Let me just start by saying the internet got hella real last week. Beyond the Sugabelly story, which I mostly stayed away from, there was also news of accusations that famed pornstar James Deen raped his now ex-Girlfriend Stoya (apparently, other women are starting to come out with their own allegations, so this one might take on a Cosby vibe). All the while, I was fully immersed in the world of Marvel’s Jessica Jones on Netflix, which deals a lot with the subject. Whenever I came up for air, between the various heart attacks that show kept giving me, I noticed that a lot of people – especially those following the Sugabelly/Audu situation – kept asking this question “Why did she stay,” …. or some variation on that theme. It’s undoubtedly a difficult question to answer, but I think it’s important to try.
In my general experience, most people who ask that question fall somewhere along spectrum between genuine bewilderment about the situation and outright dismissal of the victim’s testimony. Invariably, people on both ends must wonder, “If you were so dangerously harmed by this person, why did you continue to put yourself in that situation?” More often than not, this a proxy for deciding how much the victim is really to blame. It’s interesting that given how loaded the situation can be, no one ever asks the corollary in relation to the perpetrator, If you hurt this person so severely, why did you continue?”
It’s understandably hard for anyone who hasn’t experienced such a situation to wrap their heads around it, but I think in the part that most people don’t consider (or perhaps don’t know that they should consider) is that the victims know the perpetrators in a majority of cases personal violence. Seriously, this is true for murder, rape, and various other forms of physical and emotional abuse. RAINN (an American anti-rape organization) says that around 82% of victims know their attacker. A little closer to home in South Africa, they put the number at around 60% (of which 34% was a relative or an intimate partner like a spouse or boyfriend). I would give you the stats for Naija, but apparently, we’ve never cared enough to keep good stats on that sort of thing. If you’re really itching for it, pick up a newspaper and try for yourself and see how many people who have suffered bodily harm actually knew their attacker.
The reason I bring this up is to point out the fact that more often than not, there’s a relationship that the exists outside the confines of the actual assault. Many people are dependent on their attackers for various things, and many times, those things are resource oriented. They can’t leave because they don’t have the money to or because they don’t have a place to go, or because reporting it futile since no one would believe you *cough case in point cough*. From the little that I have read of the Sugabelly/Audu situation, it’s clear that at the very least he was her ride to work more often than not.
And it doesn’t stop there. Many rapists employ various other strategies, including threats of physical harm to the victim or the victim’s loved one, actual physical harm (which Audu employed according to Sugabelly), and psychological strategies like gaslighting (where you make your victim question their own sanity). If you spent the better part of last week watching Jessica Jones, like I did, then you likely saw the main villain, Kilgrave, employ literal mind control on his victims. But you don’t need to put on yellow spandex and shoot laser beams out your eyes before in order to see that people can be controlled emotionally and psychologically through things like fear and intimidation.
All these work so well against the victim for many reasons. For starters, these types of things are far more likely when there is a significant gap in power dynamics. Our society in particular tends to place the most power in the hands of men, and also in the hands of the people who are older. Many of us resent the fact that that we’re often cajoled to blindly obey our elders even when they’re wrong. Yet, somehow, everyone forgot that Audu is eight years older than Sugabelly. A generation ago, she would have had to insert “Brother” as a title even mentioning his name.
Furthermore humans are generally prone something psychologists call the normalcy bias. When we’re faced with a potentially catastrophic situation, our minds default to patterns of thinking that often downplay the gravity of what’s happening, even if the result can be quite dangerous. You see it in her writing, “I was in love with him and inside I kept hoping he didn’t mean it, and if I was just obedient enough, he would go back to being the sweet guy I met.”
Notice that part where she says, “I kept hoping he didn’t mean it.” That’s normalcy bias at work. We all do it, although it’s often in more subtle ways. For example, when we text and drive, when we don’t wear seatbelts, or when we don’t use protection during intercourse. We’re all guilty of it.
So when a person says they were repeatedly raped by someone, don’t be so sure that it’s all that easy to walk away from it all. There’s a lot going on that you might not be able to account for, especially since it’s not your relationship, but since everyone is fucking sure that they would have just left, I took the liberty of asking my friend, Nikki. She was also repeatedly raped by her boyfriend and this is part of what she said.
“I didn’t leave because I pitied him for being so dependent on me to function. I didn’t leave because I had made a promise. I didn’t leave because I was alone and exhausted and doing what I needed to do to survive one day at a time….
….I didn’t leave because I didn’t realize this wasn’t how couples solved issues. I know better now.”
If you would like to read her whole story, I’ll include a link here. It should go without saying that names were changed to protect the innocent (and also the guilty). Lastly, if anyone would like to get in touch with Nikki, let me know and I will arrange it.