Four weeks ago, Nigerian blogger Linda Ikeji reported the gang rape of a young woman by Abia State University students. The blog post was met with outrage on Nigerian Twitter and blog spaces. Over the course of 24 hours, three of the alleged rapists were named on Twitter. Within hours at least one of the names proved to be an error. Thus began retractions, calls for people to be calm and not to commit any more acts of violence and repeated apologies to the misnamed person.
A few weeks later the Vanguard newspaper reported the Abia State police had suspended investigations into the gang rape. The police commissioner had decided that the young woman ‘had consented to the rape’ because on watching the video he did ‘not see the young woman resisting’. He went on to justify the rape:
‘Gang rape is often videoed as a tool by under-graduate boys to rubbish the self esteem of snobbish girls.’
He said even if the lady had not consented, he figured that she was a girlfriend of a ‘cultist’ and probably cheated on him. He went on to say that she may have ‘insulted’ the boy hence he probably assembled a gang to teach her the lesson of her life.Akin’s Blog responded by saying that ‘all gloves had to come off’ and raised a number of questions around rape and sexual violence in Nigeria. The blogger concluded that, since the police were incompetent misogynists, it was up to Nigerian users of social media to bring about justice for the young woman. In doing so he criticized those (including myself) who had condemned social media activism as ‘tabloid blogging and online vigilantism’, accusing us of ‘carping from the sidelines with feigned righteous indignation’:
‘It would appear the Situation Room for this crime returns once again to social media where injustices might well be compounded but everything and I dare say anything must be done to apprehend those cockroaches – this #ABSURape must not go unpunished and, by God, let it be those five men and none else.’
The gang rape became the center of Nigieran Twittersphere and blogs which mainly consisted of ‘righteous indignation’ rants and outrage over the despicable act of violence and a lack of meaningful, responsible response from anyone in authority.
However, there were a number of glaring omissions in the online discussion such as the relationship between everyday sexual harassment, sexual abuse and extreme forms of sexual violence such as rape and gang rape; in other words, crimes which are aimed at proving supremacy and power.
And the discussion failed to move beyond that of ‘boys behaving badly’. For example, the question as to who was watching the video including repeated requests on Twitter and Facebook for links to the video [which up till two weeks ago had been viewed on a Nigerian website 7000+ times] were never addressed. Nor was the fact that watching the video was in itself arguably an extension of the rape and as such represented an act of sexual violence.
Everyday a huge number of women are victims of sexual harassment and the distinctions which dominate popular chat between the ‘good wife’ and the ‘loose woman’ or ashawo reflect this.
There is a blurring of realities when women and girls, fearful of bringing attention to themselves or being singled out as ‘trouble makers’ do not report the touch, the squeeze, the coercive remarks and actions which leave them feeling soiled and hurt. Defining harassment requires us as women to speak out and for men to urgently reflect on their own patterns of behaviour, whenever women and girls are left feeling this way, and understand that crimes of supremacy and actions of patriarchy come in many different forms and levels.
Sexual harassment of women or being silent in its presence is so normalized within Nigerian society to the point when it is happening publicly and privately on a day-to-day basis online and offline in actions and words and body language.
Women are constantly being degraded and verbally abused or demeaned on social media sites. Homophobia is horrifically expressed and applauded.
These are all continuums of sexual abuse which take place without question. It is this normalization of sexual abuse and institutionalized misogyny that allows the police and others in authority to feel comfortable in making statements such as ‘she wanted to be raped’ and to be wholly negligent in their investigations. It is what allows the government of Abia State and the university to sit quietly on the sidelines and do nothing.