Serwaa

One evening I had a call from Serwaa (Not her real name). Initially she sounded like she was hysterically laughing. Then it dawned on me she was wailing. It was so confusing that I immediately started walking towards her residence while asking what the problem was. She only continued to wail until I heard another voice on the line, “Hello”. It was another lady I didn’t know. “What happened?” I asked. Her answer didn’t bring any comfort. She was as clueless as I was. She had heard Serwaa crying so she entered her room only to find her on the floor with the phone. Their rooms were next to each other’s in the same building. By this time I was probably halfway there. “I’m coming,” I said.

At her place I tried to get her to calm down. I needed to know what the problem was. The other lady excused us. Then Serwaa told me what happened. An old friend had visited. He raped her and left. Then she called me. She cried like a young widow. At one point she burst into a song that sounded like a dirge. She was mourning the departure of her dignity.

What would you have said in that moment when such news has been broken to you? What would you have asked? What would you have done? How would you have handled the situation? What would be running through your mind? Let me be clear at this point. Regardless of the questions in your mind, you should know that a woman has just reported a violation of her self-worth. She has just told you something a lot of other women have kept a secret because of victim-blaming and stigma. She has just become defenseless. I dare say she has just gone naked for your help. Just help her. Don’t beat her. Don’t insult her. Don’t blame her. When you put the blame on the victim, you are unequivocally suggesting that she is responsible for controlling the behavior of the perpetrator. That is ludicrous thinking. When did we become responsible for other people’s action? Indeed, to think that an abused woman, girl, or toddler was the cause of her abuse is insanity. Those who assault women purposefully pervert what should ordinarily be among the most intimate forms of human communication.1 They do so out of motives of anger, power, eroticized cruelty, and opportunistic mating.2 They are responsible for their own actions.

When you put the blame on the victim, you are unequivocally suggesting that she is responsible for controlling the behavior of the perpetrator.

I know it is hard to believe people these days. It is hard to believe that someone will be raped in certain circumstances. I know it is difficult to understand how she was able to cry loud enough to draw attention after it happened and not before or when it was happening. Questions on such points are for the lawyers, investigators, and judges to ask in the right settings. They aren’t for people like you and I. I am proud to say that I didn’t care about these in that moment. I just wanted to get help for her.

The following day Serwaa attempted suicide. Thankfully, another friend who was keeping an eye on her showed up just before she could drive the knife into her abdomen. Actually, sexual abuse victims stand the greater risk of suicidal attempts compared to those who have not experienced any sexual abuse in their life time.3 Other consequences of sexual abuse include anxiety, PTSD, and depression. Physical effects also abound.  It’s been several years since Serwaa’s ordeal and it appears she’s survived the experience. She’s is a professional now, working somewhere in Ghana.

As you walk the streets of Ghana, note that 10 in 100 females you meet are physically forced to have sex by the age of 19.4 The number increases to 12 by age 24.5 It becomes 14 by age 29.6 Do you know what that means? Your sister, daughter, or niece stands a 14% risk of being physically forced to have sex by the time she is 29 years. Let me put it this way: Count 10 women in your family under age 30. At least 1 of them has been prevailed upon in a physical manner to have sex before, all things being equal. This excludes those who are sexually harassed through other means such as sexual comments and touch.

Every day in 2016, there were an average of 5 reports of defilement or rape to the police in Ghana.7 In 2017 it was 6.8 Remember that these are crimes that are under-reported because of stigma and victim blaming. It is shameful that “some police officers attempt to shift responsibility for the crime from the suspect to the victim by blaming the victim for encouraging the occurrence of the event.”9 Let’s not put the blame on only the police. Domestic violence, including sexual assault in homes, often goes unrecognized, unreported, and denied because someone says it’s a private matter.10 In Serwaa’s case, some of her family members wanted to take it up legally, but her father disagreed. They settled the matter at home. Before you judge him, you should know why he did that. He didn’t want fingers pointing at his beloved daughter. The assault was enough ordeal for her. There are harsh long-term consequences victims are likely to face when they disclose their ordeal. Apart from being under suspicion for causing the abuse via seduction, they can be labeled as “spoilt”.11

So the question comes, are there enough safe spaces for victims in Ghana? Social welfare is heavily underfunded and social workers operate without the necessary resources.

Let’s all come on board and stamp out this menace. Let’s protect our women. We have no idea how many Serwaas are out there. When they come out and speak up, don’t ask them questions that bruise them the more. Show them some love. It’s the least you can do.

Let’s all come on board and stamp out this menace. Let’s protect our women. We have no idea how many Serwaas are out there.

[1] Miller, Laurence. “Rape: Sex crime, act of violence, or naturalistic adaptation?” Aggression and Violent Behavior 19, no. 1 (2014): 67-81.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Brodsky, Beth S., and Barbara Stanley. “Adverse childhood experiences and suicidal behavior.” Psychiatric Clinics of North America 31, no. 2 (2008): 223-235.

[4] Asante, E. A., and S. Premo-Minkah. “Domestic violence in Ghana: incidence, attitudes, determinants and consequences.” (2016).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ghana Police Service. “Annual Crime Statistics.” (2017).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Boateng, Francis D. “Victims of sexual assaults: The experiences of Ghanaian women.” International review of victimology 21, no. 3 (2015): 346.

[10] Asante, E. A., and S. Premo-Minkah. “Domestic violence in Ghana: incidence, attitudes, determinants and consequences.” (2016).

[11] Böhm, Bettina. ““She got spoilt”: Perceptions of victims of child sexual abuse in Ghana.” Journal of child sexual abuse 26, no. 7 (2017): 818-838.

27 thoughts on “Serwaa”

  1. Thank you, Isaac. While we get help for the victim, let us pursue the perpetrators ( or predators as I choose to call them) and bring them to book before they find their next “prey”. Issues of rape and defilement must not be settled at home!

      1. Hmmm, very educative. Thank you Kbisaac.
        I however believe it will be good to find a way to name and shame the perpetrators, may be without bringing the victim in the picture.

  2. An educative write up. This real case scenario gives a clear picture and understanding to what the victim goes through after such a horrendous act.
    I would also suggest aside punishing the perpetrator, (which is more like cutting the tree at the branch level) can we also educated our males on how to manage their sexuality and how to treat their fellow females with respect (that is uprooting the tree) . Men are raised by women. If our mothers can spend more time teaching their sons how to treat women with love and respect, just maybe this malaise can be drastically reduced.
    Thanks Ike. Wonderful write up.

    1. Deborah Acheampong

      Great, Kbisaac.
      Please let’s not forget ‘rape’ in marriages too.
      These rapists marry later and in their matrimonial homes, it feels weird to enter their wives the normal way the lady would appreciate, in fact for both to appreciate. They unfortunately still do have this ‘rape mind’ and so would prefer to pounce on the lady just to have a feel of him raping someone. They certainly are sick and need help.

  3. Well done Isaac! Blaming the victim is the worst that could happen to anyone. Could be the trigger that pushes people off the cliff. People should either call someone who can help or remain silent instead of causing more hurt by unguarded words, regardless of whatever the circumstances. It’s not our place to issue judgements! Let’s be rather empathetic. Just like the write-up said… could be your relative!

  4. Joy Sarkodie-Addo

    Great write-up, Isaac! The statistics in Ghana is disheartening. May we find strength to play our individual roles in this fight against crime🙏.

  5. Nice write-up. The Justice system should be designed to punish the perpetrators while keeping the victims identity a secret.

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