Vera Uwaila “Uwa” Omozuwa was just 22 with so much of life ahead of her. She was a student at the University of Benin who went to her church seeking a quiet space to read. It was there that she was brutally raped and on May 30 died of injuries. Several protests both on and offline have been held and online petition is up for signing with thousands already calling an end to sexual violence in Nigeria. On the Twitter hashtag #WeAreTired you can find thousands of voicing their outrage and pain.
I have always wondered about the theory of the perfect victim. You know the one? The one where everything checks out and the fact that the terrible thing happened to them, is not something they deserve. Why? Because they deserve better. They are good people. The perfect victim, the paragon of human excellence. They did everything right, but people are just evil.
The perfect victim can be seen as a form of victim-blaming. How? Simple. It means that everything that happened to the victim was as a result of their own actions. You were robbed? You should not have been flashing your wealth (using this opportunity to say “eat the rich, and down with billionaires”). You were raped? You should not have gone to this house. A police officer slapped you? You should have just paid the bribe. Victim blaming is takes it a notch higher worse when cases of rape are involved. Why? Because of rape culture.
Now, in a country like Nigeria where rape culture is prevalent, so pervasive, where society does not care for accountability for women’s lives, where the police will ask for mobility money amongst other things (the police was created by a group of power-hungry people. They protect, but they never tell us who. They extort and take advantage of an already defunct system and try. The police force is a corrupt system. A.C.A.B). In a system where “believing women” sounds like an unimaginable concept, how do women get justice? How do the families of the murdered get help?
That is where a new theory emerges. Uwa was not a perfect victim, but she was close to one. She was a 22-year-old student at the university, so responsible. She was raped in a church, a holy place. She was killed, inexcusable. Honestly, Uwa is anything but the perfect victim, why? Because the perfect victim does not exist.
Social media often is the place where the story is hared and increasingly it becomes a platform where one can be heard and organise. So we have had to create hashtag after hashtag! #JusticeForUwa, #JusticeForTina, #Justiceforjennifer, #Justiceforelizabeth, #JusticeforAda.
STOP RAPING US
STOP KILLING US
OUR BODY ISN'T SEX TOYS
NO MEANS NO
CONSENT CAN BE WITHDRAWN AT ANY TIME
RELATIONSHIP DOESN'T GIVE YOU RIGHTS OVER MY BODY
— Aunty Grace (@Gracymama1) June 1, 2020
No matter who the victim is, the apologists will make excuses. So what about this case that made it so different? This is where I introduce the theory of the relatable victim. I want to think that the reason this case hit so close to home for many women was that Uwa was average. She was like me or you. She was relatable. I attend the same University she did. It could have been me, it could have been any of us. It broke something in me, and I think it did for a lot of people.
She was raped in a church. For a lot of people, church symbolizes safety. It symbolizes protection and peace. It was also relatable. No, not being raped in a church, but being abused in a place that was meant to offer protection. A lot of women have felt that.
Offices, bedrooms, houses, cars, churches, mosques, schools, hospitals. These are the different places that at one time or the other women have felt safe. That feeling of safety had also been taken from them. For some of them, it is not even about the place, but the people. Brothers, the police, teachers, doctors, cousins, colleagues, husbands, aunties, friends, sisters, fathers etc. People we felt everything was alright with. People we felt we could trust. Now that’s what I think made a lot of people relate so much to this story. But all victims deserve our attention, we have to go beyond relatable, we have to see women as human.
A lot of people are abused in places they feel the most at peace.
So they use their anger and decide that since they did not get justice, this woman will. So they have written petitions and organized protests. It also triggered a lot of people to speak out. They have been calling out abusers every single day since this incident.
The Nigerian Senate is reviewing the laws on rape. That is a big deal and if that happens, a lot more women will have a better shot at justice. There will be no need for a perfect victim or a relatable one. There will be just victims that must get justice. Like hopefully Uwa will, and all the other women that we may not know. Until that time, however, we shall continue to fight for all victims that a corrupt system has failed, “relatable” or not. Why? Because we believe victims.
Itohan Esekheigbe-Joe is an 18-year-old English and Literature student and a storyteller. When she is not eating like a goat, or napping like a cat she is trying to dismantle the patriarchy, capitalism, the police, rape culture, homophobia, fatphobia and colourism. Twitter @hecallsmemilan.