Stella Maris was sixteen years when she got admission into the University to study Economics. She was a very brilliant student and made the best WAEC result in the secondary school she attended.
A day before she moved into the University campus, her father took her on a shopping spree and she had fun purchasing all she ever wanted and even those things she never dreamt she could have. Her father spent a fortune on her and she went home a happy girl in preparation for moving into the campus the next day.
But something strange happened to her that night. Someone crept into her room and forcefully had carnal knowledge of her. She woke up and saw blood stains on her sheets and rivulets of semen on her thighs. She didn’t understand it because her father was the only male at home as her male siblings were all schooling abroad. She confided in her mother the next morning and although she looked shocked, she dismissed Stella’s story as the figment of her imagination and told her not to discuss it with another person.
She moved into the campus the next day and focused on her education. But during lectures one day, she felt very sick and fainted and was taken to the medical centre. Her parents were called after a test conducted on her revealed she was pregnant. It was her father that drove to the campus and picked her.
But he didn’t take her home immediately. He drove her to a hospital where he had her pregnancy terminated.
Within a short while, it dawned on Stella Maris that the culprit was her father. She confided in her mother who dismissed her allegations as arrant nonsense and warned her to be very careful.
But during her long holiday and she was home, the attack became frequent to the point that she demanded her true paternity from her mother. Embarrassed by the whole scenario, her mother warned her again to be careful. Eventually, Stella Maris had cause to leave the house and come to Lagos and seek refuge in a shelter belonging to a non-governmental organisation. Her mother made several trips to the NGO to try to explain the predicament but Stella Maris remained there for months and eventually had to quit school.
At the shelter where she sought refuge, she met others like her. Young girls and teenagers who were sexually-abused by their fathers, cousins and other close relatives who were also seeking refuge there.
Before her death in 2012, Sele Eradiri, the Nigeria Television Authority broadcaster who featured on a weekly popular programme Newsline once featured a family in Ikoyi Lagos where a 38 year-old man allegedly violated a six-year old daughter of his friend and the mother of the girl equally alleged her husband was inserting his fingers in the private parts of his own daughters. Sele Eradiri had taken the crew of Newsline in partnership with Mrs Josephine Effah Chukwuma of Project Alert on Violence Against Women and the police and headed to the Ikoyi residence of the couple to rescue the children and their mother and forwarded them to a shelter belonging to Project Alert at Ikeja.
Sexual harassment is a common phenomenon in higher institutions of learning, offices and the home.
It is often a shameful experience for some of the victims who could not openly talk about their experience nor report their cases to the police. Shame and social stigma faced by many victims have made them remain silent in the face of tyranny. Sometimes too, they are intimidated and threatened by their assailants to remain silent.
A young lady who just resumed work after her NYSC narrated how she got a job and lost it barely three months after.
“My boyfriend who works in the establishment told me about the vacancy. I applied for the job and was invited for the interview. I got the job. Shortly after I resumed, I realised all the managers were making passes at me but one was most vehement and aggressive in his approach. So, I told him that my fiance works there and that what he was demanding for was not possible.
It was like a joke but before I knew it, my fiance’s name appeared in the sack- list and I did something that shook the foundation of that establishment. I ran to the MD and narrated my experience to him and told him about my fiance’s predicament. I had to resign for my fiance to remain in the company but they still sacked him afterward. It was bad.
That is why I am in my own business. It was a very bad case. What baffles me is that the people who do this don’t care if you are married or not.”
Universities are worse off for this. In many higher institutions, female students sleep their way to ‘success’ while the male students pay their way through.
Cynthia Okere narrated how a particular lecturer tormented her at the university to the point that she spent six years instead of four to graduate . But she was not bold enough to report the man to the authorities.
Cynthia said her trouble started when she had to take a compulsory course being handled by the lecturer when she was in 100 Level. If you failed the course, you would be asked to go to another department.
“So, the lecturer just capitalised on this to make money and satisfy his sexual urge. He collected N5,000 from male students and demanded sex from female students. I refused to pay and I refused to yield to his sexual advances. I failed the course and had to rerun it in 200 Level.
That was when I looked for money and paid the lecturer. But this could not assuage his sexual thirst. The man insisted on sleeping with me. I refused and made up my mind to change the course. I was not surprised when he released the result and I failed again.”
Tertiary institutions across the country are rife with stories of female students’ travails in the hands of these lecturers. Lecturers capitalise on the innocence and academic laziness of many female students to have illicit sex with them. In many cases, some of these lecturers have been dealt with by the institutions concerned. Stories abound of randy lecturers who were caught in hotel rooms after they were set up by female students in conjunction with the institution’s authorities.
During a recent visit to the University of Lagos, a parent of a new student had to force back the breasts of a female student into her bra when she saw the way they were dangling out of her low-neck blouse like water-melons.
“ It was incredible. You needed to have seen those breasts. And on top of that, her skirt was very short. Which lecturer would see her and look away? She was practically begging for it. You cannot blame the men all the time because my husband has experienced that in his office. An 18-year-old intern asked him to rent a house for her and he demanded to know why. She told him she was living with her parents and they were disturbing her. I personally walked her out of his office because after he told me the story, I visited him one day and found her seated there.”
However, many parents are of the opinion that seductive dressing should not be a yardstick for sexual harassment. In a workshop held in Lagos sometime ago on elimination of violence against women in higher institutions organised by the Legal Research and Resource Development Centre in conjunction with the Students Affairs Division of the YABATECH, some of the participants disagreed with this position. One of them, an associate professor of law from UNILAG, Mrs Ayo Atsenuwa, reportedly said that the fact that some females dressed seductively in the name of fashion was not enough for any reasonable man to harass them.
“If we argue like this, we can as well justify armed robbery. What we are saying is that an armed robber who does not have a car is justified to steal one from those who have. If our fathers did not rape our mothers who were always dressing almost nude in ancient time, then we have no reason to justify rape or sexual harassment,” she said.
In her presentation at that seminar, the Executive Director, Project Alert on Violence Against Women, Mrs Josephine Effah-Chukwuma, said that there was no reason for anybody to engage in sexual harassment.
Josephine Effah, through Project Alert has been dedicated to creating awareness about the dangers of sexual abuse and rehabilitation of sexual abuse victims.
She is known to stand against battery, sexual abuse, trafficking of young girls for forced labour and other issues and also operates a shelter for battered and sexually-abused women. Effah-Chukwuma posited that domestic violence including battery, threat to life and sexual harassment are the commonest forms of violence against women and young girls so far received.
“Sexual violence against children, especially little girls, is becoming prevalent. Hardly can a day go without one newspaper reporting a case of defilement and incest against a young girl; sometimes as little as two years of age,’’ she said.
She opined that although poverty and socio-economic challenges can be considered to be part of the causes of these abuses, they are avoidable reasons.
“It is more about men and boys feeling they have power and control over women and young girls, physically and sexually assaulting them,’’ she observed. For women, sexual harassment is still an issue they face in the workforce. Even female employees at high-profile companies have reported harassment from their coworkers. Women in offices are often harassed, belittled, ignored, objectified and challenged.
Emilia, a secretary resigned her job because her husband suspected she was having an affair. “ Indeed my boss sexually harassed me everyday for years. I was ashamed and embarrassed to do anything about it. I felt pathetic and weak. I hated his power and control over me but I pretended it was not so. I needed the job and besides, it was my word against his. I was happy when my husband insisted I resigned.”