In 2015, Soladoye Ige(not real name) was reported to have told the Police that he decided to rape his girlfriend as a celebration of Valentine's Day. Why? Well, because she wouldn't have sex with him. For him, sex was necessary as a symbol of the day's significance so of course, why should it matter that she didn't want any part of it especially since they had an established sexual relationship?
Last year, in India, there was the case of a 24-year-old man, Sumit, who raped his 18-year-old friend on Valentine's Day. According to the victim, they had only become friends a few months back and so when Sumit asked to go out with her for Valentine's Day, she obliged. The day quickly became tragic as he took her to his relative's unoccupied house and repeatedly raped her.
Valentine's Day, 2019 was on a Thursday. She didn't return home until Saturday.
Does that mean only women are victims of sexual violence? Of course not. The absence of a wholesome body of work that directly shines the light on male survivors of sexual abuse tell us that as a society, there is still so much work that needs to be done in dismantling the tragedy that is gender norms and how that impacts on the ways we tell the stories of male survivors of abuse.
Valentine's Day is not the problem.
The problem is the ways that emotion can be heightened, and the people who take advantage of that to cross lines in one of the most despicable ways possible. The human body belongs to one person - the human inhabiting that body. It doesn't matter if they are in a relationship with you, or if you have sex on a regular.
In 2017, Mrs Itoro Eze-Anaba, the founder of the Mirabel Centre in Lagos Nigeria, highlighted that the centre recorded the third highest number of reported sexual assault cases, for the year in February and provided care to 91 survivors. In 2018, the number of survivors at the centre in the month of February increased to 103, the highest for the entire year!
Consent to sex on different days does not translate into consent to sex on all days. A partner in a relationship can say 'yes' to sex on February 12th and decide they are not in the mood on February 14th. You must know that it is a right they have and one that you're bound, not only by law, but by common human decency to uphold.
If you're in a relationship and expect that Valentine's Day is an incomplete package without sex, be sure to communicate that with your partner. Let them know that you look forward to being sexually intimate with them and listen carefully for their response. The essence of communication is ensuring that the other party clearly understands your expectation, so that they may then choose to acquiesce or decline.
One common way that intimate partner rape is excused is by clutching the rope of "after all, we're going to get married," a statement that holds no water because firstly, you're not married and secondly, consent is not a shape shifter dependent on what roles we play in another's life at a particular time. A relationship is not an all-access card that allows for the exploration of another's body against their will.
Saying 'yes' to a home cooked meal is not automatically saying 'yes' to other things that are thought of as essential add-ons especially on Valentine's Day. An expensive gift does not provide the giver with a license to invade another. Rape is a violent crime that wrests an individual's power from them and takes over their agency. It is impossible to love a person and violate them in such a base manner.
So, exchange the flowers or gifts, revel in the magic of love whether in its fluttering butterfly phase or in the phase where it has been solidified by time and shaped by experiences, but remember consent is not coerced or forced; it is freely, and willingly, given.
Fact: Sexual violence most often is perpetrated by someone a survivor knows, and this includes intimate partner relationships.
About the Author
Tawakalit Kareem is a Writer, Editor and Advocate for Gender Equality. She works on the Media and Communications team of the Mirabel Centre, creating communication materials that educate about forms of sexual and gender-based violence. She is also the Founder of The Butterfly Project, an initiative targeted at providing free digital skills training for women. Tawakalit is an Alumnus of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Emerging Leaders Program and a member of the 2019 Class of the Patricia Eromon Iyioha Foundation Fund, Inc (PEIFFund).
Her works have been published in African Leadership Magazine, Modern Ghana, Sheroes NG and other platforms. She shares her thoughts via her website, , tawakalit.com