Abuse committed by women remains a taboo subject. In countries like the United States, that began to change as more high profile cases hit the news. However, other countries still keep the discussion of the topic to a minimum.
Nigeria is one of those countries. Sexual violence is not something openly discussed or confronted, but this is particularly true when the rapist is female. Cultural stigmas and expectations often lead boys raped by women to rationalize their abuse even as they acknowledge the abusive power dynamic at play.
A recent article on Naij.com covered the issue. Author Aderonke Bello interviewed several men abused by women as children. One man recounted his “abusive relationship” with a 35-year-old woman that began when he was 12-years-old:
Juwon Adeniji was introduced to sex at age 12 by a woman 23 years his senior. She forced him into an abusive relationship which lasted for seven years.
“My cravings for older women cannot stop in this lifetime,” were the words of Juwon Adeniji, “I am married to a woman who is 11 years older than me, I fought a battle with my family members because my wife is older. Anyway, I won. So far, I have been blessed with two healthy boys.”
His parents were never at home to tend to him. He was left in the mercy of their neighbour who took advantage of his parents’ busy schedules to abuse their son. For the years it lasted, they never found out about what was occurring right under their noses. The boy enjoyed the act and got used to it, not realising it was abuse until he became an adult.
“My parents worked from morning till evening. With me being the only child and no one to leave me with in the ancient city of Idanre where my parents worked, our neighbour who was a full housewife offered to take me in when the school bus drops me. Then my parents would pick me from there at the end of each working day (from Monday to Friday). She fed me daily, we would watch Indian films and wrestled together when her husband was not around. I liked her because she cared for me,” he explained.
One of the moment common refrains one hears about female abusers is that they act out of love and compassion and confusion. They are never predatory. It is only their need for companionship that drives them. Keep that opinion in mind as Juwon continues his story:
Mr. Juwon, who is now in his late forties, said he enjoyed every bit of the abusive relationship because of the gifts and affection she showered on him while it lasted.
“That day after school, I entered the houseand ate as usual. She played a pornography movie instead of the Indian movie which is my favourite. She started talking dirty to me. She said she wants us to play like them [actors in the movie]. She gently removed my trousers and pants, and of course I was fully erected. It started like that. I enjoyed it, and since then we carried on and on for another seven years, it ended when I gained admission into the university.
“As an undergraduate, I only dated masters students in my school. I am married to a lovely woman, she in her fifties, and we have two beautiful boys. I have a perfect life, no complaints,” he concluded.
That does not sound like the behavior of a loving person. It sounds like the behavior of someone who took advantage of a boy in desperate need of attention and manipulated his normal interest in sex to get what she wanted.
The impact on this man is clear: since that was his first sexual experience, he normalized it. That he enjoyed it is irrelevant. Most children enjoy adult attention, especially if the adult treats them like a fellow adult. Likewise, sex feels good, even in situations where the sex results from manipulation, coercion, or force. It is not surprising Juwon liked his experiences as they happened to him. That was the point. The issue is whether what this woman did was abusive and wrong.
Bello notes in the article that the statistics about female-on-male child rape are inaccurate because boys do not come forward and it is physically harder to detect. More so, female abusers can hide in plain sight. No one suspects them, and even if the boy reports it, few would believe him. So what happens if the abuser threatens violence? To whom could the child turn?
One man faced that situation:
“It is violence against the opposite sex. It is also from women to men. My experience was a bad one because I was threatened, and, sadly it came from our housemaid each time she came to my room to arrange and clean it, especially during holidays. My parents are always away from home as they leave for work early in the morning and resumes very late.
“I am an adult now. Though it still haunts me, there is nothing I can do about it,” another victim, Adeolu Oyebola [not real name], explained.
People often assume that even if the abuse were emotionally traumatizing, it was physically harmless. That is not always true:
“As a 10-year-old boy, I experienced a lot of pain , as if someone rubbed my privates with pepper. My penis would be burning. Many times my body would be smelling, I endured foul odour. Not a good thing for me, and I don’t think it can be for any boy,” Bayo Amoo, now a university lecturer, has disclosed.
The situation also has the potential of tainting the boys’ opinion of women:
Another victim, Chukwuemeka Ambrose, explained how he was assaulted and abused by his boss’s wife. Now a man in his late thirties operating a private business in Abuja, Ambrose said the experience has made him lose respect for women:
“In a bid to support myself through school, I picked up a job as a sales assistant in a store where they sell wires, cable and electrical appliances. My then-boss’ wife started flirting with me. When I declined [her advances], she threatened to set me up. I fell for her blackmail and she abused me sexually for three years. She forced me to used my mouth on her private parts and some other parts of her body. I used dildos on her. Got a pay raise, since then, I don’t have a single respect for women and I don’t even trust any of that specimen,” he said.
It can also ruin the boys’ ability to date someone their own age. The boys essentially reenact the abuse by dating older women. This is not uncommon. Many abuse victims put themselves in situations similar to the abusive one. What makes it worse in cases of female abusers is that societies generally normalize the behavior. No one finds it odd for a boy to seek out an older woman. This is seen more as evidence of his sexual prowess rather than the result of abuse. Yet when those men enter those relationships, they often recreate the abusive dynamic.
This is why it is so important to talk about this issue. We do not know how often females abuse males. The little we do know suggests it occurs far more often than we assume, typically to young boys. Those boys are not teenagers; they are usually younger than that, often barely into puberty. That makes this even more insidious because the younger the child, the more profound the change caused by the abuse. It is harder to undermine the damage caused because it not only shapes how the child thinks, but the way the child’s brain develops.
That kind of lasting impact creates a host of problems for the child, his future relationships, and his interactions with women. For those concerned about preventing misogyny, paying attention to this issue is important. I speak from personal experience. My experiences led me to distrust anyone remotely similar to my abusers. One of my brothers hates women as a result of what my aunt did to him. I have spoken with dozens of men who inexplicably idealize women in the most paternalistic ways. I have seen plenty of men who avoid women as a result of the abuse suffered.
Addressing this issue could be the first step in dealing with broader gender problems. Yet that does require us to take it seriously. We cannot dance around the topic, make excuses for the women, or play politics. We must talk about it in the most frank way, starting with a simple truth: some women are rapists.