Friday, May 15, 2009

The Hushed Voices.

It just doesn’t feel contextually appropriate to pick up a typical fashion/lifestyle magazine and be weighed down by the shocking true life story of a minor, barely six, repeatedly abused by an uncle, only to flip through the other pages and see the smiling faces of ‘fashionistas’ in their usual pomp and swish garbs. Cant really pinpoint my grouse here, but there just seemed to be no consistency in the theme, how could I for the love of humanity, have been expected to read a thing as despicable as that in one minute, shrug my shoulders, with a deep stomach wrenching sigh, make the sign of the cross and pray it doesn’t happen to my child, and in the next minute flip on to read other cheerful things about, well, fashion extraordinaire? How convenient could that possibly be? Were it a script from Nollywood, perhaps it might have been tolerable to have inserts of commercials jabbering irrelevantly. It is not something that took place in a foreign land that alienates me from the surrounding area; it is a true story of a 28 year-old Nigerian girl, an undergraduate of the University of Lagos who may never get her life straightened out for the reason that her uncle turned her into a sex slave to relieve himself of his most perverted fantasies many years ago when she was a child. That this story appeared in a fashion magazine is in itself nothing to raise hue about, but that it was rendered mechanically without any apparent interest or intent to bring the perpetrator to justice, the victim to solace or the readers to justification is perhaps the heart wrenching aspect. How are we supposed to get over such an issue if it is obvious that the status-qou is not being questioned, and justice is not being sought? Perhaps we are only expected to turn away and pray the news spreads to every home in Nigeria in the hope that mothers will be alerted that paedophiles are everywhere, but untouchable?
Who are these paedophiles? Our uncles, fathers, cousins, nephews, teachers, priests, and nannies? The people who should protect the little ones? The ones whom the children put their utmost trust in?
My grouse spreads across my face like a scar. Issues like paedophilia is not a ‘Super Story’ episode on Thursday evening when dad and mum leaves work early enough to sit with the kids with an accompaniment of soft drinks waiting to be entertained; it is an issue that should incite, provoke and bring forth tangible answers and pragmatic results.
Why are these things happening? And most of all why do we keep ‘quiet’? We talk, but we hide under pseudonyms that protect identities…and ultimately shield these psychologically imbalanced offenders. Our shame is in our silence. Nobody is talking. Our dishonour is in the culture that protects the depraved adults.
There are many stories of this kind, children abused by relatives, and the most horrifying detail is in the fact that it goes on for years, scarring the child emotional and leaving him/her traumatised for many years to come. And when it is time to voice out the pain which may now be too heavy to bear, the offender is either dead, sorry, or ‘untouchable’ – you know, an important figure in society; or in many cases the victim is unwilling to go the whole mile. She is still cautious, counting her losses, while society overwhelms her with its role of tradition.

I had interviewed a victim of paedophilia once. She was sexually molested by two uncles on different occasions. She talked about the episode, capturing details of the horrific incidents, I cringed. Apart from the article which was featured on, yes, a lifestyle/fashion magazine, she was going to write a book about her experience. I was glad, at least her identity was not concealed and I am certain the offenders will not be either as they are now exposed to the family and the world in general, it gives hope that some child will be saved soon enough from their grip, what relief!

But that is just one case out of a hundred quiet ‘pseudonym-ized’ circumstances.

What are the other victims doing? Some have been able to move ahead leaving their ‘shame’ behind, marry the men of their dreams and have their own children, they are sheltered; and a large number of husbands are not even aware of what had transpired between their wives and that 65 year-old uncle who they (the wives) plainly refuse to speak to beyond a ‘hello’ whenever they meet at family gatherings. Uncle is happy she is ashamed, his act is protected. He can go ahead and continue in his abominations; like her, the little ones will not be able to speak either, time will pass and their pain will dissipate and the chain remians unbroken.

Others end up like Kate, the unreal name of the 28 year old abused, who swears never to get married. She is in pain, her life is altered, but her uncle is untainted by his past. He has moved on to greater heights – of course he has his family, a doting wife, I presume, children he buys sneakers for, who travel to Dubai for vacation, and now he sits in a position of influence. His secret will die with him, he is certain of that because he knows you are a coward.

Oh dear, but that is what it is. That is the bed in which paedophilia rests on, unlike other crimes like robbery and drug abuse where people cry foul immediately it happens, a woman is concerned of how she is looked upon if the world knows she has been tampered with - men will not propose, friends will run away, society might even blame you. Like in cases where the child is said to be dressed provocatively, she is blamed partly for her abuse. Have you heard anything so sick? It is as off-coloured as the act itself!

Be rest assured that even if you are 3 years old and a relative beats you to submit to a shameful act of abuse, there are still some people, psychologically imbalanced individuals, who will assume the act to be minor, and tell you, ‘maybe, in some ways, it was your fault.’
It is true, a larger number of the society will interpret your cause in many ways vexing of the spirit. Still, it is your duty to save the next child and not camouflage in a garb that makes you a fictional character - one they are unable to relate with; be the heroine who stands and makes her voice heard in the hope of restoring a society of its madness.

Our love for ‘family’ that makes it impossible for us to point out the rotten eggs in our midst for proper penalty is probably the pits of it all. It is those ‘family’ roles we play that is most shameful – mothers who will not listen to their children when they cry out, ‘Do you know what Uncle did to me?’
Kate was slapped across the cheeks when she tried to speak to her mother years ago about the abuse, so goes her tale.
A society that refuses to pry – oh, we pry alright into the closets of celebrities. But while we are busy dissecting the livee of super stars, we should take the time to look through the windows of our neighbours. What do you see?

Report to the authorities if an uncle has his manhood inserted in the mouth of his five-year old niece!