Tabloid bloggers, online vigilantes & sexual violence

On Saturday 17th Nigerian blogger Linda Ikeji reported the “gang rape of a young woman of Abia State University” which had been videoed, circulated and broadcast over the internet and is apparently on multiple sites together with an audio version. Linda Ikeji states that she has a one hour video on her laptop plus a 10 minute version on  her phone. She also states that  uploading it on the internet is not an option.

In the one week since the announcement of the gang rape, under the guise of outrage and desires for justice, the case has become a spectacle played out on Twitter, Facebook and blogs.

In a recent blog post critiquing the 419 Reasons to Like Nigeria, I made the point that what is often most important in revealing who we are as a nation and people, is how we respond to our realities.  How do we respond to the gang rape of a young woman and one which is subsequently broadcast on various online sites?  Linda Ikeji gave enough graphic detail for all of us to know how the rape scene played out.   Yet some people continue watching and or listening to the video and reporting details of what was said and done?   To do this they would need to search online or ask someone privately for a copy to be sent by email or through their phone or for a link online.    These are not small acts – they are calculated decisions to seek out a video of a gang rape.   Unless you are in a position to possibly identify the rapists and take that information to someone who can act on it then what is your purpose in watching the video other than for self-gratification? Each time the video is watched or listened to or the text read it is a repeat of the rape,  which is exactly the purpose of the video – to continue the humiliation, the subjugation and to relive the rape over and over.

It is not normal for women to be treated in this way.  The way the video is being circulated is a way of normalising watching violence and playing it out as if it’s some kind of reality show whereby everyone can participate by absorbing and gorging on detail without any sense of social or ethical responsibility.    I am not saying people are not genuinely outraged by the gang rape, they most certainly are but its  a pretense to equate outrage with a justification for watching the video.  This pornographic video has been downloaded 7000+  times from a Nigerian online site and was available until this morning.  How about some outrage against this and the money that is being made from it?   The site has be taken down but those downloads remain.

Calls through various social media and politicians for the young victim of this heinous act, to come forward and present herself are equally alarming and lack any understanding of the depth of trauma experienced by rape victims as made clear by  Modupe Debbie Aryio of Africans United Against Child Abuse [AFRUCA]

AS A MENTAL HEALTH PRACTITIONER, PSYCHOTHERAPIST/COUNSELLOR WHO HAS WORK FOR OVER 20YRS WITH TRAUMA VICTIMS, VICTIMS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE, DV AND RAPE VICTIMS, I THINK IT IS IMPORTANT NOT TO PUT UNDUE PRESSURE ON THIS YOUNG LADY SO SHE DOES FEEL ADDITIONALLY ‘RAPED’ AGAIN BY ALL THE FURORE THAT SURROUNDS HER. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING AT THIS TIME FOR HER IS TO BE ABLE TO GET THE PSYCHOLOGICAL,EMOTIONAL AND ANY OTHER MEDICAL SUPPORT SHE MAY NEED AS A RESULT OF THIS HORRENDOUS ACT PERPETRATED ON HER. WHILE THE ANGER AND INSTINCTUAL CRY FOR JUSTICE ON HER BEHALF IS

NEEDS TO TAKE PLACE, WE MUST REMEMBER THAT THE MAJORITY OF US ARE COMING FROM A PLACE OF STRENGTH AND WELL BEING. HER EXTREME VULNERABILITY, SHOCK AND FEAR MUST BE RECOGNISED AND UNDERSTOOD. EVEN IN THE WEST WHERE THERE ARE ALL THE SYSTEMS IN PLACE TO PROTECT AND CARE FOR ‘VICTIMS’, THERE IS STILL A LOT OF STIGMA PLACED ON RAPE VICTIMS, WHICH IS WHY MANY OF THEM DO NOT REPORT IT. AND FOR SOME THEY ARE SIMPLY UNABLE TO DEAL WITH THE PSYCHOLOGICAL WEIGHT OF THE EXPERIENCE AND HAVE TAKEN SEVERAL YEARS BEFORE THEY CAN COME TO TERMS WITH IT.

From the place of strength I considered myself to be in, I cannot imagine myself being able to speak of this publicly, certainly not at this point and certainly not in Nigeria.   There are very few support systems in place, if any  and even if there were it would take exceptional strength to speak.  No woman should be pressured into doing this.  And to come out to what?    Who is she supposed to present herself too? The police who only began to investigate the gang rape after it was taken up by a Member of the Federal House of Representatives, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, who presented the case to the House.  The police with a reputation for corruption, ineptitude, extra-judicial murder, misogyny, rape and torture?  The Abia State government which is led by a Governor and his wife who have repeatedly dismissed the case and refused to take any action other than making ridiculous statements such as the rape is the work of political protractors and his wife waffling on about the “good” work she is doing for women in her state?  The Abia State university authorities who claim the rapists are not students and do not appear to have done anything to move the case forward?   Even the Member of the House of Representatives, who has offered to protect her [how she will do this?] does not seem to recognise the trauma involved here.

On Wednesday tweeps began to appear about outing the rapists.  I watched with horror as very soon three names were retweeted from a Nigerian blog  including one photograph taken from a Facebook page. Sometime later  two of those  who had  published the name, clearly realising what they had set in motion,  began to retract by  first deleting the names and sending out panic messages not to harm the men.  Statements such as

 

“Please do not retweet the names of the ‘suspects’ for the safety of the victim” and “No harassing the suspects until we’ve got double confirmations.  Until then, use these names to try and FIND THE OTHERS!!!!!” “Names are for investigation not lynching. RESTRAIN YOURSELVES PEOPLE!! NO LYNCHING!! LYNCHING IS WRONG!! OBEY THE LAW!! @Sugabelly

“What’s done is, now we need to make the best of it and refocus on the need for justice for all concerned” , For all the indignation and concern people might have, the best concerted appeal to all should be – No resorting to mob action” @Forakin

Statements such as “Again, the issue of instant justice stems from the fact that our society does not help guarantee justice when sought” and “if the police & ABSU authorizes had been proactive  rather than in denial the names could have gone straight to them” @Forakin

 

Fortunately there was some sanity in all the madness  and wise words emerged from the occasional person.

 

The consequences of irresponsibly rushing to be  social media vigilantes – “cops, judge and jury via social media” slowly became evident as  it  turns out that one of the named men, whose photo was also published,  has been wrongly identified.  The ‘mistake” has been repeatedly tweeted and an apology given by @Sugabelly who had tweeted his name, though not the only one.  And yes men are quick to slag off women  and could care less about our reputations whilst screaming at the first hint of any slight against them. However I dont wish to follow their standards  of conduct and mistaking someone for a rapist is not a small matter.

We should not forget  too the video has a history  and has been uploaded 7000+ times, passing from computer to phone.  As far as I am concerned they too are complicit in the rape and should face criminal charges. We can start with the  @9jaonline videos, the site which up till early this morning continued to make the video available for download as if this was some make believe Nollywood movie which is vile enough in itself.  [The site and their Twitter account have been removed in the past 6 hours]   It cannot be that difficult to trace the origins and those who have participated in watching it.  @Sugabelly tweeted for them and others to stop posting the video…

@9janonlinevideos STOP THIS!! STOP posting this video!! Stop trying to profit from the #ABSURape #ABSU @Sugabelly

“I am so disgusted and horrified by people who are actually trying to PROFIT from the #ABSU rape video by using it too…. @Sugabelly

The blogger who, as far as I am aware, originally published the names made the ill-considered  decision to publish further photographs, along with Sahara Reporters,  from Facebook pages with the comment:

Could the photos below be innocent people who have been wrongly accused for the Abia State University (ABSU) gang of 5? If they are, could they report to the nearest police station or better still engage the services of lawyers to file for libel.

On Wednesday, 21st September, 2011, I took a risk to take this scandalous case to another level by publishing the names as well as the photos taken from Face Book. I was blasted by an aggrieved lady blogger who thought only her had the exclusive right to publish or write or investigate this case. I had made my point. I chose to withdraw the post. I will now go back to remove the password to enable viewers read and properly view these SUSPECTS. Of course, they are alleged rapists. They are only Suspects. And the blogger (whom I had adjudged on her post when she recently celebrated her birthday as the Nigeria’s no 1 blogger) had the unprofessional act to paste a comment on this blog calling me irresponsible. Well,I rest my case. But has the blogger and her fans ever bothered while these suspected rapists haven’t made any statement via their lawyers?

The justification is about “exposing Nigeria in a bad light” as if such horrendous crimes only take place in Nigeria.  It’s responses like this that “put the country in bad light” not the crimes themselves.    The questions that come to mind are how do we differentiate between playing out a reality show and genuine search for the truth and subsequently justice? What are our responsibilities in our online presence?  How do we stop at crossing the line between sensationalist reporting, self aggrandisement and socially responsible actions?

Blame the technology?  The templates are technical, the substance is of our own creation whether original or otherwise which in this case is a series of collision movements pushing one force against another.  Social Media as a functional space is  self-censored and self-regulated and with that comes social and ethical responsibilities as reputations are at risk here.  Acting as online vigilantes and challenging people to sue you for libel is just plain wrong. When the vigilantism falls under the headlines “Exclusive” it is not surprising one would be accused of “driving traffic to your blog” – it almost feels like an act of desperation!   Whatever the failings of  the Nigerian police a choice could have been made to pass this information to them or to those House Members who have expressed a willingness to take the case on board.  Alternatively pass the information on to a media network who have the resources and trust to carry out a proper investigation.   This is not withstanding the fact that these exposes may themselves hamper or end up being prejudicial to the case..

Perhaps thought and a great deal of it should be given to the young woman at the center of this crime and those  insisting on perpetuating the repetitive tabloid outrage need ask themselves whether this is really about her or themselves.  A coalition of groups have announced this morning  that they have found the young woman.  What right do they have to go in search of the young woman and then present us with more lurid  of  details on her emotional and psychological state. If they really wanted to protect her they would have kept their actions quiet instead of adding to the media circus.

Thoughts on how we as a nation can begin to create safe and supportive spaces for victims of sexual violence and how we can begin to counteract the stigma associated with rape.  So many of us have been raped, sexually abused, fought off numerous attempted rapes and have been subjected to continuous sexual harassment which is normalised to the point that we are not even supposed to speak of it –  at home, at work, at college and in social spaces.

So perhaps those men so outraged by this awful crime could  look too themselves and begin to address their belief  that they have an entitlement to our bodies and the daily sexual harassment  and sexist, misogynist attitudes they have towards women which takes place off and online.   We all  need to call out these acts of online sexual harassment, every time they happen from NOW!

UPDATE

Police in Abia State have arrested two alleged rapists “one Zaki and his roommate last night”