Child Sexual Abuse and Psychological Wellbeing in Adulthood

Child Sexual Abuse and Psychological Wellbeing in Adulthood

By Jibril Abdulmalik

Bose is a happily married 34 years old banker, with a lawyer husband and 2 lovely children. Tragedy struck however, when a gang of 3 armed robbers attacked their home and also raped her. All she could do was plead that the children be taken away to another room. Hot tears rolled down the face of her husband as he watched helplessly with a gun to his head.

In the immediate aftermath of the event, the husband opted not to disclose the rape to well-wishers or the police, on account of the shame and associated stigma. They both took a few days off from work but Bose was inconsolable. She stopped talking and would just sit and be staring into space for long spells at a time, while weeping silently. She stopped paying attention to the children or the house and appeared to be lost in her own world. She also stopped eating food but would go to the bathroom to take a bath almost every thirty minutes. Her husband initially thought he understood why she was so upset, since he knew what transpired, but she had stopped talking to him too. As the days rolled by and there was no improvement in her condition, he became increasingly worried. Eventually, after 2 weeks, he brought her to see a Psychiatrist. She was admitted and commenced on treatment for severe depression, as she was also suicidal.

After a while, when she started communicating, she explained that as a teenager in her first year of secondary school, she had been serially abused sexually by her mother’s male cousin who was living with them. She called him Uncle and did not understand why he would do that to her, but he threated to kill her if she told anyone. She became sad and withdrawn and it only came to light when she had severe bleeding on one occasion and she had to be taken to hospital. The ‘Uncle’ was arrested by her parents who felt betrayed and angry, but extended family members came to beg that it should be settled as a family matter. ‘It was the devil’s work’; ‘he was possessed and bewitched’; ‘he is not that type of boy’; ‘don’t let us allow the devil a chance to destroy the unity of our families’ e.t.c. Thus, the ‘Uncle’ was released from Police custody and sent back to the village. She subsequently recovered and was able to shut it out of her mind and continue with her education. She met her husband in the University and he was able to win her heart because he was so caring and trustworthy. She felt safe with him.

However, when the armed robbery attack took place and she was raped again, she started wondering what exactly was wrong with her and why were these incidents always happening to her? It must mean that she is bad and there must be something she is doing wrongly or she is simply an unfortunate person. She was wracked with feelings of guilt and started thinking that she may be better off dead. Thus, she no longer saw any need to nourish her body by eating food. Indeed, she felt defiled and dirtied, which was why she was taking her bath so frequently. She also had repressed feelings of anger and frustration that her ‘Uncle’ who repeatedly abused her when she was just 12 years old was never really punished and she never had closure or therapy. With the support of her husband who was constantly by her side, she made good recovery and was discharged afterwards.

Commentary While the details of the story above is fiction, statistics from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) in the United States indicate that a child is sexually abused every 8 minutes, and in 9 out of every 10 cases, the perpetrator is a known and trusted person: family, teacher, neighbor, religious cleric or sports coach.

We do not have reliable figures for Nigeria, but there is no doubt that it is also a widespread problem in our society. It is worsened by our tendency to push such occurrences under the carpet or treat it as a family affair. Thus, the perpetrators more often than not, get away scot-free to continue to prey on other innocent young children.

The societal stigma and shame associated with child sexual abuse only worsens the problem, as even the parents are more likely to do everything they can to avoid the negative publicity associated with it. The recent case of the 13-year-old house-help who died in Benue State, as well as several child hawkers who are abused and harassed, underlines the impact of economic vulnerability as a risk factor. Social protective mechanisms and the Child Rights Act needs to be implemented diligently to reduce these type of sad incidents.

PS: A tribute to the memory of the innocent 13 year old child from Benue State. And may the perpetrators (Mr. Andrew Ogbuja and his son, Victor Inalegwu Ogbuja) get the justice they deserve.

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