If you’ve been paying attention to recent events in Nigeria, you must have heard of the unfortunate story of Vera Uwaila Omozuwa, a 22-year-old student, who was raped and assaulted in a church in Benin City. Similarly, Farishina, a 12-year-old girl in Jigawa was raped by 11 men on different occasions. Most recently, there has also been an allegation of sexual abuse against Kendall Ananyi, the CEO of Tizeti, an internet service company. These incidents, among many others, have sparked outrage and ignited the recurring debate and discourse about the sexual assault of women in Nigeria. One of the issues has been the reluctance of men to accept or see that they are misinformed about the struggles of women in our socio-cultural environment.

Why is it important for men to educate themselves about sexual abuse?

Elizabeth Scheel in her article, “Making Rape Education Meaningful for Men: The Case for Eliminating the Emphasis on Men as Perpetrators, Protectors, or Victims”, said it perfectly:

…current rape education often focuses primarily on women as they are the motivated audience. Additionally, most programs labelled ‘rape prevention’ are really programs that focus on rape avoidance, safety awareness, or risk reduction programs for women. (257-258)

The discourse about rape and sexual assault is a sensitive topic that men try to avoid in general. In a way, it’s understandable, especially if you think you haven’t sexually abused anyone. You see news stories about the horrible things that some men do to women and you want to immediately distance yourself from them. But, you read social media and you see trends like “men are trash” and other negative connotations women ascribe to men, and might even think to yourself: “I’m not like this”, “I stand against any form of gender-based violence” or even “Women also physically and sexually assault men”. You’re not alone in your thoughts. But, guess what? You are not going to be rewarded for doing the bare minimum of not raping or assaulting women:

Furthermore, Here are some relevant sexual assault and rape statistics you should know about: 

As shown in these stats above, several counter-arguments have made about rape and violence against women are not as logical or factual as they claim to be. While some of them are inherently wrong, others are oversimplified ideas that are counterproductive to solving anything. Let’s examine some of those arguments which are destructive and may even perpetuate more sexual violence against women: 

  • “Not all men”

This is the most famous narrative used by men when women share their sexual assault experiences perpetrated by men. “Not all men are rapists. Don’t generalise it. It’s just a few bad apples”. While it is true that not all men rape or sexually assault women, women don’t have the luxury of guessing who may or may not sexually harm them before it actually happens. Women already know that not all men are rapists but women also know that they have to look at every man they encounter as a potential threat because the chances that society will protect them is low. As seen in the stats above, there is a systemic culture that enables men to get away with most forms of sexual assault. Women are also 70% more likely to be raped by people they know. Women and girls are also raped by their partners and family members. 

Telling women that “not all men rape” when they complain about sexual assault suggests that you are trying to exclude yourself from rape perpetrators while enjoying the privilege of being a man who has to worry less or not worry at all about being sexually assaulted. This is dismissive of their experiences. To sum up, here is a reply to one of Genevieve Nnaji’s tweets where she states that women are in constant fear of men:

The idea that women shouldn’t generalise – or view all men as potential abusers – is problematic and trivialises their experiences.

  • “Women are partially to blame”

“Why was she dressed that way” “Why did she follow him into the hotel room and what was she to expect?” “Why would she withdraw consent in the middle of sex?” Nobody, whether male or female, adult or child, should be blamed for being a victim of sexual abuse. It is victim-blaming to suggest that a woman was raped because of what she wore or whether she followed a man into a room. It perpetuates a culture that men are sexual predators unable to control their urges and women are simply sexual objects who must cover to protect themselves from the sexually predatory behaviour of men. In a culture that teaches women to control their sexuality, it is moronic to say that men do not have the ability to do the same. Men are not animals and are well capable of controlling their sexual urges. We have also seen reports of men who rape young girls and fully covered women. So a woman’s choice of attire is not the reason she can be raped.

Similarly, people must give consent before any sexual activity is carried out. Note that since drunk people cannot drive or do anything with their full state of mind, they also cannot give consent. People are also allowed the right to withdraw consent before and during sex. Let’s think of it this way. If you ask a drunk woman if she would want you to cook for her, but she doesn’t reply, do you take that as a yes? No, you don’t. If she actually says yes, and you buy the ingredients and start cooking, she still has the right to change her mind and say she’s not eating while the food is already being cooked. You don’t force her. Also, if the food is cooked and she is already eating but decides she doesn’t want it anymore, do you force her to keep eating it? No, you don’t. The law allows people to change their mind. Now substitute cooking with sex, that’s consent. A woman can withdraw consent during sex. She is never to blame if she is raped afterwards. When consent is withdrawn, as it can be anytime, any further sexual activity that is taken is rape and by large, sexual assault. As the saying goes: there is a reason most men tell their daughters to be careful and avoid interactions with men as much as possible. They don’t tell them, “not all men are rapists.”

  • “False rape allegations”

“Why didn’t she speak up sooner?” “Why is she saying it on social media?” “Why can’t she just report to the police and follow due process?” Behind all these questions is a narrative that questions the credibility of victims and their stories. In Nigeria, it is common for family members to not punish male members that abuse the young girls in the family. We have seen and heard of it time and time again. Most rape cases are settled out of court and most sexual offenders are never arrested or charged with any crimes. 

With the exception of white women accusing black men of sexual assault (which is often fueled by racism than anything else), the impression that women falsely accuse men of rape at a high rate is completely false. Studies carried out in Europe and in the US indicate false accusations have only proven to be between the rates of between 2% and 6% of all allegations over the past 20 years. In Nigeria, while there are no official records of sexual offence convictions, efforts were made to trace only about 65 rape convictions from 1973 to 2019. This signifies that the idea of men being accused of sexual violations is not statistically an issue as some would want you to think. So, before you question the legitimacy of an accusation of sexual misconduct, understand that women risk a lot of things in their life when they accuse someone of any form of sexual assault, such as their ability to get jobs, their relationships and their reputation. 

  • “Men get raped too”

“It isn’t only women that get raped.” “Women have also raped men and gotten away with it.” Yes, it is true that men get raped as well, but it is also true that most victims of rape and sexual assault are women. When women protest and talk about their sexual experiences as women, they want their pleas to be heard. It is dismissive of their plight to tell them that men get raped too. Women are not obligated to talk about an experience that doesn’t affect them. Rape is about power, not sexual gratification. It is simply a form of telling them to not make a scene as men don’t speak about their abuse as men. The facts are simply that men are most likely to be sexually abused as children while women are at a greater risk between the ages of 16 – 19. In a culture that has a history of seeing women as sexual objects, it is irresponsible to compare the abuse and violence women face with men’s.

To conclude, we need to look beyond just legislation to fix this issue. There is a need to examine the deep, systematic dysfunction of our socio-cultural practices that have not prevented and do not prevent sexual assault. Men are the more privileged gender with the power and the will to make our society more secure for our female counterparts and it is necessary for us to adopt these measures for future generations.