Originally titled ‘Day of the Woman’ but known more for its 1980 edition title, ‘I Spit on Your Grave’, this controversial rape revenge movie was very popular in the eighties even though film critics had nothing but harsh words for its graphic and lengthy depiction of violence and gang rape.
Last year, the film made TIME magazine’s list of ten ‘most ridiculously violent’ movies of all times. I watched the film almost two decades ago yet I remember weeping as the central character was made to endure criminal debasement from five men. But I also enjoyed the revenge that followed even with all its bestiality. Because I believed the men who so cruelly raped and brutalised the woman before leaving her for dead deserved their equally violent end.
There is currently a video circulating on the internet of a young Nigerian lady being gang-raped by a group of four young men. The girl and those who violated her are believed to be students of Abia State University. Three prominent lawyers and human rights activists, Dr Chidi Odinkalu (who chairs the National Human Rights Commission), Mrs Maryam Uwais and Ms Carol Ajie have helped to bring the issue into public consciousness, following up on the initial intervention by Ms Linda Ikeji who circulated the video.
Instructively, they are collaborating with the Minister of Youth Development, Mr. Bolaji Abdullahi, who waded in the moment the video was posted on YouTube at the weekend. Like many Nigerians and several other people across the world, I watched the video which brought back memories of how I felt during the early part of ‘I Spit on Your Grave’. I don’t want to describe what I saw in the video but the statement from the Ministry of Youth Development captures the essence.
In condemning what happened, the statement said: “the young woman was threatened, rough handled, and sexually exploited by the men, who are said to be cultists. To make matters worse, this despicable and wicked act was recorded and circulated by the alleged rapists, who blurred their own faces. This behaviour has rightly caused outrage among young Nigerians, parents and all those who have seen the video recording. The Honourable Minister views the behaviour of the perpetrators as decadent and barbaric; and believes the attitude of these men, if indeed they are young Nigerians, does not represent the character and nature of the Nigerian Youth”.
Given their efforts on this ugly affair, Mrs Uwais and Ms Ajie should be praised for standing up for the dignity of women. But Abdullahi and Odinkalu have also gone the extra mile to demonstrate commendable example in leadership. The minister who has a week-long engagement with youth organisations in Lagos has been on top of the issue and has had direct contact with the authorities of the Abia University and the police command in the state. But beyond that, he told me yesterday that he is already planning a white ribbon youth conference where 80 percent of participants will be mostly male (potential rapists) as against inviting more women (potential victims). He also said he would head straight for Abia state once he is done with his sessions in Lagos and will keep the issue alive until the perpetrators of the heinous crime are apprehended and brought to book.
Put in another context, there is a way in which what is depicted in the video serves as a metaphor for the Nigerian condition: afterall, the political and the business elite have always conspired to gang-rape the masses of our people who equally seem helpless and powerless in the hands of their tormentors like the poor girl in the video. But as they say, everyday for the thief, one day for the owner as retribution will most likely come at the fullness of time. We must, however, leave politics aside for now to deal with the substantive issue of callous debasement of womanhood that is fast becoming a norm in our society. It is indeed instructive that in the present case, the critical challenge is that there is no complainant, essentially because the lady in question apparently decided to cut her loss.
Almost certain she might not get justice from the relevant authorities with the additional burden that the society is not always sympathetic in such cases, the traumatised lady may have reasoned that it was better for her to suffer in silence. But she must be encouraged to come out to nail those who criminally molested her because she knows them very well and actually called them by names while she pleaded with them as they sexually abused her. She should know that this is the time to be strong by standing up to these evil men as this may be her own redemption from what could turn out a lifetime of trauma if she keeps silent. Meanwhile, I understand that the clip has been sent to London for cleaning up so that the audio can be more audible and the picture clearer especially since the girl’s face can be seen. There are also features that could make the men also identifiable, especially to those who know them. This is a case we must not allow to simply go away.
It is instructive to state here that the cynical manner in which the issue of rape is usually handled is not peculiar to Nigeria but it has nonetheless remained a source of concern to civilised people. There was an interesting case which unfolded early this year while I was still in the United States. It started in 2008 when an 18-year-old woman in Washington State filed a police report that she had been raped by a man named Marc O’Leary but the officers on duty chose not to believe her story. So rather than investigate her claims, the police charged her with false reporting. To avoid litigation which would cost her money, she pleaded guilty under a deal that included a fine of $500. Redemption, however, came for her in March this year, when following another rape allegation against him, this time in Colorado, police in the state raided O’Leary’s home only to discover that he kept records of all the women he had raped (with their photographs) and the woman from Washington happened to be one of them!
What I am trying to say is that this cynical, if not irresponsible, disposition to rape is not peculiar to Nigeria. What is tragic in our own case is that victims hardly ever get justice essentially because there is a conspiracy against raped women who also suffer the double jeopardy of being ostracized by the society. Even before the Abia case, there have been too many cases of rape in the country, including of small children by their own family members. Yet these cases are rampant because perpetrators know they can easily get away with crimes in our country and that has unwittingly encouraged the culture of impunity to fester. We are all aware that there are laws, stringent ones in fact, in our statutes book against rape and related crimes but when last did we hear of somebody being sentenced by our courts for such offences?
Not only are there no sanctions for offenders, there is also hardly ever any redress for victims who have nobody or institution to trust with their plight. The natural place to complain is the police but that is actually where the problem gets magnified because victims are never offered comfort or protection. For this reason people shy away from drawing attention to their pain because of the stigma that follows reporting such incidences, even at the police station where they are often derided with stupid questions that are only meant to further ridicule and dehumanize them.
Just on Monday last week, a Lagos lawyer, Mr. Isa Alade, who had gone to the Ajegunle police station in Ajeromi-Ifelodun area of Lagos to bail a 13 year old girl (who had been molested but ended up being detained) witnessed a more bizarre drama than the one which took him to the station. A six year old girl had been raped and her parents brought her to the station to report to a woman police officer. Let’s take the story from Alade: “I walked in. I didn’t know anything about it. I was there for a different matter. There were two people with me and there were guys who were there also, on different matters. So, all of us were waiting for this woman who was interrogating the six year old girl. Ordinarily if you want to ask a six year old girl questions like that, you should ask us all to go out. She didn’t. We were all there. This was 10 pm. The officer interrogating her was sitting down. The girl was made to stand. The officer was asking very stupid questions. The mother was there throughout but the dad stepped out. The officer asked the girl if she enjoyed it (sexual act). She asked the girl why she didn’t scream when the man asked her to remove her pant. The girl was just a primary one pupil! When the girl admitted collecting N20 from her molester, the officer said to the girl ‘And you collected it? Are you hungry?’ I thought to myself, ‘Is this woman mad?’”
Alade has already sent a petition about this officer to the State Police Commissioner but we should not delude ourselves to believe anything will happen or that it is an isolated case. It is not. In matters of rape and related abuses, we seem to be leaving in denial with the perfect excuse that it is the way some ladies dress that attract such criminal behaviour in their attackers. This is not true and until we get rid of the ‘she asked for it, she got it’ mentality we are not likely to deal responsibly with this growing social malaise in which the daughter of anybody could be a victim. That is why we should use this rape case to ginger the relevant authorities to their responsibilities.
We all know rape cases are common everywhere in the country whether in the South, East, West or North. But given the penchant by some of our commentators to stereotype, officials of the relevant authorities that could lead to a resolution of this sordid affair are becoming defensive. Yet this disposition will not help us in the effort to bring a closure to what has become a shame and an international embarrassment for all self-respecting Nigerians. But to come back to ‘I Spit on Your Grave’, after the men had perpetrated their criminal act, they gave a knife to the youngest to go and kill the lady so she would not report them to the police. But as it turned out, he couldn’t finish the job so the lady lived to eventually take her revenge. Given the attention that has been given this case, the life of this lady would by now be in serious danger. That is why I call on all our security agencies to locate and give her all the protection that our country can offer a citizen in distress.