Teaching Consent Can Curb Sexual Abuse

The socialization of the Nigerian child is an interesting one. We are taught to greet our elders. We are taught not to eat in our neighbour’s house. We are taught not to take things from strangers. We are taught to say thank you and sorry. Boys are taught not to cry. Girls are taught to sit ‘like a girl’. We are not taught to speak up when someone attempts to sexually abuse us.

We are not taught to report to our parents when an ‘Uncle’ or ‘Aunty’ touch us in places where they should not. We aren’t even taught the proper names for these parts of our bodies. It is either peepee or bum bum.

There is a lot that is wrong with the socialization of the Nigerian child and the number of sexual abuses against children shows just that. Talking about sex for Nigerian parents is considered a taboo. Which is ironic because isn’t that how we all get here? But we are conservative like that.

At HandsOff Nigeria, we are concerned with teaching kids that there is an inherent right that they have the power to exercise over their bodies, and that is the right to say no. Teaching children that they can say No is probably one of the biggest things that can be done for their mental health, psychological well being, confidence, and sexual health.

Teaching consent may seem radical to the average Nigerian, but it is something that each and every one of us should have known since age 3. If someone that is not your mummy or your daddy touches your penis or vagina, yell stop and make sure you tell me or your mum who did it.

Predators and sexual abusers take cover under the fact that silence rules, parents don’t want their children to know about sex, and even when they do it is done from a place of shame. Of course, hugging a boy is not going to get you pregnant. But that’s what they lead with.

When asked what the community can do to as regards teaching consent, we like to think that it comes down to the family unit. That’s the first point of socialization for kids. And then the schools, and religious institutions.

If we grow up getting hammered on the basics of consent, boys and girls will grow up knowing to ask for it and to give it, if they so wish in their sexual relations as adults. The entitlement people have towards the body of others will stop, or at least be reduced significantly and cases of sexual assault will also drop.

Most importantly, is that in teaching people that they can say No and they have autonomy over their bodies is that victims of sexual violence will feel less guilty about the actions of perpetrators. Society has perfected the art of victim-blaming and sadly many victims believe it is their fault that they were raped. But that’s not the case.

In teaching consent, we teach that what a woman wears, or that she came to spend the night in your house, or that she collected the gifts you bought for her does not automatically translate to a right over her body. Also, because we have an inherent respect for older people, no thanks to aspects of our cultures, we teach kids that being abused by an older person isn’t right.

Just because Uncle Femi or Aunty Ada did this to you – and in your innocence and because of the pedestal you’ve grown to place them growing up – doesn’t make it right. Their actions are criminal and there’s a name for the
type of crime they are committing against you and the rest of society.

When we remove the lens of demi-goddery that we use to look at older people then it becomes easier for us to speak up against the perverted actions of those of them around us. Many victims are afraid to speak up because, ‘he’s my stepfather’, ‘he’s my uncle’, ‘he’s my father’s friend’.

It’s an absolute thing of joy when our volunteers go to schools and we realize that these kids have been waiting to hear the things we say to them all their lives. Boys are learning how to conduct themselves with the opposite sex. Girls are learning that they can say No and that people are willing to listen to them and answer the questions they have.

The feedback from the questionnaires we hand out is often heart-breaking. Children who are in their formative years should experience nothing but the joys and freedom of being a child is being sexually abused by people they trust the most. But children aren’t the only ones who need to be taught consent.

Teachers and parents too, because over time we’ve realized that many do not even know any better. That is why most sexual abuse cases against minors are often covered up by parents and relatives, either from shame or victim-blaming.

Our generation is waking up. A lot of the dysfunctionalities that existed in previous generations, men and women all over the country in different organizations like ours are working to put an end to them. And so, there is hope. One step at a time. What we look forward to the most is a robust justice system that gets perpetrators to pay for their crimes.

As much as we work to sensitize the public, it will be very little use if criminals continue to get off with their atrocious acts. There will always be deviants in society. But what we are doing is to teach, bridge the social gap, and when of course breakers of the law are brought to face justice, they can’t claim ignorance as a defense.

But much more than sensitizing, a great deal of our work is empowering. Liberating the minds of the young men and women who are prone to abuse and getting them to know there is power in their No, and no one as the right to their bodies.

How can you help? Two ways.

  1. Follow us on Social Media @HandsOffNG and share our content with as many people as possible, to enable them to learn about consent.
  2. Secondly, donate to us. Our donation details can be found on the donation page on the website.

You’ll be glad you did.