Does the silence of a rape victim mean that an attack never occurred? Some seem to think so, perplexed by the long delay in reporting the sexual assault. Here, we take a look at reasons why rape victims lose their voices.
“Why didn’t she report it immediately?” “Why didn’t she tell anyone?” “Why is she only now talking?”
These are questions some people ask when rape victims make allegations against their assailants long after the assault occurred.
Emilia Samuel, Busola Dakolo and more recently Seyitan Babatayo, who made rape allegations - one against media personality, Theo Ukpaa, the second against COZA Senior Pastor, Biodun Fatoyinbo, and the third against musician, D'banj - years later, were questioned by some who thought they took too long to come forward.
These ones argued that the result of their silence was a lack of evidence, and they would ultimately be blamed for the assailants walking scot-free.
But should rape victims be crucified for their silence? Does silence mean that the rape never occurred? Why do rape victims stay silent?
1. Shock and Denial
It could take weeks, months or even years for rape victims to come to terms with the fact that an attack occurred. They did not think that something like that would ever happen to them, and especially perpetrated by someone they knew or thought they knew. So, they remain in a state of shock, even hiding in a bubble of denial, pretending like nothing ever happened to them.
They stay silent, bottling up their emotions, until something or someone makes them open up. Babatayo was only able to go public about her attack after she saw a 'Say No to Rape' post by D'banj on social media. The sheer hypocrisy of the music star's act sparked enough outrage in her to speak up.
2. Guilt and Shame
The only one to blame for rape is the rapist. Sometimes, though, victims blame themselves. They feel responsible for the assault and are afraid that other people would blame them, too. Feelings of guilt and shame soon plague them and they lose their voices, withdrawing into a shell and refusing to speak of the attack - a point emphasized by Samuel when she made rape allegations against Ukpaa in 2018. At the young age of 16 when she was assaulted, she felt so ashamed that talking about it was the last thing she wanted to do.
Fear of what the assailant might do is another reason why victims stay silent. They are either threatened by the assailant verbally or in non-verbal ways. The assailant might also be a public figure with a large number of fans or supporters. Also, because of the fear of what people would say or think, fear that they might never get justice, fear of being doubted, ignored and trolled, and fear of losing their friends, victims stay silent.
When speaking about her reasons for choosing to stay silent for a long time after the rape, Dakolo admitted in her interview with Chude Jideonwo that fear played a huge part. She was as fearful of the man who wielded so much power in the church as she was of speaking out against him.
Rape victims become distrustful of people and do not know who they can confide in. After experiencing something as traumatizing as rape, it is no surprise that victims find it difficult to trust anyone. They would rather keep the attack to themselves than speak up.
Experiences of rape victims staying silent because of distrust abound. Some victims of convicted rapists, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and the late Jeff Epstein, revealed in their accounts that besides fear, they had a morbid distrust of others after the assault.