‘how will the world look at us?’ they’d rather not wear the shame and dent their image than believe their kid. They’d rather not be known as ‘the parents of the child who was raped’ as if it were the child’s fault. Children may be innocent, but they never forget. They never forget their abuse nor how you responded to it.
But what of children who do not have the luxury of parents or siblings, who will defend or protect them??
The more reason we need to do better as a society. Some of you protect your brother, sister, father, aunt, mother and even friends that abuse and take advantage of others because you don’t want to break the ‘bro code’ or ‘girl code’. What you fail to realize is that one event can alter one’s life forever and the difference between someone who was sexually abused and another who was involved in a ghastly motor accident is that both died at the scene, but one lived to relive their death. As to who this is, your guess is as good as mine, hence, to hell with whatever code!!! For every time you stay silent in the face of sexual abuse, you empower the perpetrator to keep ruining lives.
We need to break this culture of shaming people who have been sexually abused because nobody asks for it. We need to create an enabling environment for people to speak out and not be mocked or blamed. Men and women alike. Most importantly, we need to teach kids that sex is not inherently bad. We need to teach them the right context for sex. We need to teach them CONSENT, and that NO means STOP, and not try harder. Teach kids about their sexual and reproductive rights from the moment they begin to learn to speak. In Nigerian parenting 102, do not be the one to raise the next generation of sexual predators.
We also need to change this misconception that all forms of sexual abuse MUST be VIOLENT with machete wounds, torn clothes etc. And that’s why we hear people ask questions like, ‘why didn’t you fight back?’, ‘why is there no mark on your body?’ and other trashy questions that inherently suggest that the victim was at fault for allowing the abuse. Not everyone reacts in the same way and certainly not every environment permits a fight back. You and I must make a conscious effort to fight sexual abuse.
To everyone who has been sexually violated, because you chose to rise above your death, you’re a SURVIVOR not a victim.
Love and light,