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Silence The Silence Of Sexual Abuse

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The recent BBC documentary detailing a slew of sex-for-grades stories emanating from universities in Nigeria and Ghana has brought to the fore, once again, the lingering and pervasive sexual harassment issue in our society. It understandably ignited a frenzied condemnation across the country prompting the Senate to introduce a bill that aims to prevent the sexual harassment of university students.

If the bill were to become law, it would be illegal for lecturers to make any sexual advances towards students. Under the proposed law also, teaching staff could face up to 14 years in jail for having sexual relationships with their students. While this is commendable, it is not enough to stop this dastard act.

The footage from the documentary was indeed chilling and blood boiling, to say the least. It was infuriating and disgusting to see university professors sexually harassing and blackmailing their students. It was extremely hard to watch but quite necessary in order to confront this beastly and absolutely enraging reality that young and desperate students are facing in our Universities. At one point in the footage, you could hear a student saying: “this thing has been going on for years. And every single year, every single department, every single student, there’s always a story!” If this isn’t absolutely disturbing, nothing else will be.

Sexual harassment is a type of harassment technique that relates to a sexual nature and the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors. Sexual harassment includes a range of actions from mild transgressions to sexual abuse or assault. Harassment can occur in many different social settings such as workplace, in the home, schools, religious institutions, etc. Most importantly however, harassers or victims may be of any gender.

While the information that this documentary reveals is upsetting and shocking, to be frank, the BBC Africa Eye Sex For Grades documentary is not an uncommon practice across every strata of our society. One would be naïve or even mendacious to say that they were not aware that it happens, especially when the abuse breaches the relationship of a Fiduciary nature. Many of us are aware, have heard or suspect that it happens on a regular basis in these relationships, particularly when the victim is looking for some favor or outcome from the abuser. When the victim is desperate for the person in the position of the abuser to impart them with some sort of result.

It really is a sad situation, but even sadder that few people or organizations, including Human Rights Groups, have provided consistent counseling and safe havens for victims and clamoring for stringent punitive measures against the perpetrators. Due to the lack of stringent measures, the practice of sexual abuse and harassment has continued abated. This is so, particularly in educational institutions across the country. From the BBC documentary, the ordeal that some student’s face in the hands of some constipated, salacious, depraved and irresponsible lecturers that have a misplaced and engorged appetite for carnal favors is an almost daily story. It just is not acceptable. And it should not be allowed.

Eerily, the documentary is the first time a well documented visual evidence will be presented to the public domain of perverted lecturers preying on, mainly, helpless female students. One probably has Social Media and technology to thank for this feat. There, indeed, have been a couple of amateur videos of lecturers subjecting their students to this inhuman treatment, but none has been able to garner such rage, outpour and disgust compared to this sting-like operation’s visual documentary that has humanized the predators, bringing them close to home.

While the male gender can also be victims of assault, the truth is that the vast majority of sexual assault victims in our society are female. In addressing this matter, one has to wonder why the practice of rape, sexual assault and harassment has continued, unabated, across every strata in our society. Perhaps, despite the achievements of women in our society, there is still an entitled mentality in the form of the sense of superiority that the average Nigerian male acquires while growing up. More often than not, parents bring up their male kids in a way that they begin to believe they are the superior gender to their sisters and any other girl around them. The boys who grow up and emerge as brutes invariably acquire a false sense of importance and a compelling inability to delay gratification. However, this is a discussion for another day.

Society itself needs to deliberately give proper orientation to every child and inculcate the equality of the sexes in every child, irrespective of gender. There is also the need to break the culture of silence borne out of stigmatization. The more people speak out about this evil and call out its perpetrators, the more we will liberate Nigeria’s youth from bondage and assure the country’s future. This will also activate the legal and judicial system, which is not just largely untested, but also is long overdue for an overhaul.

Prevention of sexual assault will remain a mirage until we put in place institutional frameworks to deal comprehensively with actual cases of sexual assault. This approach should involve functional, skilled, and synchronized services and also include the criminal justice system, the police, social services, and sexual assault services. Encouraging victims and survivors of sexual assault to break their silence by making available such services, which should be community based, and the successful prosecution of perpetrators, will serve as a deterrent and hopefully prevent the next person from falling victim.

Public enlightenment can also be a critical tool in changing behavior, attitude, beliefs and the value system of people. Therefore there should be intense public enlightenment and education at schools, religious institutions, and social gatherings demystifying the myths about sexual assault. Very importantly, the media has a vital role to play, because it is in the background unconsciously influencing people’s thoughts with its constant subliminal messages. The false assumptions about sexual assault that are seen as being true can be dispelled through the media, in schools, in our religious institutions, and in our social gatherings. Even New-Media, with forwards on WhassApp and other tools and play a vital role.

As for the lecturer involved and caught in the sex for grades documentary, suspending him just isn’t enough. Severe punitive action has to be taken in light of the evidence against him in the public domain. The authorities need to ensure that this particular predator is made an example of in order to serve as deterrent to future would-be predators.

The Nigerian lawmakers need to sit up and tighten the sexual assault and rape laws. There has been talk about this for several years but they need to take, debate and amend it seriously. The law enforcers must take action against anyone reported to have committed rape and sexual assault and instituted a suit against them in court. Teachers and religious and community leaders need to start the conversation earnestly. The government must take action now. We cannot turn our eyes away anymore. We cannot pretend that it is not happening.

Sexual assault and rape is happening in our society every single day. It is time for every moral, responsible and peace loving person to speak up and speak out on behalf of those who need us to stand with them and not silence them. The culture of silence should be silenced… for it has endured long enough.

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