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I heard the story of a certain school in Lagos taking the side of a teacher against a three-year old girl’s accusation of sexual impropriety. When I read that headline, I felt a heavy ball drop in my stomach; a potpourri of pain, incandescent rage, and horror. I have been there. I was three too.
At first, I didn’t want to write this but I’ll do it for her. I’ll do it because when it comes to toddlers and older children, in the face of evidence properly collected, many people still believe they have no memories of traumatic experiences, and are prone to telling tales.
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I was three years old and I’ve never forgotten. My saving grace, just as the child in this case, was that I spoke quite well, have the memory of an elephant and an excellent relationship with my mother. He was our caregiver; in his early twenties, smart (according to the adults around me), hardworking, and caring.
I distinctly remember the day it began. It was during bath time for my late older brother and me.
“Do you know what this is?” asked Bassey, pointing at my vulva and my brother’s penis.
“It’s our wee wee,” I immediately replied.
“Do you know what it’s used for?”
“To wee wee,” I replied, confused
He giggled. I can’t forget that high-pitched, asinine giggle.
“It has another use,” he said. “Don’t worry, one day, I’ll show you.”
I remember wanting to ask my mother what other use there was for our privates but child that I was, I forgot. Each day after that, Bassey would ask us that question, get the same answer, laugh and promise to show us. I don’t know the timeline of his grooming. But I remember the day he made his move.
My parents were away at work. We must have been on some sort of holiday because it was in the middle of the day and I was asleep.
“Baby,” he said, shaking me awake.
My father’s the only one who calls me Baby. I thought it was him. So, I opened my eyes. When I saw who it was, I shut my eyes again. I was a bit puzzled as to why he’d call me baby.
He lifted me from the bed and carried me to the lobby, where we had our children’s dining. I can still hear the sound of the chair scraping the floor as he pulled it out and sat down. Then he lowered me from his shoulder, spread my legs and sat me across his crotch.
“Baby, wake up,” he said.
How can I forget that low, heavy breathing, the wetness of his lips on my forehead and lips and the urgency of his fingers as they parted my underpants and fumbled around my vulva?
I cannot forget how he said, “Baby wake up. I want to show you love.”
Groggy, I opened my eyes, long enough to say, “Bassey, I want to sleep.”
That was when he pushed me slightly away from himself, reached down, pulled down the zip on his trousers and brought out his penis. I remember, because it was way bigger than my brother’s.
I tell you, the sleep left my eyes when he reached down, shifted my underpants to one side, raised me just so and tried to put that humongous penis inside me. The pain. I cannot describe it. It was bad. Worse than when I fell down and scraped my knee. Worse than anything before.
“Bassey stop! It’s painful!” I cried out.
“I’m sorry my baby. But it’s paining you because you’re not opening for me. Open your legs.” These words were accompanied by a further spreading of my legs. That hurt even more.
He tried again. This time, I hit his chest.
“Stop! It’s still paining me,” I said and started crying.
He said he was sorry and told me not to cry. Kept on saying, “Please open for me. Just open for me.”
“I’m opening but it’s painful,” I cried.
He heaved this frustrated sigh and said, “OK. You’re not ready for me. I will be using my finger till you’re ready. It’s OK. Don’t cry again. Baby, stop crying.”
I eventually stopped because the hurt stopped. He took me back to bed.
My mother usually returned from work before my father. Back then, she was working, going to school, and three children under the age of five, one of who suffered from sickle cell anaemia.
However, she always had time to talk to us, asked how our day went and actually listened. She was in the kitchen chopping up tomatoes. I walked in and quietly stood beside her.
“Nsido?” she asked. “What is it?”
“Mummy, what can we use our weewee for?”
She turned and looked at me. “To pee, of course. What kind of question is that?”
“I told Bassey that it’s for peeing but he said that we can do another thing with it. He said he’ll show me and Ini. Mummy tell me, so I can tell him that I know.” I can still hear the echo in the kitchen as the knife she held clanged on the table.
Oblivious, I went on. “Today, he put his weewee in my weewee. It was paining me, so I told him to stop.”
I can’t remember her expression, but can still feel the tremble in her hands when knelt before me, held my upper arms and said, “What did you just say?”
I repeated what I’d said. By then, she was shaking like a leaf in the wind.
“He…he…oh God! I’m finished!” she whispered. “My child oooo!”
I thought I’d done something wrong. “Mummy, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do it.”
“It’s not you, my darling,” she said, hugging me. Sobbing, she said I was brave. “I’m happy you told me.”
“You told me to tell you if anyone touches our weewee,” I said.
Unlike her friends, my mother didn’t think sex education was too much for her toddlers. Very early on, I knew the PANTS rule.
P – Private parts are private.
A – Always remember that your body is yours.
N – No means no.
T – There are no secrets from Mummy.
S – Say something to me, so I can do something about it.
I don’t want to go in to the details of how when my father returned from work, my parents nearly killed that fellow. I was fortunate, unlike two of my friends. Edna* was molested by her female teacher from when we were 5 till she turned 9. She used to tell Edna, “Your bum bum is very sweet,” while performing oral sex on her, in the locked classroom.
Emem* wasn’t lucky either. She performed oral sex on the maths teacher for years. She couldn’t tell anyone because her parents were hard as stone.
It was the 80s in Nigeria. People rarely, if ever, talked about child molestation. That’s why it’s grown into the monster it is today. No, it’s not a new phenomenon. Many teachers, caregivers, are paedophiles. Many of these child molesters are “upright” citizens of the society. Yes, children tell tales, but never consistently, over and over.
Parents, talk to your children! There’s nothing parental about being so formidable your child cannot confide in you when they’re in trouble. Make it easy for your child to talk and share with you.
Until you’ve determined otherwise, believe them first over anyone else. If your child isn’t comfortable with a particular adult, don’t force them to be with that person. If they’re suddenly withdrawn, find out why.
Make sure to give them sex education by the time they’re two years old. Please, don’t value your reputation above your child’s welfare.
And in the event that abuse has occurred, talk to your child. Don’t pretend like what happened didn’t happen; apologise to them for not being there (yes, they need to hear it) and ask their forgiveness. Don’t be overprotective either—it’ll make them resent you.
Schools, do appropriate and informal background checks on the staff you’re hiring. Stop this nonsense of shushing up abused children in order to preserve their reputations. It’s disgusting.
If a charge of abuse is brought against a teacher, no matter how valuable they may be, dissociate yourself and don’t take sides.
Government, sit up! It’s way past time we had sex offenders’ registries in every state in this country. The punishment for child rape and molestation should be stiffer and consistently enforced.
Child marriages performed under the shroud of religion and enshrined in the Criminal and Penal codes should be abolished—marriage doesn’t make a child a woman.
Eketi Edima Ette is a writer, editor, digital media manager and founder of Kedima Consults.
A creator of two successful online courses on creative writing and business communications, she speaks and does trainings on creative writing, digital content creation and women entrepreneurship.
In her spare time, she loves to read, volunteer, cook up funny comedy skits, travel and learn new languages.