Trigger warning: Sexual harassment

When women complain about sexual harassment, the typical question that follows is, “Where were you?” implying that they had to be in a questionable location for it to happen. 

But what happens when the harassment happens somewhere that’s supposed to be safe? Seven Nigerian women share their experience with sexual harassment in situations where they least expected it’d happen.

Image designed by Freepik

At the gynaecologist’s office

— Audrey, 27

I went to the hospital for a pap smear, and the male gynaecologist kept saying I had a beautiful face. I was uncomfortable, but I politely smiled and said, “Thank you”. When it was time for the smear, he directed a female student doctor to do it. I was immediately relieved, but my relief was short-lived. 

Anyone who’s taken a smear test knows you’re naked from the waist down, knees in the air, and entirely exposed when the speculum is inserted. The person performing the test usually sits at eye level of your cervix. In this case, it was the female student doctor. But this guy stood behind the female doctor all through, staring at my cervix. He made it seem like he was directing the student, but he was staring at me, and even commented that I had a “beautiful cervix”.

When the student was done, she had issues with removing the speculum. So, this guy reached in — with ungloved hands — to remove it. Then he slightly tapped my vagina. I felt violated, but I wasn’t sure if I was thinking too much about it. After the test, he asked for my WhatsApp number so he could “forward the results” to me. I didn’t report him. Who would take me seriously in a government hospital? 

In her home

— Nini*, 24

My dad had a stroke a few years ago that left him mute and immobile. After the initial treatment at the hospital, he was discharged, and my family paid for a physiotherapist to come help with his movement thrice a week.

I was usually the only one at home when the physiotherapist came, and he soon started flirting with me. I didn’t think he was serious, so I’d just laugh him off. He was much older and really friendly. He would say stuff like, “Shey you’ll be my second wife?” but I didn’t see the need to complain to my mum.

Then, one day, he asked me to help him move my dad for a particular exercise. When I did, he grabbed and kissed me. My dad’s back was turned, but he was literally in the room! I screamed, and he must’ve panicked because he hurriedly left. He never came back to treat my dad.

In a place of worship

— Moyin*, 21

I used to have nightmares as a 12-year-old, and my typical Nigerian mum decided I needed deliverance. I was taken to one ori-oke (mountain top) for a three-day vigil, and my mum wasn’t allowed to stay with me. 

It was a youth-focused deliverance program, so every other person was underage like me. On the last night, we had to meet the religious head individually for special prayers. He wasn’t alone when I got to his office. There was one other man and two women holding candles, praying. They made me lie on my back on the floor, and the religious head lay spread out on top of me. I think it was supposed to be a power transfer or healing thing.

I should note that we were both fully clothed, but the man was moving back and forth on top of me. It went on for about five minutes before I was asked to leave. I only realised years later that this man was actually grinding on me with a full-on erection.

RELATED: A Timeline of Silence: Why Does Sexual Violence Have Little Consequence?

At the office

— Lola, 29

I once had a boss who, for the one year I worked with him, didn’t hide the fact that he wanted to sleep with me. 

Anytime he managed to catch me alone, he’d smack my ass or pinch my cheeks. When he noticed I deliberately tried to avoid him, he’d give me never-ending tasks or shout at me for no reason. I endured it for a year because I was dead broke and wasn’t about to leave my salary without having another job lined up.

In a police station

— Flora*, 31

A friend was picked up by the police for riding on an okada, so I went with some of his family to try to get him released. The officer handling his case leered at me all through the time we were there. 

At first, I ignored him, and he kept frustrating us. But my friend’s brother begged me to try to be friendly with the officer so he’d be more helpful. I plastered a smile on my face, and sure enough, the officer became helpful. When my friend was finally released, the officer went, “Won’t you hug me to say thank you?” I acted like I didn’t hear him and walked out of the station as fast as I could.

In the library

— Sarah, 19

I used to visit a public library close to my home frequently until the day a man exposed his genitals to me. 

He was sitting across from me, and I noticed he kept fidgeting. After a while, he called my attention and gestured under the desk, implying that I had dropped something. I bent to look and instantly came face to face with his genitals. I was too shocked to say anything, and immediately moved to another section. There were a few other people in the library, but I kept thinking, “What if he comes to meet me here?” So, I just decided to leave altogether. It was crazy.

With a family member

— Danielle*, 22

When I was around 6 years old, there was this uncle who regularly visited. I really disliked him because he always made me sit on his legs even when I protested.

My parents didn’t mind, but the day I complained to my mum that there was “something in his pocket” that always poked me was when I stopped seeing him at our house. Now, I know what the something in his pocket was, but I wish my parents had prevented him from making me sit on his legs in the first place. That’ll never happen to my kids.

*Some names have been changed for anonymity.

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