Written by Victory Wekulom

Regardless of the growth and progress in LBQTI+ rights globally, Nigeria remains one of the challenging countries for persons within the community. They face discrimination, persecution, and legal restrictions, which constitute significant barriers to their safety and well-being. Within this complex environment, one problem is prevalent: the sexual assault against LBQTI individuals. In this article, we will look into the overlooked and often silenced issue hidden within the Nigerian LBQTI community. We hope that by shedding more light on this topic, we will raise awareness, promote understanding, and advocate for change in support of LBQTI rights and safety.

First of all, what is sexual assault, and how does it take place?

Sexual assault is any non-consensual sexual activity or contact that could come in two different forms: Physical Sexual Assault and Non-physical Sexual Assault. 

Physical sexual assault involves any form of non-consensual contact of a sexual nature; it could be groping, fondling, unwanted touches, rape, or even forced penetration of any kind. 

Non-physical sexual assault is anything that doesn’t involve physical contact but still violates a person’s boundaries or bodily autonomy. It could come in many different forms, such as sexual harassment, threats, manipulation, intimidation, and pressuring or coercing someone into any sexual activity of any sort against their will. 

Sexual assault can also take place in relationships. For example, Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) also occurs in intimate relationships. Sexual assault is a serious violation of an individual’s bodily autonomy, dignity, and integrity. It causes intense emotional, physical, and psychological effects, leaving its survivors with depression, severely traumatized, anxious, and possibly with a long list of other mental health issues. 

It is important to reiterate that sexual assault can and will occur in any context, irrespective of the relationship between the perpetrator and the survivor. It happens irrespective of gender and sexual orientation.

Sexual Assault in Nigeria’s LBTQI+ Community

As we already know by now, sexual assault is a serious problem that affects all works of life, irrespective of our gender identity or sexual orientation and expression. In Nigeria, the LBQTI+ community faces a whole lot of challenges when it comes to sexual violence, and there is no better time to shed more light on that than Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). The LBQTI community faces discrimination, stigma, and violence from both state and non-state actors, leading to a toxic environment where sexual violence thrives greatly. 

First, let’s get things straight (no pun intended), sexual assault is never the survivor’s fault, and there is no justification for it. This includes intimate partner violence as well. Members of the LBQTI community are at a greater risk of experiencing sexual assault as a result of societal norms that seek to erase their identities.

A recent survey showed the constant reoccurrence of sexual abuse of LBQTI individuals in Nigeria. Amongst participants, a ciswoman identifying as queer and below the age of 35 revealed that she endured sexual assault within the confines of her own home and was unable to report the crime, which revealed the barriers to seeking justice. Two other ciswomen, both pansexual and below the ages of 25 and 35, respectively, shared their experiences of having been survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) and multiple assaults in different locations. 

The survey also exposed the alarming commonness of sexual assault in public places, particularly against LBQTI individuals. Two bisexual, cis women who participated in the survey below the age of 25 disclosed the experiences they had with assault, with only one survivor reporting the case and getting justice. The transgender community wasn’t left out, and one Pansexual trans woman below the age of 25 endured relentless abuse, both online and offline, with her abuser boldly stalking her in public spaces. Her inability to report the abuse only reveals the systematic failure of the Nigerian justice system and its failure to safeguard the rights and dignity of LBQTI individuals.

So, what can we do? How can we fix this?

First, you must understand that silence is not an option. We need to break the silence and, by doing so, create a safer space for other survivors to share their stories. Sexual assault is not just a “straight people problem.” It encompasses all of us, regardless of who and what we are, and it is a societal issue that needs to be addressed and stopped. We need to understand that it happens within our community.

As individuals in the community, we can do a whole lot more, as it is important for us to create safe, inclusive, and affirming spaces for all survivors of sexual assault, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We can start by:

  • Educating ourselves and others about respect, consent, healthy boundaries, and relationships.
  • Creating safe spaces for other members of the LBQTI individuals and encouraging them to share their stories and experiences without fear of judgment, rejection, and or prejudice.
  • Supporting LBQTI organizations that provide support and services for survivors of sexual assault while training other service providers on LBQTI-related issues and trauma-informed care.
  • Seeking help when needed, be it legal aid or counseling.
  • Creating inclusive and accessible reporting mechanisms for survivors. 
  • Challenging negative and harmful stereotypes and promoting awareness about sexual assault in LBQTI relationships.

Despite the obstacles the LBQTI individuals have faced in Nigeria, they remain resilient and draw strength from their shared experiences and the bonds of solidarity and mutual support. While we celebrate the 24th anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), we should remember to stand in solidarity and work together to create a world where diversity is celebrated and where every individual can embrace their identity without shame or fear.

By breaking the silence surrounding sexual assault in the LBQTI community, we’re making way for a future where community members are safe, valued, respected, encouraged, and empowered to live their lives freely and authentically.

You should always remember sexual assault is not your fault, and you’re not alone. Break the silence and create a culture of valuing consent, respect, and support. Share your story, seek help, and always remember – you are not alone!