Enduring sexual molestation from fellow students was an experience a man who only identified himself as Okonkwo, had to grapple with during his days in a boarding school.
But according to him, the experience itself was not as traumatic as not having a system that encourages victims to open up and consequently bring perpetrators to justice.
In his view, there were only two options: keep silent or open up and face more horror from your abusers.
Due to the fear of not being taken seriously or being mocked – by the society and even parents – most male students battling with sexual molestation and other forms of abuses in Nigerian boarding schools continue to wallow in silence. Even after school, the silence culture drags on, with survivors preferring to conceal their experiences – even to the detriment of their mental health – to opening up.
“Who are you to report the perpetrators? Except you want to live miserably throughout your stay in that school because they will so oppress you as if you don’t belong in their own cult,” Okonkwo added.
“On visiting days, your parents will visit you and when they are about to go, you will start crying and they will be like ‘why are you crying’. The funny thing is that you don’t even know where to start from to tell them or what to tell them. They will take it as if you aren’t serious but they won’t understand. You will watch them go home with tears in your eyes until they are out of sight.”
Ashy Orlawaley Yusuph’s experience was not different from that of Okonkwo. But for sheer determination and strong moral upbringing his parents gave him, his stint at boarding school in the early 2000s would have influenced him to become gay.
“Molestation happens in all boarding schools, especially Christians schools and hotels. If not that I refused to cave in, I almost became gay or bisexual back then in 2000 right in my JSS 2. Thanks to parental training,” he said.
Like others who have had such experiences, Yusuph said he was still traumatised by the incident – years after it took place.
“I’m still traumatised by the humiliation and bullying I faced yet I couldn’t tell my parents till I grew up to become a father with my own beautiful kid. Imagine, something happened that long ago and the trauma still lives with me till today,” he added.
For Kenneth, the fact that he hasn’t had the opportunity to share his experience of sexual molestation at Federal Government College (FGC), Kwali, Abuja, is something that he finds amusing and sad at the same time.
He said, “I can’t forget my days at FGC, Kwali, Abuja with the likes of senior Azu (House Captain) and Hussein (Prefect). They were both in SS3 while I was in JSS 2 and at the time. I was almost sodomised by these two. I escaped by never sleeping deep for months. Azu tried sleeping on my bunk every night and I had to hide and sometimes change bunks. I even ran to sleep beside Hussein and he started fondling my sex organ. This is my first time talking about this after so many years. Too full of immoral activities, yet we never missed fellowships.”
Emmanuel’s case also typifies how the society makes it difficult for male victims of sexual abuse and other assaults to voice out. His major challenge while going through that awful experience was convincing his parents that he was telling the truth, until he had run away from the school just to drive home his point.
He said: “The worst part is that parents never believe it when told, thinking students are fabricating stories because they want to return home. In my case, I ran away from school and my parents, fearing the worst, had to get me admission into a ‘day’ school.”
Also speaking, Kingsley recounted the difficulty male students molested face in trying to report. He said: “Even when you report to the school authorities, the best they would do is to give light punishments or suspend the perpetrator for some time, after which you’d still face the same or even worse molestation from them and their likes. I had to bear this thing till I was big enough to stand up and fight for myself whenever such wanted to happen.
“It wasn’t a new thing in the school, so reporting to the authorities would even create more problems because after reporting, you’d still have to stay with the same people in the same hostel all through the night when you would be most vulnerable and no one would be there to help you. I was forced to live in fear and in silence because of fear.
“I didn’t know it affected me mentally till one day when I almost tried to kiss a fellow man; that was when I realised that this accumulated silence/hurt has got to me. Thank God I was able to pull myself off it fast with the help of one senior whom I confided in.”
Just like many others, Kingsley could not share his experience because of the fear of being called a liar or mocked.
“This should be my first time talking about it. I’ve learnt to live with it and swallow the hurt,” he added. His parents would have been the best people to talk to in that situation but their “strict” nature didn’t help matters either.
“I didn’t tell them because they were the very strict type. So, we weren’t so close to be able to open up as such; the only thing I did was to beg for my school to be changed but my daddy always opposed the idea. I was only mostly talking about the bullying and maltreatment but as an African parent, they would say ‘you’re a man, you don’t run away from challenges, you can survive them.”
But a sociologist, Michael Ashibogwu, told SaharaReporters that condoning bullying in boarding facilities gives room for proliferation of such pervert behaviour among students.
According to him, it is very important for school administrators to pay attention to students’ complaints about bullying and follow up by giving the appropriate punishment to the perpetrator.
He said, “One of the things that bring about issues like this is when school administrations pay little or less attention to issues raised by students. If you condone a particular behaviour over a particular period of time, it becomes a way of life. There is a hierarchy of control in the boarding house. If you attend a boarding house, you’re supposed to add value not become a liability. If schools understand the essence of why children are kept in the boarding schools is to become independent and add value to society, they will put a close watch on their activities.
“Sexual molestation should be taken seriously, just like the crime of murder. When the school authority learns that someone molested another, they should hand him over to the police and then the person should go to the juvenile court. If that happens, others will think hard about it before molesting a child. People are doing it and getting away with it, that’s why others have the courage to continue with it and make it a way of life.
“It starts from bullying, sexual molestation is also a form of bullying. You don’t molest someone unless you have full capacity to bully the person or take advantage of that person.”
Proffering solutions to these problems, the sociologist said a lot of awareness has to go into issues of sexual molestation of male children, adding that schools should recruit experienced teachers.
He, however, lamented how parents of abused children have formed the habit of making it an avenue for financial favours.
“Once a child is abused, you see all those parents’ gang up, all they are interested in is the financial compensation that will come to them. They don’t even consider the victims or allow for prosecution of the offender.
“In some states now, they have made it a law that parents who refuse to report their children’s abuses are liable to be jailed and parents who hide it will be punished as well and anyone who tries to negotiate for any financial gains of any child that has been abused without getting the culprit to face the wrath of the law should also be jailed.”
Consultant psychiatrist, Dr. Jaiyeola Kajero, who spoke on the psychological and psychiatric effects of these abuses on victims, described the society as male dominated, hence male victims hardly report rape incidents so as not to be seen as being weak.
According to him, sexual molestation in male children vary from male-male to male-female, and could involve anal penetration.
He said men refuse to report male-male rape for fear of being labelled as being gay.
“They don’t really want to be associated with that terminology so a lot of them prefer to keep quiet, they may think that people around them may think they became victims because they are weak or gay. They may think the victim consented to it. Sometimes it’s difficult for male to prove they were raped.”
He averred that rape cases generally are not well reported in Nigeria due of stigma caused by ignorance. “The way people perceive rape, especially in the case of male, it took a lot of people off, so people don’t really want to talk about it.”
Kajero also said male victims do not report rape because of lack of proper rules procedure, guidelines for male molestation unlike the female rape case.
“Let’s take Lagos State, for example. In the case of a male raping a female in Lagos State, there are guidelines, they tell you what to do, they even have a police unit; gender unit. Those laws are not really for the males that were raped because the people in charge are not paying much attention to it because it is strange to them. Even the few ones that I know they reported, said they were put off by even the policemen. It was strange to them, that’s an issue.
“In our society generally, we are not enlightened enough to know that males can be raped generally and because of homophobia, people don’t really want to focus on male-male rape talk because people fear a lot, they fear they could be labelled as partners. They believe being called a homosexual is like being called a criminal and it has been criminalised here.”
He stated that academic instructors should be educated on how to create awareness and give information on what students should do if they become victims.
He also said the government should broaden the concept of rape to include male-male and how to deal with it.
When asked if there is a possibility for young males molested become gay, he said it has not been proven that there is a link between being a victim of sexual harassment as a boy and becoming gay.
“Being a homosexual is something that probably has to do with structural and biochemical changes in the brain at the early stages of life. But there are psychological and psychiatric problems if males are raped early. Most of these perpetrators are people close to them except in the boarding house,” he said.
The psychiatrist highlighted anxiety, undue fear, worry, and lack of self-confidence as effects of rape on male children.
“They could at an early stage start showing symptoms of anxiety, undue fear, unnecessary worry, not having enough confidence to do what they are supposed to do, poor concentration at school, sleep problems, and they could actually be depressed and what parents or guardians will rule out could be sexual assault.
“Victims could exhibit conduct disorder, finding it difficult to conform to the norms of the society, they may start refusing to go to school, be uncooperative, academic standards may crash, when all these happens and there is no one to intervene, at that stage, that could be a lot of problem. Some of them, if it is severe, will contemplate suicide.”
He added: “Male sexual harassment is an issue that should be taken seriously, it should be looked into by the appropriate authorities.”
UK-trained psychotherapist and lead therapist for Therapy Consult By Salem, Salem Ogunlowo, said issues such sexual assault of boys are not openly discussed in society.
Corroborating the views of the other two experts, she said victims’ fear of social stigma, threat to life amongst others are responsible for the silence culture.
“Family members and the school authorities shun those who manage to speak up about these abuses,” she said.
“Unfortunately, the word trust is very scarce in our society. Once there is trust among parents and children, they will open up more. If there is trust, the system will punish the abuser irrespective of who they are in the society, then victims will feel safe to talk.”
According to her, there is a need to continually create awareness by educating people on the importance of shunning the stigma and seeking help.
While condemning the refusal of the authorities concerned to address the issue, the psychotherapist, who claimed to have treated many sexual abuse victims, said if abuse is left untreated, it doesn’t just go away.
“These folks end up with identity issues. They become the abusers themselves, psychopaths and much more. Most of those who claim to have recovered end up abusing drugs just to fill in the gap the pain brings because they can’t really talk about it to anybody, due to (lack of trust). People are always quick to judge and apportion blame,” she said.