Alongside the ever-growing body of scientific research and breakthroughs, in the midst of all scholastic, artistic and political achievements being attained all over the world this year and the last, one movement really captured my heart. The last two years will forever go down in history as the period in which people actively took a stand against sexual harassment on a global scale . This was the year when survivors stood up in their numbers and testified against their offenders to inform them this: that their time was up. In January popular United States Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to over 100 years in prison on several accounts of sexual misconduct. His victims? About 256 young women, 144 of which came out publicly in court during his sentencing hearing to make their victim impact statements in his presence. According to the investigative reports, he had been committing this crime for about 20 years, his victims being of the ages 7-20.
In September of 2017, American former film producer Harvey Weinstein also was accused by dozens of women of sexual harassment, this case is currently still in court. Around the time the news broke, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement began to gain more popularity, as people of influence all over the world were speaking out on encounters of abuse they had experienced and standing in solidarity with those who had experienced such. In a chain of events similar to what happens at group therapy, people were coming out of the shadows of shame and regret and sharing their stories in the hope of encouraging others and moving on. These are just a few examples, an increasing number of people, popular and unpopular alike, have been getting exposed for their sexually inappropriate behaviour in recent years.
Progress is being made on a global scale, no doubt about that. However this is not to say that some unfair actions do not take place. I’m going to narrow in on Nigeria here. I can never, and will never, understand the way of reasoning that always seeks to blame the victim and protect the offender. Share any story on a teenage girl being touched inappropriately or even raped by a middle-aged man along with solid evidence of the abuse, and you won’t need to wait long before you see the “maybe it was what she wore” and “why was she out by that time?” comments. There could also be a group who will question the evidence and say that she was overreacting. Some even go as far as blatantly stating that it is ‘the girl’s fault’. Even if people are not writing it down and displaying it on social media, people are thinking it. I do not know which is worse. It’s like the offender gets a pat on the back and a slight warning while the victim is left in the open, without an umbrella, as the rain of blame falls on her.
This is one way the situation typically goes. The other way is this; the victim is protected and not blamed, but however the family or community chooses to protect the offender also. In these cases the offender is a known figure to the family; a family member or friend. So it gets swept under the rug, and the reputation of the adult is prioritised over the safety of the child. It’s just heartbreaking. It is a horrible thing to happen to anyone in general, but it just breaks my heart when I come across stories of repeated child molestation by adults in whom they put their trust.
This ‘protect the offender’ culture is one of the reasons I that I believe still contributes to the existence of the offenders and their continued evil acts. The security that our society gives those people empowers them to do more damage, knowing that they will probably never be accountable for their crimes.
I also believe sexual harassment goes beyond the perpetuator of the act. It also involves those who know about it and do nothing, those whose inaction aid and abet the act. Sure, they did not engage in the act, but maybe they watched. Or turned away while it happened because “it wasn’t their business anyway”.
It’s so easy for me to write this but truth is, it is easier said than done. Most people would choose to remain silent because a lot of people who violate others sexually are in places of power and influence: this is what they use to threaten their victims and keep them shut. However, one thing life has taught me is that you cannot keep the truth hidden forever. It will break through and shine like the morning sun. The Nassar and Weinstein cases have similar plots; the affected women continued to speak until their voices were heard. Allegations against Nassar had been made before year 2000, but 2017 was the year that action was taken to persecute him. It took over 17 years, but now he is cooling his heels off in jail for the rest of the life. This happened because people kept on reporting them amidst all the authorities telling them that it wasn’t a big deal, or that they were mistaken.
So please I encourage you, do not stay silent. Speak up, because your voice is important no matter what you have previously been told. Please do not stay silent if you see acts of sexual misconduct in your community. Every situation is peculiar, so please approach with caution and reasoning. People who engage in bad actions thrive on their victims’ inaction. If we want to see less of these people we have to join in and do the right thing. Their time needs to be up.
Thank you for reading.