Let's Talk to the Men Who Rape - Shall We?

There is often the perception that men who rape are beasts and animals, the dregs of society. But is that really true? I think we make a mistake when we equate rapists with murderers, violent delinquents, street touts, depraved armed robbers, etc. In my experience, and that of a few women I've spoken with, or heard their stories, rapists are more usually the men around you, men you know.

It could be a male friend, coursemate, colleague, or neighbour. In some terrible instances, it could be someone related to you, a father, brother, and for some women, a boyfriend or a husband. Now, I know, I know. I am being heavily gender biased. A contributor to a thread on Facebook almost derailed a discussion on rape by bringing up the fact that women rape too, and that men can equally be victims of rape. I will not deny that.

However, history, statistics and current events, as well as shared experiences show that rape is a crime that is predominantly committed against women. So I'll focus on male rape against women here. As I was saying, rapists are not always strangers. In the sensational Abia rape case last year, the victim knew some of her rapists, and called them by name. They were not armed robbers, they were not street touts, they were university students.

Cynthia Osokogu knew her attackers, maybe hoped to get into a relationship with one of them. These people are people's sons, brothers, nephews, friends, cousins. It turned out some of them had Facebook pages. What I am saying is that they appeared normal, and could have been any male we know. It could have been any one of the males who reads this blog, and leaves comments here.

Think about that. Then think about the males you know. Are they rapists? Could your father, brother, husband, boyfriend, that male cousin or nephew be a rapist? Are you a rapist? Yes, you male reading this blog. I ask again, are you a rapist?

Have you spiked a lady's drink and then slept with her? You may be a rapist. Did you whistle and follow that girl walking home from the school library, and when she warned you off, you called her names? Or maybe you pushed the girl who came to visit at your hostel against the dark stairway wall and groped her? You may be on your way to being a rapist. Yes, that is how it starts.

You see, a lot of talk goes towards warning women against rape and how to protect themselves. And that is fine. From the time I was a little girl, I got the information from my mother and older women, from my peers, books and media, to protect myself, my body and my dignity, and to fear rape. I walked on the other side of the road from boys and men I didn't know, and tried never to walk alone, or places where there might be men in dark corners. But who talks to these men in dark corners not to grope or rape women?

The funny thing was that my closest encounter with a potential rapist was in my hostel room. He was a toaster, one of the finest guys in my class. We had been talking, and I assumed we were friends. On our way back from lectures one day, he was thirsty and I invited him in for a drink. Turns out, my roommates were not around. The door remained open as we chatted and I got him a drink. Before anyone could say Jack, he was groping me. I bolted out of his arms and the room and ordered him out. Thank God, he went.

My heart was racing a mile a minute so I didn't talk to him then, and not after. Like Kevin O'Leary in Shark Tank will say, he was dead to me. But maybe I should've spoken to him, told him what he did was wrong? Did he go on to defile the body integrity of another woman, could I have stopped him? I don't know, and I have since forgiven him, and my 18years old freshman self.

I often say that a lot of average Nigerian men are opportunists when it comes to exploiting women. What I mean is that while many will sexually harass a woman, most will not use force against a woman, nor be violent. But that is how it starts. A lot of times, when men do not respect women and our boundaries, lines are crossed, and sometimes, if we call it what it is, there is rape.

Day in, day out, the newspapers bring us news of rapes. A woman raped here, a woman raped there. And before a clueless person starts asking where the women were, and what they were wearing, whether they were virgin, clubbing, or alone, what about the adult men raping toddlers, children, a bus full of teenage students, or a young woman in full hijab?

So while we must not stop, as women, being careful, and protecting and teaching each other to avoid situations that may lead to rape, I think it is even more important to start talking to the men around us. If we want less women and girls raped it is time we talk to the men who are the active participants in rape. A victim did not rape herself, and no, she did not cause the rape. What we are sure about is that a man raped her.

So we need to focus on the men here. During the birds and bees talk, or other times when the topic comes up, we need to emphasize to our sons, nephews, and other males around us, that  as much as they are turned on by women's bodies, those features that make us women are not theirs to toy with. It belongs to the woman, and unless she gives them permission to touch, then don't!

Men, whether adolescent, young adult, or grown, are not animals who have no self control. We have to stop giving them a pass with such talk like, she was showing a lot of breast or, she wore a mini skirt. They are her legs to show off, not yours to tap or touch. You do not have a right nor a duty to correct her by shouting on her, or calling her aside for a talking to. Respect that the woman is an adult who has chosen to dress that way, and mind your business. Any other thing is sexual harassment, and if you're not careful could lead to rape.

And to all the guys reading this. I know most of you are decent, well brought up, enlightened, and educated men. You would never think of harassing a lady, not to talk of rape. And I respect you for that. However, you may know other men who are not as kind as you. So where someone is talking about molesting, groping or raping a woman, please speak up. Is a classmate, colleague, or friend joking about what he'd do a woman in a dark corner? Does he whistle obscenities at her while you laugh? Please stop and tell him to stop it.

The problem of rape in the society didn't start today, and will probably not end soon. But we can minimize it, and we can ensure the 'mistake' rapes of the "I thought she wanted it because she was studying alone with me" variety don't happen. If we keep talking ONLY to women, we disrespect men by saying they are beyond human reason, and like animals they have to respond to all sexual stimuli.

I think men are better than that. So as we're talking to our girls and women, let's talk to our boys and men too. Men, please respect the integrity of a woman's body as belonging to her, not to you, and not to the society.

Men, please, don't rape.