WE live in a world where as a preventive measure, people are ceaselessly taught not to get raped instead of the don’t rape teaching and message. We tell women and girls what kinds of dress not to wear in order not to be ‘provocative’, we tell them to be passive, to not be dominant, to watch where and when they walk, to not lead men on, to not walk alone at night, to not walk through short cuts, to not drink too much, to not leave their open drinks anywhere and many such others dos and don’ts. In fact, we live in society that place the responsibility of preventing rape on potential victims and not on the victimizer and perpetrator. However, following the rape and murder of a UNIBEN student, Uwaila Vera Omojuwa, which is one of the many reported cases in recent times, there’s been a lot of new awareness campaigns and protests, aimed not at victims, as plenty of campaigns traditionally do —but squarely at potential offenders and perpetrators. The week-long protests across states aimed to demand justice, much as they emphasised the need to teach men what constitutes consent. With simple bold inscriptions on placards, images, and hashtags demanding capital punishments for rapists, the messages sought overall to address the epidemic, from the source—the perpetrators.
Now, the push to educate men is a necessary and powerful one. For one, reports have it that sexual assault is overwhelmingly against girls and women and it happens every few minutes with more than 90% carried out by someone known to the victim. These are mind boggling statistics, and they clearly locate the problem at the level of boys and men, such that helping men and boys understand that not saying no does not mean saying yes, and that a person who was not actively fighting you off could still be a person you’ve sexually assaulted, is a cause worth fighting for. Besides, the idea that the burden of preventing rape falls not just on the shoulders of potential victims is still a relatively new one; it is also the case that if we train boys not to grow up to become rapists, we prevent in essence rape as there would not be anyone to perpetrate the act.
So, it has become necessary for parents and educators to begin the conversations about consent early in the children’s’ lives. Parents need to teach children that no one has the right to touch their bodies without permission, as well as strive, day in and day out, to inculcate in their kids that they don’t have the right to hit, touch, or harm anyone else. When children approach puberty for instance, their anxiety ramps up, as they’re searching for a foothold in a culture that still assigns value to men based on strength and accomplishment. They’re trying to figure out what it means to be a man at a time when the societal definition of “man” is undergoing fundamental evolution into what is wrong and toxic. And unlike previous generations, children and teenagers of the present times are surrounded by voices pointing to “toxic masculinity” as the way to go even in spite of it being harmful and a potential root of sexual misconduct.
At this crucial stage, the responsibility falls upon us as guardians and a society at large to help boys acknowledge the toxic aspects of masculinity. Accept it or not, too many boys are getting the message that masculinity necessarily has to be toxic, and that’s a really damaging message. The tween and teenage years are a great time to help boys wrestle with these mixed messages. We can guide them towards differentiating between the masculinity we want them to emulate, admire, and respect, versus toxic behavior. Let’s face it. Uwa’s rape and murder isn’t about women needing to be “more safe”, For God’s sake she was in a church, not drunk and properly dressed. The ugly incident was about entitlement, much as it was about toxic masculinity and a horrific response to rejection. Of course, there are a wide range of circumstances around each case – but the common factor is that where there is no consent, it is what it is, “RAPE”.
Yet, consent doesn’t apply only to sexual situations; consent is about respecting other people’s boundaries. We need to help boys first understand consent in a low-risk, not-fraught situation. The more practice they get at everyday consent, the better they’ll do when things are more intense. Boys often get the idea that saying no is weakness and that it conveys unacceptable sense of rejection, which makes it hard for them to appreciate what it means for someone to be entitled to say no if he/she does not want something and for others to accept and live with that decision. . We, therefore, need to start teaching them that true strength is saying what one really means, including saying no when when one doesn’t want or accept something.. A child who knows that he/she can say no if he/she doesn’t want to do something is more likely to accept and respect a “no” from other people. If boys are in the habit of saying yes when they mean no, and no when they mean yes, that’s what they’re going to expect from other people.
In any case, telling men not to rape seems like such a simple idea and quite easy to dismiss. Or worse, it gets twisted by “anti-feminism” groups as an attack on male behavior. Yet, one thing we can all agree on, at least, is that rape is a crime that rarely happens in a vacuum. And whenever there’s an opportunity to replace ignorance with information, we have the chance to prevent somebody from becoming a victim – and somebody else from becoming a victimizer and perpetrator. No doubt, all of this is messy and just like breathing, it would take time. But if we want to raise a generation of kids who would have a better understanding of consent, we need to start having these conversations.
For long, we have put the onus on women and girls to prevent sexual assaults by educating them on how to protect themselves; when we should be teaching men not to rape. It’s about time we turned the table around and taught boys consent. Of course, this is not to say that we should stop empowering women to avoid high-risk situations, and to defend themselves when necessary. But when rape is overwhelmingly an act perpetrated by men upon women, it becomes pertinent to stop thinking of it exclusively in terms of what women have to do to prevent it. We need to involve men and boys. We need to inculcate it in the boys to respect women’s bodies, that “no” and “stop” are important words that should be honored at all times. And the main thing is that parents, guardians and educators need to get better around this issue that they have been mishandling—or not handling at all—across generations. We all need to remember this: if we train men not to grow up to become rapists, we would substantially prevent rape.
- Yakubu is of the Department of Mass Communication, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Nigeria.
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