To get a better understanding of Nigerian life, we started a series called ‘Compatriots’, detailing the everyday life of the average Nigerian. As a weekly column, a new installment will drop every Tuesday, exploring some other aspect of the Nigerian landscape.
This week, a Nigerian woman narrates her experience as a victim of rape in her early university days and why it took her so long to accept she was, in fact, a rape victim.
I am currently in my 20s — a decade that has been remarkable for my first minor car accident, first shared living space and the regrettable slowing of my metabolism.
It is also the decade that I finally accepted, without caveat, that I am a part of the Nigerian sexual violence statistic, a victim of sexual assault, a rape survivor.
It has taken me six years to get here. In which time I believed the scaffolding to hold classifying my experience as rape, a little too weak to hold any water. After all, I willingly journeyed to a man’s home past the hour of 11 pm. I willingly allowed conversation levitate from sofa to bedroom. I even participated in willing sex, after the fact.
Forget crossing the rubicon, I made a beeline straight towards it. So where could I have come off divesting myself of complicity? Or ignoring the fact that I must have consented to rape, as a certain possessor of Twitter fingers so illogically posited?
Again, 6 years — dismantling, unlearning and piecing together again.
At 19, I was in my second year studying law at the University of Lagos and fresh off the throes of a break up. 19 was also the year when I, like most people, fell prey to the Snapchat ghoul’s appeal. Chronicling my every waking moment and comatose hang-out as the must-see events of the next twenty-four hours.
Unfortunately, I had an ex-boyfriend who didn’t subscribe to this credo. His silence on social media often relegated me to moments spent staring at my phone, comically conjuring up scenarios he was reveling in, sans me. Which was why I was determined to have enough televised fun for two people, making a show of attending everything from a church service to dinner with friends. In my opinion, I was winning the ‘Post-Breakup Fun Olympics.’ It was on one of such occasions that I met him.
I don’t know if I speak for many women or only slightly impressionable University students when I say older (unmarried) men hold a largely unwarranted appeal. Almost as though the almighty formula — greying hair + wonky hairline + weathered face — somehow coaxes us into believing they are free of the fuckboyery that plagues their younger counterparts, mathematically converting their attention into something worthy of allure.
It is why on the night that I met him, I was more than a little charmed. He had surreptitiously cleared the bill for my table of rowdy, Snapchatting girls at Double 4, using that as a precursor to make introductions with me.
This charm was in spite of the fact that he was sporting the most ridiculous afro — a final, laughable attempt to hold on to the vestiges of a hairline determined to revolt, and my very first tell that this stranger was edging dangerously close to middle age.
For some reason, I don’t remember the specifics of our first exchange. I vaguely recall his T-shirt being tucked into slightly flared jeans (my second tell!) and maybe a slight stammer I never quite picked again. But I’ll never forget him making the sign of the cross and releasing a faux gasp when I mentioned I was still in university. These weren’t in reaction to some tired trope about Unilag girls like I immediately assumed, but were instead, shock that I still possessed a matric number, when he had hung up his convocation gown at least 10 years prior.
There was a 15-year gap between us.
For all the uncertainty and self-doubt that my encounter with this man unleashed in me for years to come, our actual interaction lasted all of two-weeks. In which time, we spent some hours of the day exchanging calls and awkward texts, never being quite able to find a middle-ground between the messaging requirements of an ancient teen and those of a busy car-dealership owner. We fared better at in-person meetings, two of which were held in restaurants, the last and final of which took place in his home.
It’s important to note that, save the last meet up, all our exchanges were devoid of any sexual undertones. Openly admitting to being uncomfortable with our age difference, he deftly avoided the topic, choosing instead to play the role of harmless friend and confidante.
In hindsight, the events that led up to permanently parting ways with him were so textbook assault, he might as well have written the revised standard of the book.
Exactly two weeks to the day we met (a Friday), we were in the middle of an uncharacteristically long telephone conversation, where we admitted to suffering bouts of Friday night FOMO. It was past 10 pm, and my hostel had all but emptied out following a cacophony of heels and excited voices down the stairway.
We agreed to forgo a night of dancing and sipping fake Henny in smoke-filled rooms for some time hanging alone at his home. It was my to be my first time over and attempting to allay any fears of foul play, he pledged to have a spare bedroom cleaned out for me, even going so far as to suggest booking a room in a hotel fairly adjacent to his home, if I felt the need.
There was the reel — a seemingly innocuous night spent with a friend, gorging on bad movies and even worse junk food. The innocence of the night supported by the promise of separate lodgings. But here was the kicker, in spite of how things turned out that night, I went into his home, completely open to the possibility of the start of a physical relationship. It may sound contrarian to my claims, but at the time, I was roaring to go, as only he shared the sentiment of our ages being a barrier. My only reservation laid in immediately having sex; as I was completely swayed by the idiot notion that engaging in early sex in a relationship equated to a woman being ‘easy’ or whatever rubbish term we had been sold since our female inception.
So when, shortly after arriving at his home and making a game out of picking a movie to watch, (eventually settling on An Education, ha!) — he leaned in for a kiss, and I gladly, wholeheartedly welcomed it.
When we were done with the niceties and compliments that usually follow a first kiss however, and that slow segue that usually marks the beginnings of sex began, I aired my reservations, making it clear I wasn’t ready to get intimate so early in what I thought could possibly blossom into a relationship.
I could be wrong but, I’d bet anything this wasn’t his first time attempting a thing of the sort. So easily did he placate my worries and certify that he was willing to wait for how ever long I needed, that there was no way his skill hadn’t been honed through at least a number of tries. It was why I couldn’t have suspected anything untoward when he suggested we move to his bedroom to get ‘more comfortable’.
A year ago, I would have told the rest of the events that played out in an entirely different way. Completely discounting his actions as rape and narrating it instead as a jolly one-night stand of sorts, an added knot to my achievements as a conservatively wild teen. I would have explained how, getting into bed with him, things got more physical, with me disrobing entirely at some point. I would have narrated how eventually, he did the same, choosing to focus on the fact that he took great care of his body for a man his age, and not the reality that I was completely unprepared and unaware when he did so. And in telling the beginning, of when we actually engaged in sex — I would have skipped that part altogether.
But here’s what happened.
It had gotten incredibly heated, and while I originally asked that he take things slower, he assured me that he got off more, giving pleasure as opposed to actual sex, so I allowed things proceed.
What I wasn’t prepared for was sometime during the rush of things, feeling the tip of what was most certainly not a finger at the entrance of my slit. Believing myself still to be in the presence of a trusted friend and potential partner, I laughingly asked if he was attempting to ‘just the tip’ me at his age.
Again, I was unprepared for the millisecond transformation in his eyes from the glassy, almost depraved look of the aroused, to an almost stricken thing, contorted into what I couldn’t believe was near rage.
“Why are you insisting on proving you’re a child?”
“Why are you choosing to make me suffer?”
“Haven’t I done enough?”
He punctuated his last statement with an unexpected thrust inside me, reverting his eyes to that glossed over look that only seconds ago, seemed so far away.
In the moments that followed, he may as well have been ploughing into a freshly deceased corpse for all the response I was giving. My mind was moving at a thousand thoughts per minute. This man, this essential stranger whose sexual history I knew nothing about, had just, without a condom slipped inside me. He could be housing a harem of diseases for all I knew. Somehow focusing all of my worries on my health as opposed to the fact that he had in addition, just completely violated me and my trust in him.
My disgust and embarrassment soon gave way to self-reprimand. You baited this, you dressed for it, your genitals were in his face. What did you expect? At my lowest moment, I resolved simply to go along with things, putting up no struggle the next morning when he initiated sex a second time. I even attempted to make up for my unresponsiveness the night before, somehow finding the space to be worried at the thought that he would tag me as shit in bed.
I actually attempted to impress my rapist. What a concept.
When I left his home later that day, I did so with the equivalent of my allowance in cash for ‘cab fare’ and the directive that I forward my account details so he would pay some more money in. I don’t know if this was out of guilt or a misdirected attempt at providing care. And I’ll never find out, because I blocked and cut off any chances of communicating with him on my solemn ride home. I based my reasons on being uninterested in a relationship, choosing to remain adamant that I was merely foolish and not the reality that I had just been raped.
I can imagine him and the majority of men who have no doubt pulled this maneuver to have sex with a girl, laughing and poking holes at its classification as rape. I’ve seen it on Twitter, where several named rapists pull out ‘receipts’ in the form of texts discussing the sex in question, as unimpeachable proof of innocence, choosing to make no references to the allegations laid by the victim that she was essentially worn down, or coerced into having sex.
But make no mistake, that is unequivocally rape.
For years, I asked myself the wrong questions, if really it was a rape, why didn’t you struggle? What stopped you from shouting out and drawing attention to the fact? After all, that measure of resistance would have put him in his place.
But the right question and the only question I should have asked, and one I finally asked this year was: “Why should it have gotten to that stage at all?”
It doesn’t always have to be the gore and struggle, sometimes it is simply continuing after an appeal to stop. Sometimes it is starting at all, after clear requests that it not begin at all. I would know.