By Kaosarat Morenikeji Atobiloye, edited by Peace Akinwale

What you should know about sexual assault. It damages people and destroys life. - Bays Planet Foundation
Photo by Cottonbro

Linda was on her way to her hostel on a Thursday evening. She wore a long pink gown which synced effortlessly with her stunning beauty. She was at a T-junction, strolling to her house.

A man has been catcalling her. She didn’t give this man attention, given that she always knew what those things meant. She kept striding as she should, without taking a second to look at the catcaller.

Before she could cross the road, someone slapped her butt. She turned to see the person, and her cheeks met with a man’s lips.

Sexual or indecent assault is the physical, psychological and emotional violation of a person in the form of a sexual act inflicted on such person without their consent. It can sometimes involve using force or manipulating someone to witness or partake in sexual activities. From fondling to unwanted touch, forcing victims to engage in unwanted sexual acts, attempted rape, and even rape, are the various forms of sexual assault.

The consequences of sexual assault are numerous. It ranges from severe distress and physical injury to emotional harm and psychological distress. It is, however, worthy of note that not all cases of sexual assault involve violence, cause bodily injury or leave visible marks, just as in the case of Linda. However, some 11, 200 women were raped, and some of them, to death, in 2020, and this is just in Nigeria. One-third of Nigerian women experience a form of sexual violence throughout their lifetime.

The most terrible aftermath of rape on victims is often the emotional and psychological injuries. These injuries can take a long time to recover from, given that it becomes a part of the victim’s identity. There is a high likelihood that victims of sexual assault suffer from having suicidal and depressing thoughts after sexual violence. Victims are also liable to contract sexually transmitted diseases or, even worse, unwanted pregnancies.

Rape is referred to as “any genital, oral, or anal penetration by a part of the perpetrator’s body or by an object, using force or without the victim’s consent”. You should also know that rape is not gender or sexuality specific.

However, victims of rape are usually females or small children. Statistics show that about 92 per cent of rape victims are female and eight per cent male.

So, what separates sex, or a gesture of affection, from sexual assault or rape?

That’s simple!

It’s a matter of consent.

Before sex can be consensual, both parties involved must have the ability and freedom to choose to engage in sexual activity. It should be noted that nobody should engage in sexual activity with a drunk person, someone on a drug, someone asleep or unconscious, underaged, or someone with a severe mental problem as they’re not fit to give their consent.

The lack of consent in any sexual activity is equivalent to sexual harassment or rape. Consent can be verbal or in written form. Should permission be based on body language, it can be misunderstood. Because body language can be misunderstood, it is more advisable to get consent in verbal or written form to erase all uncertainties that might come up after the event. Dating someone or being intimate with them isn’t equal to automatic consent for sexual acts.

Any individual in the party can withdraw consent at any point. Once your partner withdraws their consent, the next step is to halt any sexual activity happening before that time. Continuing with the sexual act will be regarded as abuse, rape, and violence against the person.

It’s widely thought that in most cases of rape, the offender is a stranger. Unfortunately, the truth is the majority of people who commit rape know their victims and, in most cases, are their relatives, friends or even work colleagues. A more significant percentage of victims often find themselves in unfortunate situations because of trust that they’ve placed in the wrong person.

Stranger rape, which is rape where the perpetrator is a stranger, isn’t any less prevalent due to how unsafe our society is. 

Rape within marriage and relationships can also occur. Remember, sex is about consent. If your partner has forced you into having sex with them even when you’re not interested in the act, it is rape.

We should disregard the misconception that there’s no rape in marriage. 

Victims of rape and sexual assault often wallow in guilt, blaming themselves for a situation entirely out of their control. Society doesn’t make it any easier, too, as they dole blame on the victim and exonerate the perpetrator. There is no excuse for rape!

Sexual assault can take place in many forms, but one thing should be clear: ‘it is never the victim’s fault!’ Linda was just walking to her house. She wasn’t insinuating anything sexual when a stranger harassed her. It’s the same for thousands of people who have been attacked and raped before.

Victims of sexual assault are what they are, victims!

The responsibility of rape is solely on the perpetrator. In saner climes, there are strict actions taken against actors of rape. 

To prevent rape, several individuals and organisations have made attempts by raising awareness about the sexual rights of women, organising social-emotional skills and assertiveness training, providing opportunities to empower and support girls and women, creating a safe and protective environment, general orientation and helping victims of rape, which is also what we do at Bays Planet Foundation.

As individuals, you can also do your bit to avoid stranger rape by ensuring safety every time. Travelling in well-lit areas, avoiding late-night travels, walking in pairs, avoiding shortcuts, avoiding entering closed spaces with unknown persons, and carrying a mace are things you can do to ensure safety.
However, you can do much more by sensitising people about rape and the nature of abuse. Share information about abuse to authorities, and ensure that a victim isn’t blamed. The victim is cared for, protected, and taken through every recovery process essential. You can even reach out to us, and you’ll definitely be kept anonymous if you like.

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