The persisting acts of rape and sexual assaults in high places

Not even the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, thought the issue deserved prompt inquiry and response until the intervention and advice of his wife. The standard in high places and offices is to peremptorily dismiss any issue and complaint from women and girls as unimportant or to evasively put in place a response that would not address the issue in any fundamental way. The idea is to always relegate women and their issues and complaints to the back burner and treat them with levity within the persisting context of patriarchal organisation of the world, which condemns and restricts women to the status of second-class citizens deserving of less than the full dignity of human beings. And this denigrating treatment of women and anything related to the female gender is presided over and entrenched and sanctioned, especially by those in power such that they perpetrate and cover up the most heinous treatment of women at all times.

Which was why when Brittany Higgins went public with how she was raped in 2019 in one of the offices of the Australian Parliament, specifically in the office of now Defence Minister, Linda Reynolds, by one of her colleagues and that her reports to her bosses on the incident did not elicit any positive action on their part that she ended up becoming dejected as she felt like a “political problem” that needed to be solved, with her bosses appearing “uncomfortable” if she brought up the issue again. As a matter of fact, all that her disclosure initially generated was the government simply stating that she must have been advised at that point to go to the police and that she would be supported in her report. This is in spite of Higgins describing her feeling of being forced to choose between her career and making a report to police which meant that she actually made a first report to the police but chose not to pursue it in order to protect her job.

The unusual negative reaction from most Australians to the government’s tepid response must have compelled the latter reaction of the Prime Minister which he also credited to further discussion with his wife as he stated that he now realized further action was needed to address the matter and announced an investigation into processes dealing with sexual assault complaints and a review of workplace culture in the parliament, noting that “there should not be an environment where a young woman can find herself in such a vulnerable situation. That is not OK.”

But why should/would the Prime Minister need negative reaction from the public before being able to apprehend the gravity of sexual assault in Parliament offices if not that it is something the high and mighty in most societies take as normal? The privileged in the society see the violation of the body and dignity of women as part of what they use to validate their high positions and therefore do not see any big issue about it. We must remember that rape and sexual assaults are really about power, the demonstration and use of power to deny women of control and sovereignty over their bodies in order to show the superior standing of the rapists and assaulters. It has been reported that 78 percent of all reported cases of sexual violence and assaults are carried out by men even as they also account for 90 percent of all sexual violence and assaults against women.

This confirms the relationship between the notion of power and sexual assaults as it is perhaps almost inconceivable for anybody not holding or perceiving holding superior power to want to subject another to sexual violence and assault. And who gets intoxicated by the notion of power more than those in privileged and high positions who would think that they could get away with anything, including multiple sexual assaults of women.

We have since found out that the perpetrator of the rape against Higgins must have really been adept at the business as two other women have come out to say that they also suffered and experienced sexual assaults from the same person. Unfortunately, we also know now that one of the other sexual assaults was perpetrated after the Higgins incident which could have been prevented if there was proper response to the complaint from Higgins by officialdom.

It should be clear therefore that we have a very big problem to confront with the way power is exercised in the society against women as this is not just about subjecting women to second-class status, but also extends to sexual violence and assaults  particularly by men in high positions in society. And if we could witness the sophisticated and institutionalized governmental structures failing Higgins and other women in Australia, we can only imagine what horror and violence women must be experiencing in the unstructured bedlam of societies like Nigeria. It means that we must start to grapple with how to unravel the knot of the persisting acts of rape and sexual assaults against women by men in high positions and places in the society.

Given the realisation and argument that this ugly situation is really about and a fallout of the existing power imbalances between the two genders in society, we have to invest efforts and resources into intensifying the empowerment of girls and women in society such that they would not be obligated to accept acts of rape and sexual assault under any guise. We need to assure and equip women with resources that would lift their current subservient status in society in order to see themselves as equal human beings who should not put up with being subjected to rape and sexual assaults without a significant response. And it is in this area of appropriate societal response to persisting acts of rape and sexual assault against women that we have to do more than leave the responsibility here to women alone. We have seen how the tardiness and lack of interest in and appreciation of the gravity of rape and sexual assault contributed to the predicament of Brittany Higgins in Australia, such that we must put in place a more responsive and effective structure of reporting and apprehending acts and instances of rape and sexual assault in every society, including Nigeria.

We need to make it easy for victims to be able to report acts of rape and sexual assault in high places with a view to apprehending those involved and engaged in such acts. And it should be the responsibility of all to ensure the people so apprehended are made to face appropriate penalties that would dissuade others from making the violation of girls and women their pastime going forward.  We have a duty to all rise against the persisting acts of rape and sexual assault against women, especially from men in high positions and places in order not to just save girls and women from avoidable degrading violence, but to also ensure in the society an environment for the full flowering of the potential of all its inhabitants through which setting the society could be assured of the highest level of human existence and development.

  • Yakubu is with the Department of Mass Communication, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Nigeria.

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