Assault takes many different forms and typically, one of the most common responses we see is silence. It is the path oft taken- the form of least resistance in the moment and often for a much longer period beyond. It takes time to fully process and heal to the point where the victim is even comfortable enough to speak on the issue. In 2003, Eedris Abdulkareem released a satirical record, Mr. Lecturer detailing the scourge of sexual harassment that is common for many women in many educational institutions across the country. In retrospect, it is a culture woven into the fabric of Nigeria. From the young bankers tasked with soliciting clients of a certain tax bracket to the job interviewer seeking something in return for offering a job, it’s an experience one too many Nigerian women can relate to. The culture of harassment has thrived because of the silence that occurs for a number of reasons- fear and a lack of consequence being top of the list.
16 years later, BBC Africa has shared their latest Africa Eye documentary and it details harassment experienced by undercover journalists posing as students to lecturers at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and the University of Ghana. As usual, there’s the support and praise that comes for the producers whenever an exposé comes together and the subsequent demands for justice. Much subtly though, is the sentiment that the victims should have mercy on their abusers. We hear the calls of “Pity them. They have families and friends.” This tends to come in the same spirit of the victim-blaming logic that lecturers are often tempted by students and that those advances are cause for trouble.
Let’s get it out of the way- victims owe their abusers no compassion with how they choose to address their abuse. Many of these victims see their lives turn in ways they never imagined because of men who are unable to act as they should or keep their perspective and understand the weight and impact of the positions of power they find themselves in. To ask for mercy, or ask that victims not pursue whatever form of justice they desire is unfair. Where was the compassion when the power dynamic favored the man? We regularly expect women to be compassionate and forgiving and there can be no place in our systems for such passivity when dealing with issues of sexual harassment and assault. Anything less than the weight of the law is too little but in seeking justice we must also remember that these women must be ready to come forward on their own terms, we cannot coerce them to tell their stories and play out what will inevitably become an ugly chapter in the public eye if they are not ready to take such a step.
Humanizing abusers has to stop. A lecturer at any institution in the country knows and understands the weight of his role. They fully understand the weight of their actions and that’s why, as we see in the documentary they take steps like closing their doors and meeting the students they intend on harassing in unique conditions, as opposed to making these lewd advances in public. It is time we look in the mirror and ask ourselves how we are holding young women to a higher level of accountability than men old enough to be their fathers.