Over the past weekend, Social Media was buzzing with the hashtag #JusticeForOchanya. Nigerians all over the world teamed up as one to demand justice for 13 years old Ochanya who died from injuries sustained over a long period of rape and sodomy from her guardian and his son. According to the story trending on Social Media, Ochanya was sent to live with her aunt at the age of 8 and that is when her ordeal began. The son and father duo continuously raped her from that age till she died at 13. The case was taken up and Nigerians began demanding for justice when she finally spoke about what was has been happening to her to someone who took her serious while at the hospital to bring in the forces of law. Unfortunately, she died not too long after that. Another version of the story holds that her guardian’s daughter stumbled on her brother attempting to rape Ochanya and told her parents, this came up I believe, at a time when the aunt claimed she didn’t know what was happening with her niece under her roof. This is also what gave rise to the idea to write this post.
Reading about Ochanya took me back memory lane when I was a student on internship at the Association de Lutte contre les Violences fait au Femmes (ALVF), Yaoundé. During this internship period, we were made to work with female victims of violence. Our youngest victim was a then beautiful two years old who was raped by her mother’s older cousin. When the mother attacked her cousin and took the case to court, her own mother… the child’s grandmother… asked that they beat her up because, how dare she took the family’s dirty laundry to the police. Suffice it to say the young girl’s mother came to us for help with bruises all over her body. It is true, I don’t really know how the story ended because we were just rounding our internship for the next internes. Something about these two stories takes me back to my theme.
The culture of silence surrounding rape victims does not only make this crime grossly under reported, but also empowers the predators and emboldens them to continue their heinous crimes against vulnerable women and girls. Take for instance the case of Ochanya. How can she be continously raped by the two males in her life who would have provided her with the utmost care and protection she needed in this world for five good years and the aunt was unaware? Did the aunt mean to say she saw nothing wrong with her over all demeanor and person during those five years? How about the daughter’s claim that she did tell her family what she stumbled upon? I think this woman was very aware but she choose to stay quiet and turn a blind eye as a way to ‘protect her family reputation’. Her silence and indifference embolden her rapist husband and son for five good years which unfortunately, caused the poor girl Ochanya her life after every other thing had been stolen from her. The case of the then two years old above, the grandmother would not hear about justice, for her, it was the family’s business and therefore needed to remain within the confines of the family. Forget the fact that her granddaughter was raped by someone old enough to be her dad.
When we make it difficult for our kids to confide in us when someone molest them by refusing to talk appropriate sex education with them, when we hush them when they want to talk about their experiences, when we rather drag their pain and psychological torture and shove them under the rug instead of seeking justice for them, when we hide behind culture to inflict pains on victims by calling them wayward, when we allow powerful and influential people to buy justice and walk away from being punished, when we rather blame the victim and so on, because we refuse to talk about rape and its effects on victims, we are silently empowering and embolden the predators and all the child molesters out there.When we refuse to believe our kids when they speak out because we don’t want to believe the person they speak against is someone close to us, we build walls around the culture of silence, making it extremely difficult for other victims to speak out and seek help.
There are so many Ochanyas and the two year old child out there who are suffering and dying in silence. Are we going to break the culture of silence and start fighting for them or are we going to add more bricks as we obstruct justice, blame victims and firmly continue to sweep such under the rugs, giving predators power to continue their despicable acts? The choice is ours to make. But we should remember that until we learn to fight to break the walls of silence, we create many Ochanyas and the two year old as our silence only helps to empower these predators.
And the irony I think is that she died in October, a month dedicated to also fight against domesic violence.