Monday 9 July 2018


Image of trying to stop an attack
Trying to stop an attack
Image: Vox
They fear getting raped.

Play this scenario in your head.

It is late at night. The streets are poorly lit. The occasional car passes by but beyond that, it is quiet. There is a slight breeze teasing the earth and flirting with the skirt of a woman walking down the road. Her steps are brisk…increasing ever so slightly as she walks to her house just around the corner. She just wants to get home and off these streets. As she turns the corner, she sees a man lurking in the shadows. What do you think her first reaction is?

Let me help you.

Shock. Rush of adrenaline. Crippling fear. And hope that he is a friendly face. But almost instinctively, her hands go up to protect her breasts, not her purse.

If he is a friendly face, she breathes a sigh of relief and becomes thankful that there is now a man on the road with her. Nobody will try to attack her.

If he is someone she knows but doesn’t have a relationship with, the fear stays. She ponders why he is out late and whether he will attack her because she doesn’t say ‘hi’. She has to make a choice; either say ‘hi’ and deflect any possible attack or continue the status quo. Either way, she has to go past him on her way to her house. When she passes him, she will keep stealing glances behind until she gets home, constantly worrying that any footfall (real or imagined) is him springing to attack her.
If however, the man is not someone she knows, the fear grows. Every step she takes becomes leaden with the choking fear that she will be groped, attacked or the worst, raped.

How about this? Play this same scenario again, but change one thing. There isn’t one man lurking in the shadows; there are three, maybe five men. What do you think would happen?

Even if the girl woman knows all the men, she would still feel uncomfortable walking past them on her way to her apartment. But if she doesn’t know them at all, she has two choices; feign a calm that she cannot possibly hope to feel and walk past them or dash into a run to up her fighting chance. When you think about it, you see that she has another choice; go back to where she is coming from.

Even if it isn’t as dark and lonely, women don’t feel secure walking down streets. It is common place to see women cross the road to the other side when a group of men are coming.

Why is fear women’s instinctive response to seeing a man or a group of men on the road?

For one, men constantly attack women…and most of the time, these attacks are sexual. Let me give you an example.

When I was in the university, I started a routine of running in the morning for an hour; from 5am to 6am. I would jog from my house off campus to the school field, do some laps and then walk home. I always ran with a male friend and didn’t think much of my safety. A week after we started, my friend said he wasn’t running because he had an early day. So I went on my own. I had not walked two minutes when a man came out of nowhere, grabbed my right breast and squeezed hard. Before I could snap out of the paralysis that held me bound, he ran off. I was so shocked that I couldn’t be angry. Two minutes away from my house!

In another instance, I was returning from work late at night – which in the real sense was about 9pm – when a guy grabbed my buttocks and attempted to grope my breasts. When I challenged him, he said I wore a short skirt and so he had a right to do so. When I attempted to fight him off and saw I would lose, I ran away, spraining my ankle in the process. My view is that, even if I was wearing a hijab and face mask, I still would have been attacked because I was alone on the road at night.

Many women have reported being groped and raped while walking the streets. And when I say reported, I don’t mean to any constituted authority because many of those people make such situations worse.

Another dimension to this is rape during a robbery.

A lady I know was about to get married and went to stay in a hotel with a couple of her friends. In the middle of the night, their room door bust open to reveal a couple of dangerous looking men. Seeing that the people occupying the room were all women in various stages of undress, the men tried to rape them. According to them, by some sheer act of faith, and I don’t mean fate, the police arrived just before they did. Someone I know wasn’t so lucky when we were robbed way back in 1998. She was pulled out from one of the compounds around us and raped by the men whose guns stayed pointed at us as we waited for some sort of help to come our way. Women who have been robbed on the highway also tell something similar. Armed robbers would attack buses plying our roads to various states and would only think of raping women, not necessarily robbing them. Even recently, armed robbers attacked a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) camp in the Nigerian city of Port Harcourt and in the female hostels, it was reported that many women were raped.

These men were not interested in their possessions. They were mostly interested in their vaginas and the power their guns (or whatever arsenal they have) avails them.

Let us flip the scenario I described in the beginning.

It is late at night. The streets are poorly lit. The occasional car passes by but beyond that, it is quiet. There is a slight breeze teasing the earth and flirting with the shirt of a man walking down the road. His steps are brisk…increasing ever so slightly as he walks to his house just around the corner. He just wants to get home and off these streets. As he turns the corner, he sees a man lurking in the shadows. What do you think his first reaction is going to be?

Like the first time, let me help you.

Caution. Rush of adrenaline. Fear; depending on his size. An assessment of the situation. But almost instinctively, his hands prepare to ball up into a fist if the need should arise. It never crosses his mind to protect his penis. That is not the first thing that comes to his mind at all.

If the person is a friendly face, he sighs in relief and becomes cheerful at seeing the person.

If he is someone he knows but doesn’t have a relationship with, he throws out a greeting; ‘My guy’. He doesn’t wonder why his guy is out late and doesn’t imagine his guy will attack him. When he passes his guy, he doesn’t constantly worry that any footfall (real or imagined) is his guy springing to attack him.

If however, the man is not someone he knows, the fear may go up a notch. He hopes the person isn’t a criminal who would attack him to steal his wallet, other valuables or worse, someone who can steal his life.

So while men fear been robbed (or maybe even killed in worst case scenarios), women fear being raped.

More women are beginning to take self-defense classes to prevent themselves from being attacked and raped. If I had known some self-defense, the man who grabbed my breast would have had his hands broken. And though I fought the other man who grabbed buttocks and ran away, I could have learned to deal a near crippling blow to his middle region and broken his penis with a well-placed kick.

But the onus of protection shouldn’t have to be on the woman. Don’t get me wrong; I encourage women to learn self-defense and be prepared to protect themselves from would-be rapists and attackers. However, I feel that women shouldn’t have to instinctive feel sexually threatened when they are placed in these situations. This can only happen if many men do not instinctively sexually attack women as an expression of power. And it starts with the little things; the uninvited touch of a woman, the catcalls when she walks down the street, the shoulder massage in the office when she is typing at her computer, that breast rub in the bus when she is next to you, the lewd jokes she is assaulted with in public and the general entitlement men have towards women’s bodies.

These things have to be checked and stopped. Then, maybe then, we may not get to the bigger abuses and the constant fear we have deal with.

I genuinely don’t know how to end this. I know I am being idealistic but I desperately want these attacks on women stopped. How we can achieve this is what I do not know.

What do you think?

Black Woman Thinking
Image: The Body is not an apology.

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