What Exactly Are Our Attitudes About Abuse?

As a mother, there are some statistics that stiffen my spine and propel me into a state of extra vigilance. It’s estimated that 1 in 4 women in America have – or will – experience some form of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. In the Black community, the numbers are even more dismal. 6 out of 10 women and girls report being the victim of sexual abuse or attempted abuse before age 18. In sub-Saharan Africa, anywhere from 40 – 51% of girls report being the victim of rape. The numbers vary depending on the region, with South Africa leading the trend. (http://advocatesforyouth.org/publications/457)

And yet, with virtually every other girl the victim or potential victim of such an egregious physical violation, why is this not something on the lips and consciousness of every African citizen? The reasons are as diverse as the topography of the continent itself. From the fear of stigma to the fear of ruined chances of getting an acceptable bride price for a now ruined girl-child, we’ve been taught to sweep rape under the rug and shrug off its memory as if it never happened.

I will never forget a radio broadcast I heard on my most recent trip to Ghana. A morning show presenter on Hitz 103.7 FM was talking about the latest in pop culture gossip and news with his female co-host. D33ba, a Ghanaian hip life artist and one-hit wonder from a decade ago had just been apprehended in a sting operation involving Anas and Interpol. D33ba had been accused of raping his 8 year old step-daughter, who described the ordeal in great detail. He forced her to watch porn before penetrating her. She told the police that he made her watch a movie in which people did things that “mommies and daddies did” and that “white stuff” came out of his penis.

“That poor girl,” said the female presenter mournfully. “How will she ever get through this?”

The male host jumped in and cut her off.

“Oh! These things happen. She should just be strong,” he said glibly.

I could almost hear him shrug through the speakers of the car I was riding in.

His co-host didn’t say another word. Perhaps she was stunned into silence. I was enraged by his foolish assertion. How is a girl who has no real idea about what happened to her supposed to garner “strength” to deal with this? An 8 year old has usually (if she’s lucky) just learned to read well. What world experience does she have to put sexual violation into context? At aged 8, does she even know what “being strong” means?

I was (and still am) absolutely infuriated by the assignment of weakness and strength to our girls when it suits a perpetrator. They are presumed weak enough (and rightly so) to be taken advantage of and presumed strong enough to deal with the devastating effects. And make no mistake: anyone who does not speak out in vehement opposition of such acts may as well be guilty of the crime themselves. Qui tacet consentiret.

Silence IMPLIES consent.

Happily, that trend is reversing and more victims are coming out of the shadows to let their voices and stories be heard. Voices like Ekuba, who wrote with painful elegance about being raped by her uncle and the dozens of other women (and men) who empathized with her plight…for they too had been victims or known someone close to them who had been as well.

Adventures is a blog for African women, run by African women; but I often have to wonder what men think of the goings on here…as in many respects, it affects them as well. One of my old teachers happens by Adventures on occasion, and gives me a male perspective when it suits him. After a long hiatus he took note of some of the more popular stories which touched on this very issue. He was unsettled, and did not mince words about his feelings.

“I am referring to the sexually abused … you really need to think of some more concrete professional support from within the confines of the safe space Adventures appears to be offering then; I’m concerned about the casualness with which suicidal tendencies are referenced…”

The casualness with which suicidal tendencies are referenced. How apropos, considering the casual approach we take to dealing with sexual abuse! When someone treats you as though you’re nothing, a strange thing happens. You begin to believe it.

I know – as well as you do, reader – what the majority’s attitude is concerning sexual violence against women and girls. Females are supposed to be expendable. In too many communities, they don’t have a value until one is assigned to them. As the comments section has shown us, neither wealth, poverty nor status is a respecter when it comes to an African woman’s chances of being sexually violated.

I also know that you are not willing to accept it as the status quo any longer. We must do our part to reduce these numbers within our community. 1 in 4 is still too high, but 1 in 2 is an absolute sin. The time to tackle this stain on the spirit of our nation has come and gone. This is why I am so pleased that Adventures will be tackling the topic Surviving Sexual Abuse this Friday as part of Accra[dot]Alt’s Talk Party series. Unless a wound is exposed, it cannot heal.

7 comments On What Exactly Are Our Attitudes About Abuse?

  • The attitudes by default appears to be to those who survive, “be strong, and move on’ but no one offers justice, counselling or concrete ways to move on. This is frustrating. I would love for us to have an African feminist therapist write a regular section on this blog sharing strategies of how people can move on from traumatic sexual experiences.

  • Precisely! My greatest frustration is the prevelant “give it God” approach, while conveniently forgetting that God in the Old Testament was renown for smiting people. And a rapist is a good candidate for smiting! As you said, moving on and being strong includes getting justice and counseling.

  • Hear, hear Malaka. What a well-thought-out piece. And the numbers are CRIMINAL I tell you.

  • “Unless a wound is exposed, it cannot heal.” it doesn’t get truer than that..

  • thanks for referencing me Malaka! Our attitudes towards abuse as a society stinks & it’s a depiction of how misogynistic our society is. I love all things African & am a proud African woman & I acknowledge how we have certain traditions that promote women’s rights (I’m an Akan, examples of practices in my ethnic group that promotes women’s rights are: the fact that my ethnic group is matrilineal, doesn’t place so much emphasis on marriage, assigns the children as belonging to the woman & the unique role of queen mothers, obaapanins & the elderly woman figure in the Akan society) but African societies today are highly misogynistic (I blame colonialism for a lot of this but some of our traditions too are misogynistic) & that is what is causing us to blame children etc. for abuse. When I used to work with the NGO for abused women in Ghana, I used to be disgusted with how everyone from the police to hospital workers to courtroom staff treated victims of defilement. It’s almost as if the poor girls were being abused all over. I hope this changes.

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