Growing up in the small town of sapele, in Delta State , I was very dutiful to my mother who was a trader. My mother had 7 daughters in a bid to have male children. Although she had three sons later, being the younger wife in a polygamous marriage, she had to fend for us with our father being a pensioner before we got into school. My mother traded food items in season. From yam tubers to potatoes, mangoes, tomatoes , pears. Just name it and my sisters were there to hawk these goods on trays on our heads around the market and on the streets.
Hawking meant helping to provide food and school fees for us. So I was diligent on this having identified with the discrimination my mother and siblings were suffering in the family. At this stage, security meant food and education or so I thought. But a greater danger than basic needs was the sexual violence from men.
I was never educated on sex by my mother nor any other person in my family nor in school neither in church. In my innocence of hawking on the streets, I get called by men who will buy items from me yet use their hands to touch me inappropriately. I would only push their hands away and shift my position silently without saying a word and move on with hawking my wares. I never shared with anyone nor my mother. Neither did I think more of it beyond that point.
I attended a public primary school where children go to nearby compounds during break to drink water from taps. On this day, I queued up behind other children to drink water and we do so with our hands under the running tap/ I was on the last of the children to drink when a man came out from one of the rooms in the compound tying wrapper around his waist. He parted the wrapper and held up his penis and was rubbing it and beckoning to me to come. I was frozen with fright. I had never seen a man’s penis and I did not know what to do at first. But when I got out of the initial shock, I fled with speed to my classroom shaking. I never told anyone in class nor at home nor my mother.
At home, I had step elder brothers who were not friendly to my mother because of polygamy. When my mother is away to her trade as she often had to travel for days to get goods outside Delta state to sell. She goes as far as Zakibiam yam Market in Benue State, Zaria and Kafachan in Kaduna State, Jos in Plateu State and Uromi in Edo State for tomatoes, pepper, potatoes, oranges and pears depending on the seasons of the harvest of these crops. We are usually left in the care of our step mother and at the mercy of our step siblings. I was particularly kept in charge of my younger siblings by my mother and made to miss school because my mother needed to travel to get goods for sale.
During times like the above, I remember one of my step elder brothers called me to a quiet room and ordering me to sit on his lap. I did and he was moving me up and down on his lap. I could not ask what he was doing to me neither did I cry out for help. He later told me I wasn’t doing what he wanted and asked me to leave. I left and never told anyone nor my mother.
I grew up and my elder sisters began to send me on errands to their boyfriends, mostly to deliver letters as it were in those days. I was fondled by most of the men I delivered the letters to. But I return their responses to my sisters and never said a word.
I left secondary school and went to the university . One day I was tricked by a male class mate to a date. I went with my girlfriend and my date took us to a super market and bought me provisions. He told me to leave them in the super market and go for a drink first in his apartment. We went along and got to his place. His friend whom they share the room together excused my girl friend on the pretext of going to get drinks. Thereafter my classmate locked the door and pounced on me to rape me. It was the struggle of my life. I mustered all strength to stop him. I never said a word in all my struggles. A knock on the door saved me. Some female students came looking for his friend and this was my opportunity to scream and tell. No, I just got myself together and moved outside to wait for my girlfriend. She later came and said my classmate’s roommate disappeared and left her waiting for long on the pretext he was coming to get the drinks with her. I was shaken and managed with shame to open up to my girl friend. She was angry and confronted my classmate. I was ashamed as if it was my fault and told her to let go. When confronted, my classmate denied and said why didn’t cry out for help if he truly wanted to rape me.
I graduated from university, grew up and began working and still a victim of sexual violence in different ways. I escaped another rape attempt from a stranger, suffered inappropriate touches from bosses and boyfriends of friends. I have been fondled even in public buses by invisible hands of men. By this time I have learnt to bark and bite. But does this deter?
Unsafe space for girls is the greatest insecurity I dread most. It could be in the home, school, places of worship, on the streets in the place of work or on internet just name it. This is the greatest insecurity for me till date and more frightening because I have daughters.
Although, I have given them sound sex education and training on sexual violence. I continue to prop them to share with me any unpleasant experience they ever have and not keep quiet because I suffered from my childhood not knowing and not telling even when I knew I had been abused.
Speaking on this issue with women and girls reveals life time of trauma they suffered from sexual violence without telling.
Today in Nigeria, rape and incest is a daily crime against girls and more recently boys. Many victims are silent and will never tell growing up with the scar and trauma. This is every mother’s nightmare.
Parents, schools, religious institutions, civil society groups, law enforcement and parliamentarians, government needs to work together to secure safe spaces for girls to grow without fear of sexual predators. Girls should be sensitized early on their sexual and reproductive health and rights; and on policies on protection.
Sexual violence is a life time trauma and many do not recover from it. It should not never happen.