The More Sibyl Podcast Presents: Child Sexual Abuse in Nigeria
Before we all dance away to the distracting tune of Big Brother Naija and all the gains we've experienced in the past few days on creating sexual abuse awareness become secondhand news, let me just say this.
Rape is horrible. To be held against your will and have your body violated in such a manner is an experience you will never forget. Indeed, your body and the generations after you will ALWAYS keep the score. And the worst of these transgressions is when a child is sexually abused.
Empirical research and lived experiences have proven that A CHILD INTERRUPTED IS A LIFE INTERRUPTED. A traumatized child grows up to become an adult who reacts differently to the world around them, which results in an isolated way of living. Trauma is bad. Trauma experienced as a child due to sexual abuse is incomprehensible, as the ensuing impact is far-reaching and more permanent than the abuse itself.
And remember that abused kids don't stay kids forever, they become our spouses, us, friends, or family. So inadvertently, we are all affected. I think if we all understood the negative, almost exacting impact that trauma has on every one of us, whether directly or indirectly, we will be more proactive at preventing it.
When children, especially little girls, are sexually abused, they learn how to keep secrets and the concept of shame, how to wear different masks and a shocking realization of how unsafe the world is.
These children grow up to become individuals who may experience a slew of post-traumatic effects ranging from body image issues, sleep difficulties, lingering feelings of worthlessness, and mental health issues like depression, personality disorders, and anxiety. Attempts to forget such traumatic experiences could be successful and often leads to viewing your childhood as a whole, through the lenses of the abuse – even the most cherished moments become tainted.
Try as you may to move past these experiences, your brain always keeps the score, and as a result, survivors are often trapped in a painful feedback loop of intrusive fragments of their trauma, called flashbacks. Just as microorganisms require certain substrates to thrive, from experience and in talking to other survivors, sexual abuse thrives in secrecy.
Abusers, who are often people known by the victims (e.g., family member or a neighbor) know this too well and they are very skilled at the game of subterfuge. Abusers also succeed by either infusing fear into the sponge-like minds of their victims or by lowering the child’s inhibitions via establishing an emotional connection, a term described as grooming.
The kick in the teeth with sexual abuse is how victims find it hard to confide in another adult of their experiences. The impact of this is that timely interventions, which is key to rescuing a child from recurrent sexual abuse, cannot be done, thereby providing the right substrate for the abuse to go on for extended periods of time until something exacting happens – say for example, the abuse is finally detected or due to relocation or being sent off to boarding house.
Prolonged exposure to such abuse is even more traumatic to the sense of self as it brings with it an overwhelming sense of helplessness and lingering shame that never goes away.
There are some experiences that even growing up in the right environment cannot shield you from; this is understandable. The problem becomes when children do not feel safe coming forward to talk to their parents or guardians about these experiences. Most parents, especially the Nigerian variety, have failed to build an open system of communication with their children. As a result, most children won’t come forward for fear of being blamed or worse, punished.
This fear-based parenting style we grew up with has done more to make victims keep quiet than anything else. When you rule your kids in fear, punish them for slight offences, and demand they respect every uncle and aunty at the expense of their personal safety and privations, they are less likely to open up to you.
So I implore parents, guardians, and wards to use this opportunity to begin this conversation with their children and wards TODAY - no matter how grown up these kids are now. Conversely, I think it's time I opened up to my parents too. It's never too late to as it is a path to healing and breaking the vicious cycle of abuse.
I also think now is an opportunity for the church to soberly look within, restructure, and put policies in place that CAN prevent and address this kind of abuse, in all forms and appearances.
I do hope that we as a country can advocate for stricter sanctions for rapists especially child rapists.
Let's be wise as serpents; the heart of man is desperately wicked.