The incidence of Hate Crimes against the LGBTI community– A tale of systemic idiocy

A while ago, I watched an online video of a group of boys beating some naked girls and eventually raping them all. I listened intently to the conversations and cries of the girls. I was able to glean the reason for the attack: the boys had overheard the girls moaning the previous night- in an all-girls room. Apparently, the girls were either lesbians or experimenting with the idea. The boys on the other hand were the agents of “change” swooping in to teach the girls the path of righteousness.

Such acts of sexual aggression against members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Community are not new and sadly, very common. It’s known as “corrective rape”- a scenario in which a member of the LGBTI community (usually a lesbian or female bisexual) is raped and sexually assaulted with the goal that after such encounters, the lesbian is fixed and becomes straight. This theory and the reasoning behind it is what the Englishman calls BULLOCKS

Maryam Abdullahi, popularly called Sarauniya (Which is the Hausa name for a queen, maybe because of her fair complexion or her beauty) was a graduating student of the Federal Polytechnic Bida in Niger State who did not find it funny because she had turned down several guys and it was common gist that she was only “into girls”. On the eve of Christmas in 2010, four boys had attacked her with the aim of “correcting” her sexuality. They would have succeeded in raping her but for her struggling and shouting which caught the attention of some farmers nearby who came to her aid.  The conversation that ensued before she was almost raped was premised on the claim that they wanted to teach her how to “receive”.

Corrective rape is rarely reported in Nigeria but it does occur. In a country where lesbians and gays will soon be committed to prison for 14 years simply based on their predilections, the report of corrective rape is as good as handing over yourself to the wolves for painful and shameful scrutiny. As proof of this, the girls in that video I saw haven’t raised hell. They haven’t complained to the authorities. Even the rape of straight women is hardly ever reported here.

Corrective sex is a very real phenomenon. It is not a joke. It is not conjecture. In South Africa (where, by the way, homosexuality is legal), corrective rape was the rave of the year 2011. Eudy Simelane was gang-raped, beaten and stabbed 25 times for being an open lesbian and lesbian-rights activist. Had she not been a popular lady, she would have become just another statistic in a swelling ratio of unfortunate women that includes a 13 year old who was raped for being openly lesbian and a 24 year-old lesbian stoned to death after an apparent gang rape. Ndumie Funda, the director and founder of Luleki Sizwe Project, a charity that assists lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women in the townships of Cape Town reports that an estimated 510 women report corrective rape in South Africa every year. With these damning statistics, corrective rape is not recognized as a Hate Crime in South Africa. In fact, of the 31 recorded murders of lesbians in South Africa between 1998 and December 2009, only one case had resulted in a conviction.

Nigeria and South Africa both model the argument that whether she’s permitted by law or not to pursue her lifestyle, the lesbian or female bisexual/transgender is an “endangered species” In Nigeria, that danger is both official (as modelled in the Anti-Gay Bill) as well as unofficial (as modelled by the many instances of corrective rape).

Corrective Rape as an argument and practice falls apart like a pack of cards. Even in itself, it doesn’t make sense. It is akin to dousing fire with coal- sheer stupidity. Below are my arguments against corrective rape:

One: Even heterosexuals have been reported to hate men after rape. Some lesbians opt for lesbianism upon their exposure to rape or some other form of sexual assault by a man they trusted. Some other heterosexual women are unable to come to terms with male contact for a long while after rape- even when the contact is that from a loving husband or a devoted male care-giver. How then can rape fix the lesbian?

Two: There is no moral, religious, cultural, philosophical or scientific proof that rape has a corrective angle to it. In the world over, the news of rape causes the hearers to cringe. In fact, in jurisdictions like Nigeria, there have been calls to amend the laws to make it legally possible for rape to occur between married couples. And in that same world where such agitations are put forth, some people canvass the “positive” angle of rape? It makes no sense.

Three: If rape was really meant to cure the lesbian and not a sorry excuse by a bunch of losers to skip the means and claim the end, why kill the lesbians- as in the case of Eudy Simelane? Why “correct” her and then rob her of the opportunity to live “corrected”? The reason is simple- rape doesn’t correct anyone and while he’s brutally thrusting in and out, the rapist knows this.

Four: Corrective rape is used against real or perceived lesbians. Assuming without conceding that rape could be therapeutic, shouldn’t therapeutic visitation flow from diagnostic analysis? Do we administer Folic Acid on girl because we SUSPECT she’s pregnant? Or do we force an inhaler on a boy we FEEL is asthmatic? Medical attention (however beneficial to the patient) in the absence of consent is battery. A lesbian should be given an opportunity to request for fixing before she is suddenly, brutally and fatally descended upon- and that is in the absurd assumption that rape could be corrective.

Rape is not the only form of violent aggression against LGBTs. Gay bashing is more common and less regarded- but just as dangerous.

A 1998 study in the United States by Mental Health America found that students heard anti-gay slurs at estimated intervals of once every 14 minutes. In Britain, 41 percent of gay students confessed to having been physically attacked while 17 percent admitted to having received death threats. Nigeria’s own Damilola Taylor was beaten, submitted to homophobic abuse and eventually stabbed to death in Peckham even though the word “gay” meant nothing to him until his mother explained it to him- another example of lashings-out based on perceived sexuality.

In the year 2010, a gay man from Cameroon sought and got asylum in the United Kingdom after he reportedly fled the attack of an angry mob that had spotted him kissing his male partner. That one is small. Kingsley a National Youth Service Corp member posted to Nasarawa state, Nigeria for his primary assignment in 2010 had metal objects forced into his body parts because he was perceived to be a homosexual. The sad part is that when the case was reported to the police, their only action was a statement that “it was good for him”.

In Nigeria, many members of the LGBTI community who have been bashed or have been victims of hate crime in one way or the other prefer to remain silent about it. Many LGBTI persons that are attacked and battered prefer not to say the truth about what happened to them because of the huge stigma that follows when people realize that such crime was committed on the premise of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Rather than say that they were bashed, they resort to saying that they sustained injuries through motor accidents. Some claim to be attacked by violent robbers or from engaging in a fight. This happens countless times and it is only on closer scrutiny and investigation does it revel itself that such a person was attacked because of their sexuality which in most times is based on mere perception.

Where the bullying and bashing doesn’t kill the LGBTI person, the emotional burden of it all does. In 2009, 11-year old Carl Joseph Walker Hoover, in Springfield, Massachusetts, hanged himself with an electrical cord having been bullied and called gay by his classmates at Middle School! Closer home is the story of Justin Fashanu, brother to John Fashanu. He was an English footballer. He played for a variety of clubs between 1978 and 1997. He came out to the press later in his career, to become the first and only English professional footballer to be openly gay. He was also the first black footballer to command One Million pounds transfer fee, with his transfer from Norwich City to Nottingham Forest in 1981. Fashanu committed suicide in May 1998. Closest to home is the recent suicide story of a 15 year old boy of a private secondary school in Abuja who jumped off the third floor of the school after he was bullied for hours and demonstrated abusively on a sketched cartoon.

Whatever robs citizens of their lives without the sanction of the state or robs them of their will to live- however lofty and pious-minded- is downright wrong. And if we stomach hate crimes against members of the LGBT community simply because we loathe those members, we might as well stomach hate crimes spurred by racism, tribalism, ageism and caste mentality.

A crime is a crime. And it doesn’t matter who the victim is. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender needs no correction and even if they did, when I was a kid I was taught to fix broken things by holding them together- not by crushing them.







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Protection of Sex workers: Lessons from the Bible

Recently I read through 1 Kings 3:16-28. The story therein caught my immediate attention. It was the time-defying story of King Solomon adjudicating between two harlots both claiming the maternity of a child.
The brief facts of the dispute are these- two women of easy virtue lived together. As an occupational hazard, they both conceived and bore children. On a certain night, one of them slept too deeply, lay on her baby and snuffed the life out him. Waking up to see what she had done, she quickly switched her dead child for her “colleague’s” living one. But as the owner of a thing will always recognize his property, the woman whose child had been taken rejected the dead child in her bosom. And so the dispute was born- they headed for the palace to get the attention of the king.

This is what strikes me about the story- Israel was a religious state that faithfully practiced and endorsed Judaism. For the sin of whoredom alone, God sent a strong plague that claimed many lives- the remedy to which was the killing of a man and woman who were in the act of open and unabashed copulation. In Israel, adulterers were stoned in public and covetous men were burnt alive- with their children and the coveted property. Needless to say therefore, a harlot had no place in Solomon’s Israel. But when these harlots-turned-mothers showed up at the palace craving royal attention, King Solomon attended to them

He did not discountenance their grievances for reason of their looseness as harlots nor did he condemn them both for being reckless and irresponsible mothers (after all, one of them had killed her child while the other had slept so deeply her child was taking from her side without her knowledge). He listened to them. And justice was done.

Solomon saw the bigger picture. Instead of embracing legalistic sanctimony, he understood the precedent that would have been set if he looked the other way. Rather than see two bickering prostitutes, he saw a child whose future was about to be thwarted into the hands of a wrong (and possibly cruel) mother. Rather than see two despicable women without honour for themselves, he saw them as what they were the day they were born- human beings.

And this is my contention. This is what drives me whenever I make a case for the protection of Sex Workers in Nigeria. My reasons are simple:
One: The sex worker is a human being: the law does not make a variation as to who deserves the good things of life and who doesn’t. Even a convicted criminal has certain rights that must not be infringed. The sex worker is no different. She may not have a high sense of self-worth but in the sight of the law, she maintains her right to dignity. So it doesn’t serve the purpose of the law to have her beaten, stripped, groped, unduly detained or tortured by Law enforcement agents in a bid to curb her activities.

Very recently, a sex worker in Abuja had her breasts roughly grabbed by a taxi driver- an action to which she violently objected to, resulting in the smashing of one of the windows of the car. As she fled from the man (who was in hot pursuit), she ran into a Policeman who summarily compelled her to pay for the window and then detained her afterwards. In a balanced society, the taxi-driver was to be regarded as a sexual predator and the sex worker, his victim. But in our society where fraud makes you a chief and petty theft makes you a convict, the poor sex worker spent the night in jail- until I had her released.

Her case is not new. Whenever prostitutes show up in Police stations to report sexual assault, they are laughed at. Some policemen tell them they invited the rape. Whereas the law is settled that even when a person has given consent to intercourse, once that consent is withdrawn, any penetration afterwards is rape. And the law is silent on (nay, does not recognize any such thing as) “invited rape”. This hypocrisy-based apathy is not limited to sexual crimes alone. Even in cases of kidnap, robbery and fraud, the sex worker is a pariah too filthy for the golden sceptre of Law Enforcement.

Two: A filthy attire is to be washed, not discarded . To let sex workers be at the receiving end of brutality and sexual impropriety is tantamount to throwing away a piece of clothing because it’s dirty.

And it’s not the prostitute’s fault that there are too many workers and too little jobs in this country. It’s not the prostitute’s fault that our legal system is retributive and not rehabilitatory. It’s not the prostitute’s fault that we love our high horses so much we would let a “smaller” evil thrive if it crushes the greater evil.

And this is our error. From Biblical times, the world has had prostitutes. And till the end of time, the world will have them. No degree of hate and violent opprobrium will stamp out sexual perversion from our land. So when we let the rape, assault and kidnap of sex workers go on by turning a blind eye, we are in truth making a statement on our collective morality (or the lack of it) and encouraging the growth and nourishment of two grave evils because NO ONE will erase the other. In the words of Dr. King, hate is a downward descending spiral- it only creates more hate

Three: The larger society is served by the protection of sex workers. These sex workers could so easily be our sisters. Our wives. Our daughters. Our mothers! That’s me just being sentimental? No, it isn’t. I had the privilege of a University education during which my definition of the word “prostitute” changed. They are in our classrooms, fellowships, clubs and associations. In fact, a campus magazine published names of prostitutes on my campus- a girl in my faculty was named. Today, she’s a Law graduate. What if she had been killed then? What if she had been subjected to assault-related psychological breakdown? What if she had been pushed to murder an assailant after she could no longer stomach the sight of him walking free, let loose by a legal system that crushes the weak?

Further, if there were no patrons, there would be no sex workers. These patrons are everywhere. But we never see them paraded on TV after a brothel raid. All we see are the hapless prostitutes paraded by kidnappers, trigger-happy drunks and patently corrupt bribe-takers. If a  sex worker services 6 men a day and gets a sexually transmitted infection from each of the first 5, she passes them all to the 6th patron who then passes them on to his unsuspecting wife who bears him children with congenital diseases that could have been avoided if the sex worker had enough protection to confidently demand healthcare and post-trauma attention.

Prostitutes are by default- even in the absence of rape and assault- victims. Victims of our collective wrong. Victims of a value-gap. Victims of a suffocating economy. It doesn’t make any sense therefore to expose them to scenarios and people who take them as victims and transform them to liabilities- the walking dead in a land of little life. I stand on the authority of the precedent set by the world’s wisest man known- King Solomon


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