By Ore Taiwo Makinde
I was pregnant, carrying my second baby, on a night call several years ago when the unexpected happened! I cannot recollect exactly how long it took me to get over the events of that night, but I remember it clearly as yesterday.
I was the lone doctor on duty, but I lay helpless on the floor that fateful night when robbers pretending to be patients came into the hospital where I worked. We watched as they deftly worked their damage into our souls and minds. Losing my wedding bands that night was the least of my concerns when I had two young co-workers, sexually brutalized under my watch, needing my attention within the hour. In the few minutes following the exit of these inhumane set of people, I took the delivery of a patient on admission who had been in labour.
Although I escaped being raped physically, my mind and consciousness of freedom while working in my quiet corner to save lives were violated.
Listening to the news in the past few weeks has left my mind jarring with alarming thoughts on how our world got to be this way. To make matters worse, fellow Nigerians are explaining it away and commenting on how it is the way the abused person appeared to the abuser that resulted in their rape! As I type these words; lending my voice to the cause, my mind re-enacts the mental images of what happened over a decade ago. My heart does not just weep; it bleeds.
Rape is sexual violence. It is a criminal offence that is planned by the offender. It does not just happen. Unfortunately, our society has succeeded in absolving the rapists and making the victims, culprits. Sexual assault should not be justified for any reason, no matter the time, place or person involved.
The effects of sexual violence or rape are far-reaching, going beyond the physical bruises and scarring the mind. For many victims, it leads to shame, fear, self-blame, stigma, isolation, mistrust, nightmares, and flashbacks. Most victims are tormented by symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder and even depression. The list of problems emanating from the act of rape is endless including the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies and the worst of all, death.
How can a victim or even our society as a whole deal with all these effects? Let me summarise in a few sentences what you as a victim can do to recover as well as what we can do as a society to ease the pain of those suffering from such violence; whether male or female, adult or child.
- Realise firstly that the act of violence was not your fault. The blame game should be stopped and all myths surrounding rape dropped by everyone. Studies point to the fact that rapists select their victims based on their vulnerability and not how they appear. Or how would you explain the rape of a victim in a full hijab?
- Secondly, speak out. You need to speak out for yourself and the rest of us must speak out for the victim. Opening on the hideous trauma is the first step to healing but victims should be sure they will get the needed support and not blame. If you cannot confide in your family member or religious leader, there are helplines to call and sexual assault centres where you can get support.
- Assess healthcare immediately to get access to both treatment and preventive measures. When this is done, it is easier for the healthcare personnel to elicit findings that will identify the perpetrator and convict him or her in court. Rape kits are available in sexual assault centres, government health facilities and some private medical centres for this purpose.
- Get psychological help. Get counselling. See a psychiatrist or psychologist. Most victims fail to get psychological help and try to deal with the hurt by themselves for a long time. There are child psychiatrists who can help the abused child as well. Early contact in this regard will help deal with emotional and psychological trauma faster.
- Avoid self-isolation. This can lead to depression and suicide. It is important to reconnect with normal activities as soon as possible though this can be deterred by feelings of shame and stigma. It is natural to want to escape thoughts that remind one of the events and some victims may want to shut out thoughts by watching television, using drugs, or drinking. Spend time with those who value you and not those who blame you.
- Engaging in moderate physical activity and breathing exercises can help to boost your mood and ease the feelings of panic that could come up from time to time.
- Finally, we must advocate for justice for victims of sexual violence. We must not stay silent. Rapists should be punished severely to prevent this unwholesome act from perpetuating itself in our country. Those who violate the rights of anyone in this regard should not be allowed back into society until they are properly rehabilitated.
In conclusion, the victim of sexual violence may be a friend, sibling, cousin, father, mother, husband or wife to you or your loved ones. Let us all speak out in one voice to quench this ravaging endemic against humanity. Only then will full recovery and true freedom be possible for our society.
Dr Ore Taiwo Makinde is a Consultant Family Physician and certified Lifestyle Medicine Physician.
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