Speaking up is just one part of the solution.
Recently, I came face to face with this reality as we tried to help a close friend who had been raped. As expected, she was traumatized following the incident. I held her as she narrated her ordeal. I could hear the pain in her voice as I held her close. I let her cry her heart out. Because the perpetrators did not use a condom, we needed to rush her to hospital her medical check up
We made contacts with some private clinics and were referred to the government hospital. We were told that in case of accidental exposure to HIV and other STIs it was best for us to go to a government hospital. When we arrived the hospital routine consultations had ended and we went straight to the emergency department. There were four other people there but as far as the victim was concerned, four people are more than a crowd if you need o talk about something as personal as a rape
I stood there waiting for the other people in the room to leave so we could be alone with the nurse. We had no idea who the others were because they had no indentification batches or any uniform unlike the nurse in attendance.
The male nurse could not have been more nonchalant. He was chewing some roast corn, taking generous bites off the maize cob and speaking to us while he ate.
Nurse: “Yes what do you want? Do you have an emergency?”
Me: “Yes, we do”
Nurse:”who has a problem .You or the girl. What’s the emergency? Is she pregnant and bleeding?”
Me: “No she is not pregnant and bleeding” I was beginning to get annoyed, is that the only kind of case that qualifies as an emergency here. I wondered.
I leaned close to his table and whispered “My friend says she was raped this afternoon”
Nurse:”Ok, that’s not an emergency. You people should just take a seat outside and wait”. I went out with my friend, and came back and stood at the door. As far as I was concerned, this was more than an emergency!
A couple of minutes later, the nurse asked us to come back. We sat down and he took about 15 – 20 minutes to clear his desk , before attending to us. The door was left open and people kept moving in and out, some interrupting the consultation as he tried to get the facts of her story.
He asked for details of the rape.. Before my friend could even make two sentences, he was like. how could you even do that ……… How could you this, how could this have happened ?
I just could not believe my ears. How could he be blaming the victim at this point? Victims often blame themselves and when they seek medical help, should not be under more pressure. They need love and assurances and not more blame for an incident they did not want. That is why some people will suffer in silence instead of reporting they had been raped.
This reminds me of an interview I once had with a lawyer on the subject of rape. He told me in no uncertain terms that women most often were responsible for being raped and remember this was from a supposedly “learnt” lawyer. The lawyer said the way some women dressed exposing “enticing” body parts was an invitation for rape.
I personally think that a woman cannot invite rape on herself. It doesn’t matter if she wears a bikini or a burka! It does not matter if she visits you at your place or accept you pay her a visit in her house. It does not matter if she is 17 or 70; it does not matter if she allows you to kiss her at first. It does not matter if she is your girlfriend or a stranger. When/if a woman says NO, it means no. NO Means NO.
Back to my raped friend. When we finally met the doctor, he was much nicer. He didn’t blame her. He did his checks, offered counsel, recommended some lap tests and then prescribed some medication. The consultation and tests cost about 5000FCFA. A medical certificate (required to file police report and set a case in motion) we were told will cost about 7.000FCFA. This all adds up and most young girls/women in Cameroon cannot afford this.
When we eventually went over to the lab, the technician was visibly tired. As she took blood samples and vaginal smear for the test, she murmured about how tired and hungry she was. The danger of a tired nurse and the ratio of patients to medical personnel in Cameroon is a topic for another day.
These socio-economic factors must be considered when urging women to report rape or speak out against it. Even when victims speak out and seek justice, the next question is, if they will ever get any kind of justice.
Stories about rape and violence against women must be told because telling them helps others and liberates us all.Here are some compelling stories from Cameroon on the subject;
‘Underreporting, Burden of Proof Foils Justice for Rape Victims in Cameroon – by Irene Fon Zih published on the Global Press Institute. See more at: http://www.globalpressjournal.com/africa/cameroon/underreporting-burden-proof-foils-justice-rape
Allegedly False Rape Reports Make Authorities Skeptical, Discourage Victims in Cameroon – by Comfort Mussa published on Global Press Institute. See more at: