If you are not familiar with the name “Sugabelly”, then you must not have been on the Naija side of facebook and twitter in the past fortnight.
It started as a series of unfortunate events, triggered off by the death of a gubernatorial aspirant on the eve of the culmination of his political ambitions and then quickly nose dived into the murky waters of sex, illicit sex and straight out unfortunate sex.
That is if that unfortunate expression is fortunate enough to describe the story that seemed on one part surreal and on the other part, vividly real.
Some years back, the son of a gubernatorial aspirant (he of the bucket kicking fame above), had dated an impressionable 17 year old and in the space of a few months, they had explored the realm of what was decent in sex, and what could best be described as exploitation and manipulation. In plain English, rape.
Anyway, the story is out there for anyone patient enough to google “sugabelly”, and the opinions on what could count as rape and what was within the limits allowed by the victim considering the fact that she kept going back to her aggressor over and over again, are as varied as is humanly possible.
The plethora of emotions on display also range from the mildly confused -“something does not just sound right with her story. I can’t place a finger on it, but something seems to be wrong somewhere”, to the vehemently certain – “I have earned a right to hold a more valid opinion on the sugabelly saga, because I have been raped before”.
While tiptoeing around the issue and trying to prevent myself from saying more than: “I stand with sugabelly, even if some parts of her story do not quite pan out for me, I choose to support and believe her – let the accused sue her for libel and defamation if he feels he is being wrongfully accused, but let the discussions around this particular issue continue unhindered”, I must admit that there are a few gray areas but even with that, the disclosure is almost therapeutic for a lot of social media users.
Because somewhere in the midst of all the drama swirling around this unfortunate incident, if you blink you would almost miss it, are the hundreds of stories that are finally being heard about experiences that had been stifled for fear of stigma.
With Sugabelly’s unburdening, it seems like Nigeria is stopping and taking the first few tentative steps towards breaking the culture of silence that has shrouded rape and defilement of minors for decades. The unspoken omerta code that seemed to empower and embolden rapists to take forcefully suddenly started loosening around the hinges.
“I think sugabelly is right because I had a similar experience. I was held down and raped by a gang of four, lured there by someone I had trusted”.
“I was raped at 13. I was raped by a close relation my parents trusted and had handed me over to. That experience has scarred me for life”.
“I have had a near rape experience but I was just lucky to have escaped by the skin of my teeth. I therefore do not believe a girl as smart as sugabelly sounds would keep going back over and over again”.
“Bullshit, I do not believe a word of what she has said”.
All are valid opinions and all should be allowed because when combined, they help to test the integrity of Sugabelly’s assertions and also ensure that in trying to prove to ourselves that we are finally awake to the trauma and reality of rape in our society, we do not succumb to the temptation to reach for a tire and commence the lynching already.
Because the stark reality is that on the other side of rape stories and victims who are not believed or are shamed for “allowing themselves fall victims to predators”, are the wolf criers.
Rape is a serious crime – made even more so by the fact that it leaves unseen imprints on the soul of the victim. Yes, even near rape incidents can be horribly traumatic. For instance, I have never been shot but I have found myself twice now, looking into the barrel of a gun.
Those who know me well know how the trauma of those near misses has just refused to allow me the luxury of one stress fear, nerves free, unbroken night of sleep. Rape and near rape incidents are at varying degrees of traumatic – but traumatic nevertheless.
Rape is evil.
But miscarriage of justice is even more evil.
So, while we choose to #StandWithSugabelly, it is also important that we consider the other side of the saga and allow the accused (and those with niggling questions on the frayed ends poking its head out all over the details of the story), a right to fair hearing.