WHY DO RAPE APOLOGISTS SEE IT DIFFERENTLY!

Between the months of May and June 2020, the Nigerian social media space was awash with several reports of rape cases, some of which victims were battered, maimed and killed in the process. These acts, quite justifiably and expectedly stirred ample protests, and raised concerns from activist groups as well as well-meaning Nigerians. However, amidst several online petitions and rallies to this end were dissident individuals, who against the more popular reprimand of rapists and demand for justice, sought to investigate victims and the circumstances leading to their attack. These people were observed to be of divergent ethnicity and religious affiliations; yet alike in the nature of their appeal for victim-blaming. They were quickly regarded as unhinged by victim-sympathizers. However, I find this claim to be untrue.

Most rape apologists are sane. Often, they employ inductive or deductive reasoning like anyone else to further their appeal. They posit a lot of what if’s and why’s, and when creative, they employ maybe’s. They are deft at exhibiting resourcefulness in finding loopholes in any credible narration and can be unrelenting even when confronted with overwhelming evidence. Although their arguments in times like this habitually undermine common sense, they are seldom without reasoning at all.

Contrary to what most persons believe, apology is common and is to some extent a natural psychological response to rape and other forms of crime[1]. It does not always manifest as explicit statements or adamant insistent that victims bear responsibility for their own victimization but also as kind-hearted remarks, and even sometimes, as inadvertent internal dialogues. Sherry Hamby, a professor of psychology at the University of the South noted that sometimes well-intentioned individuals like therapists who work in prevention programs where women are given recommendations about how to be careful and avoid becoming the victim of a crime contribute to victim blaming[2]; in a sense, they are saying that victims played a part in the crime committed against them. Likewise, merely thinking that you would have done better than walk down a deserted alleyway alone at night if in the victim’s shoes, while hearing of a rape incident is a form of apology.

In the above case, a person can be apologetic out of the sheer need to feel safe. If a person ascribes the abuse on the victim to her walking alone at night, and decides never to do so herself, it instils a sense of security on the mind, and helps to admit that something like that would never happen so far one doesn’t walk alone at night.

Most rape reporting often place so much attention on the victims in the bid to rally sympathy toward her. This can be effective as people don’t ordinarily tend to empathize with a stranger, however, it can be ineffectual as well, as overemphasizing the victim tend to shift focus away from her perpetrator. In a study carried out by Niemi and Young where participants were presented with vignettes that describes hypothetical crimes such as: “Lisa was approached by Dan at a party. Dan gave Lisa a drink spiked with Rohypnol. Later that night, Lisa was assaulted by Dan.” It was reported that a high percentage of participants suggested actions the victim could have taken that would have resulted into a different outcome when asked to. However, when the sentence structure was changed, such that the perpetrator was made the subject in the string of sentences, such as: “Dan approached Lisa at a party. Dan gave Lisa a drink spiked with Rohypnol. Later that night, Dan assaulted Lisa.” Majority of the participants found it hard to come up with things the victim could have done differently to avoid her victimization.[3]

An individual’s precepts and views, and consequently, her likelihood to apologize or sympathize is largely contingent on the nature of her society, her background and personal experience. Whenever a rape report surfaces in Nigerian social media space — usually self-reported, and with both the self-identified abused and her supposed abuser active on the given media — the community is almost always divided into two; with one side and majority easily and completely accepting of all the self-identified-abused claims and sympathizing with her, and the other doubting, probing and apologising.

Most people that constitute the former category are females, and they exhibit unrestrained enthusiasm in shaming and rejecting the supposed abuser, and engaging in fervent clamour for justice. They often hold the self-identified victim’s account absolute, so much that they reject and shame anyone who might have certain reservations about them, and sometimes the entire male gender altogether for supposedly being barbaric and inhumane. One can hardly blame them for this since one out of every four Nigerian female is said to have been a victim of sexual abuse before the age of eighteen.[4]

Conversely however, this total disinterest in contrarian and investigative opinion and shaming of whoever might have them, and sometimes, of any male person who protests the generalization however innocent of all forms of crimes, tend to rally sympathy towards the supposed perpetrator. By continuing to barricade every form of unaligned opinion whether objective or sentimental, the self-identified victim and her sympathizers tend to appear as preying to an observer, and consequently, the supposed abuser as an unfortunate victim of scandal.

The Nigerian society accommodates several putative beliefs and insinuates as much unwritten standards around gender, some of which are the notion that conquest, the act of winning the sexual favour or love of a woman validates manhood; that sexual intimacy is the ultimate show of appreciation, and also the natural and expected compensation for the kindness bestowed on a woman by her partner or prospect; and that a woman’s roles are essentially within the confines of a kitchen walls and the expanse of bedroom furniture.

Therefore, when a rape case is reported, a person who subscribes to the first ideology is likely to see an esteemed accomplisher in place of abuser and a person who subscribes to the second notion is likely to see an ungrateful woman instead of the abused. Similarly, a person who agrees with the third opinion has a high propensity to blame the victim (woman) for failing to deliver on, and comply with one of the purposes for which she was essentially created during a case of a domestic sexual abuse.

A popular myth on rape in Nigeria is that no normal person could ever be rapist. Hence, when it occurs, people tend to assume the perpetrator is insane. The same is true of rape apologists, as described in the opening of this essay.

A person is probable to sympathize with a victim she knows personally, share certain values or social class with. Similarly, she/he is likely to find it hard to believe same could be capable of the hideous crime if accused of it. She/he might even over empathize with the perpetrator by focusing on his/her quality attributes.

The aforementioned are insights within social, cultural and psychological context on why rape apologists see it differently. Although these many reasons exist, it is imperative to call out that every individual is responsible for self-evaluating her beliefs, actions and inactions, and also training her perspectives to be broad and accommodate empathy on any given case.

[1]. Kayleigh Roberts, “The Psychology of Victim Blaming”, The Atlantic, October 5, 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/10/the-psychology-of-victim-blaming/502661/

[2]. Sherry Hamby, quoted by Kayleigh Roberts, “Psychology of Victim Blaming”, The Atlantic, October 5, 2016,

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/10/the-psychology-of-victim-blaming/502661/

[3]. Laura Niemi and Liane Young, “When and Why We See Victims as Responsible: The Impact of Ideology on Attitudes Toward Victims”, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol 42, Issue 9, 2016, quoted by Kayleigh Roberts, “Psychology of Victim Blaming”, The Atlantic, October 5, 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/10/the-psychology-of-victim-blaming/502661/

[4]. Technical Working Group on Violence Against Children UNICEF Nigeria, “Ending Violence Against Children in Nigeria: A multi-sectoral response to the 2014 Nigeria Violence Against Children Survey”, 2015, https://www.unicef.org/nigeria/reports/ending-violence-against-children-nigeria

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