R-A-P-E; just a four-letter word; simple as it sounds, has the power to permanently alter the life of anyone who is unfortunate to go through that ordeal.
For every victim, mostly women, it is the most painful word to hear, as the recollection of the act, and circumstances leading to it can trigger excruciating pain and tears – no matter how far back in their life they encountered this traumatic experience.
In my case, it was just a normal Thursday evening; little did I know or imagine that darkness was waiting to uncover the deadly plot of someone I called a brother from another mother.
I delivered myself into his den, literally, as I naively walked through a slum in his community just to pay him what I thought would be a friendly visit.
It was the worst decision I ever took. In just a few minutes of being there, my smile vanished, my world came crushing as reality dawned on me. A predator was waiting to pounce on and devour his prey.
I was shocked and heartbroken: how could my ‘brother’ dare to touch me inappropriately in places I held sacred? My ‘brother’ who had sworn to protect me!
“But you’re supposed to be my brother,” I reminded him in a shaky voice, but he cared less.
My outbursts, screams and hitting didn’t work. For whatsoever reason, it took just my loud sobbing to get him calm.
After a while, he proceeded to grab me forcefully to his bed where he fondled me.
It was hours of never-ending pain, then finally came my freedom.
As I shamefully rushed to the exit, bearing a new identity as a near-rape victim, I lost not only a ‘brother’ but any sense of self-worth. I lost my pride, I lost ME.
Losing myself was the most painful part of the ordeal. A once bubbly, carefree and innocent lass suddenly turned dull, unhappy. I was alive, not living.
I learnt the hard way that such an experience stays with you for a lifetime. Eight years after, I still cry when I occasionally have flashbacks of that dreaded night.
For the first half of the eight years, I hated the opposite gender. I had no love interest because I could not bring myself to trust any male.
Till date, I tremble when I’m alone with a person of the opposite sex.
Online-hailing commercial transports or even taxis are a no, no for me once it gets dark. I can’t trade my comfort just to be quaking in my boots throughout the whole journey.
All these adverse effects for me, just a near-rape victim.
With that in mind, put yourself in the shoes of a rape survivor, an individual whose life has been permanently altered in the blink of an eye.
The pain being violated by someone you may probably have no sexual attraction towards.
The adrenaline rushing through your system which fuels you to struggle with an abuser, in attempts to push him off so as to flee for safety.
Being pinned down and having your dignity snatched in that very moment while you simply watch on, helplessly.
More often than not, the victims tend to have a feeling of guilt, especially the ‘I could have fought harder syndrome’ moments after the ordeal.
Most survivors tend to blame themselves for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, when in actual sense they are not even at fault.
For majority of the cases, the perpetrator has a close relationship with the victim, and this even heightens the sense of betrayal and lack of trust, thereon.
This was my exact situation, and a lot more women are also on this table.
It is sad to know that some victims do not even cross the legal threshold of 16 before they are subjected to all manner of sexual ordeals.
Ghanaian journalist and politician Elizabeth Ohene, who gracefully shared her experience in an article titled The Missing Outrage, is a survivor who falls in this category.
At just a tender age of seven when she was in class 3, she was abused after she had partaken in a celebration in her hometown.
In The Missing Outrage, Elizabeth notes that – looking at the time she was assaulted – she “cannot say that I knew what he had done, I did not have a name for what he had done, I did not even have a name for the part of my body that had been violated.”
But one thing she knows for sure is that the incident affected her physically, just like any other victim.
Aside from the unusual discharges she battled with, she had sores on her private part which were treated with hot water.
Other victims have reported cases of dislocation in some body parts, inability to walk for days after the assault, infection of sexually transmitted diseases and sometimes unwanted pregnancies.
The psychological trauma attached to rape is the most difficult wound to nurse.
“Rape is hell, it is a torture I will not even wish on my worst enemy,” a survivor who opened up on her experience under anonymity revealed.
Her dignity was snatched at a tender age of 14; now a 43-year-old wife and mother, she revealed her experience has had major effects on her marriage.
She recalled the weeks and months she had to convince her then would-be husband that she was indeed raped, and her torn hymen does not in any way indicate she is unchaste.
She had previously shared that same story with three other suitors, but none of them believed her and ended their relationship based on lack of trust.
To her, that painful experience was like getting abused a second time and it had a toll on her psychologically.
It took a while and lots of patience for her to enjoy sex or even the idea of it, a situation she said left her marriage shaky, initially.
Till date, she revealed, she sees sex as a marital responsibility and not an act of pleasure.
This is clear evidence that the psychological effect of rape never departs from the survivor; it is a lifetime burden to carry.
Renowned global icon Lady Gaga gave a perfect description of this development in an interview where she revealed she suffered a breakdown as a result of sexual assault that led to pregnancy.
The star explained that even when you think you have forgotten the ordeal, your body remembers and, once in a while, it sends you a trigger that is enough to slip you back into feelings of physical and emotional pain.
Years later, she still has “a total psychotic break” and in an “ultra-state of paranoia” as a result of the trauma.
Survivors never get over the assault; they simply tend to adapt to coping mechanisms just to make life easier.
While physical pain and trauma are the obvious by-products of rape, victims carry with themselves other forms of emotional scars for the rest of their lives.
There’s an increased likelihood of developing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) which includes flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts.
It is not surprising that a rape survivor can have challenging interpersonal behaviors or physic numbing which causes them to distance themselves from peers and enjoying the state of loneliness.
Depression and, in worst case scenarios, suicide is the most common aftermath of rape.
Rather than open up on their abuse, some victims would want to send their ‘shame’ to the grave as they probably would not even have a listening ear to console them or for fear of being stigmatized.
The statistics of sexual assault is alarming. At least one in every five women have experienced some form; and in Ghana, specifically, the annual reported rape cases surpasses a 1,000 according to the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service.
This is in reality may be underestimation, taking into consideration the cases that were resolved without the involvement of law enforcement agencies.
There are credible data that show that about seven percent (7%) of the global population have, at a point in time, been robbed of their dignity, chastity and right to sexual freedom and choices.
Rapists often see women as sex objects who are there to fulfill men’s sexual needs, but this is a total misrepresentation of what the gender stands for.
Intimacy is a choice that must be taken only by the individual; any other means is tantamount to assault.
What many know of rape is the unlawful sexual activity, most often involving sexual intercourse, against the will of the victim through force or the threat of force.
Rape is, but not only limited to, the unlawful penetration of a victim, and having sexual intercourse with an individual who is incapable of giving legal consent due to factors including age, illness, intoxication, unconsciousness, inability to comprehend or even deception.
Available literature shows that most offenders have attempted justifying their actions by suggesting their victims exposed themselves indecently or availed themselves by being in a closet with them.
Irrespective of whether there was a prior sexual conversation or the decision was taken in the heat of the moment, NO means NO.
NO can come in many forms – I’m not ready, I’m not too sure about this, maybe another time, don’t touch me, respect yourself, behave or comport yourself – they carry the same seriousness as an actual, bold NO.
For most sexual assault victims, justice is expensive, as, more often than not, the issue is not treated with the seriousness it deserves.
Some guardians would rather profit off the crime than ensure the perpetrator languishes behind bars, leaving the victim feeling vulnerable and unworthy.
In a typical primitive Ghanaian home, such issues are settled at home and the victim would simply be wed off to her abuser to neutralize the stigma and shame.
This has led to the increase of child marriages and teenage pregnancies.
The conversation on rape is not well prioritized and trumpeted.
Today I am convinced beyond every shred of doubt that NO rape under ANY circumstance can be justified. Beyond my experience of near-rape, what has sealed my conviction, is the rounded condemnation my recent suggestion in an article that – if someone claimed she enjoyed rape – then maybe, the culprit could be pardoned. Rape in any shape or form is criminal and preys are abused.
I have come to understand they are no longer victims, but survivors, in a sense that they are still thriving, conquering one day at a time despite the “hell” they have been through.
They are only unfortunate to be part of a category no one else wants to join or imagine, but that should not come with shame because they did nothing wrong.
It is NEVER the fault of a victim that they were overpowered and taken advantage of. It can never be their fault that they were at the wrong place at the wrong time or that they put their trust in the wrong person.
Aside from the legal framework put in place to deal with sex offenders, it is a shared responsibility to protect the sexuality of one another to ensure the issue of rape and its adverse effects would be duly tackled.
I have discovered that more sealed lips are ready to be loosened, and I actually hope they would be vocal on their experiences, while they keep on keeping on.
Name and shame, and let the authorities do the rest!