After a couple of days of feeling completely knocked out by the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine – it was like malaria on my tongue and my body felt as if it had been through several rounds with Mike Tyson – I logged on to Twitter to see what was up. The horrific death of Ini Umoren was trending. Ini was – according to her friend, Uduak – an orphan who put herself through school and who wanting to make some money before going for NYSC had arranged to meet with someone who said he might have a job for her. There was no job, Ini was raped and killed.
While many people on Twitter showed compassion – including many who apparently had helped crack the case by retweeting Uduak’s tweets and demanding that everyone who Direct Message-ed (dmed) the victim to contact them for job opportunities reveal themselves and prove their innocence, etc. – more than a few people, sadly but true to form, took the opportunity to show themselves up. Some swore that they would never have fallen prey to Umoren’s fate because they take all imaginable precautions. Some (men) served generous portions of advice to a woman who was already dead on how she could have protected herself better.
Ironically, some of the “advice” is stuff that every woman I know (I think) already does because we have to, because women navigate the world differently than men. And not just in Nigeria. A Caribbean male writer once shared at a festival how shocked he was the first time his elder sister asked him to accompany her somewhere because she did not dare to pass by a certain street alone. This was a street that he had taken at whatever time of day without ever fearing for his safety. It was not until he saw the street through the sister’s eyes (populated by raucous young men) that he understood just how differently he and his sister occupied the same space. And he understood how the behaviour that had seemed ordinary to him might seem threatening to a woman alone.
It was upsetting to see those tweets appearing to shift some blame onto a young woman whose only crime was to trust a man she had no way of knowing that she should not have.
In any case, Miss Umoren did not take any reckless risks. Quite the opposite. She did everything people are told to do to ensure their safety: her location app was on, she told at least two people where she was going, she sent the phone number of the person she was meeting to her sister and when she did get in trouble, she tried to get in touch with her friend. But even if she had not, someone’s gruesome end at the hands of evil criminals is never ever a reason for folks to start giving their hot takes on how they would have handled it or how they escaped such fates by being so much wiser. Awon Solomons. Time and place, folks. That this has to be said at all is astounding. Besides, victim blaming is never a good idea. No victim of a crime should be held culpable for the crime committed against her. Yes, “her” because victim blaming is mostly present in crimes whose targets are predominantly women (eg rape and domestic violence). No one blames victims of armed robbery, for example, for possessing whatever it was the robbers wanted. The onus should not be on women to make sure crimes are not committed against them, so please stop already and thank you very much.
What is more useful than your rehashed tips to us women on how to survive evil men who may want to lure us into an abduction or rape or murder or possibly all three, is empathy. And in addition to that, an understanding that in our society (as in many other societies worldwide), the world is really more dangerous for women. And that in a world that is more dangerous for women, anything that belittles women’s sufferings, any joke, any banter, any post that is insensitive to rape, for example or that is in any way sexist, is something to be avoided and called out when seen. Particularly when the banter/joke/ is made by a man that has a megaphone and has many young men looking up to him. It is not only to be avoided for being in poor taste, it is also dangerous on a very practical level. Monkey hear, monkey do, right? What you take in is what you bring out, right? You do not just have to take my word for it.
There have been studies confirming that being exposed to sexist humour encourages men who are high in hostile sexism to act discriminatorily towards women, and to feel no embarrassment or guilt about it. So you want to be useful? Stop placing the burden of responsibility on victims and be on the guard for any sort of behaviour that may encourage criminal behaviour from men who prey on unsuspecting women. Repeat after me: Ini Umoren did not die because she was not careful. She died because some evil person(s) decided to rape and kill her. The basket of blame belongs squarely in the front yard of the man or men responsible.
Rest in Peace, Ini Umoren