We All Are the Kidnapped Nigerian Girls

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Nigeria’s radical Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram can be looked at through many lenses.  They are active in the most populous country in Africa.  They are waging terrorist war on Africa’s newly minted largest economy, blowing up bus terminals and killing innocents. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is sitting on the largest oil patch in Africa; Boko Haram knows it. Rumored to be training in Somalia under the tutelege of Al Qaeda or, according to some reports, Al-Shabab, Boko Haram travels over land to perfect terrorist tactics and benefits from the deep pockets of the more arguably more established organizations.

Those lenses, for the moment, don’t interest me. Here’s what does: the abduction and selling into sex slavery over 200 girls in northern Nigeria and the appalling lack of US media coverage (in a meaningful, real way). What lens are we to look at that through?

How about this:  the worldwide devaluation of women and girls. The refusal of the media to declare there is a full-scale international war on women.  Headlines in the media exclaim: Schoolgirls forced into so-called marriages to militants by their captors. Outrageous isn’t it?

But forced into marriage is a sanitized way of avoiding the truth. The girls were reportedly sold (some reports say for $12) into a life of non-stop rape.  Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau first threatened to treat captured women and girls as slaves in a video released in May 2013.  Are we surprised?

And where is the U.S. in all of this? Where can we be? We have ceded the moral high ground in almost all of our dealings with the international community. Whether as Sarah Palin so foot-in-mouthedly said water boarding is our way of baptizin’ terrorists or that grumpy old white men in statehouses and the U.S. Capitol control our uteruses and our reproductive lives. Maybe it is because we don’t recognize women’s suffering in poverty—we can’t even push through minimum wage bills let alone pay women equally. Maybe it is because as a nation we haven’t solidified against the crisis of rape and domestic violence in our own country. Maybe because we live in a country where a man can get a one-month jail sentence for raping a girl.

The U.S. taxpayer continues to fund de facto dictators like Yoweri Museveni in Uganda as the aging politician racks up human rights violations against the LGBT community. Imagine the difficulty our government has dealing with Nigeria with all its oil glory? And how about Goodluck Jonathan’s brutal criminalization of LGBT persons? That’s a whole other ball of wax.

The U.S. media’s penchant to mostly ignore all things woman became crystal clear to me during a trip to India earlier this year. India is (and has been) languishing under an ongoing rape crisis, predating the brutal rape and murder of the young woman in Delhi. I was in Bombay for 10 days. Every day I opened the paper, any paper—The HinduThe Times of India—and there were multiple stories of new rapes. Every day. Not just one story, multiple ones. What have we heard about this in the U.S.? Virtually nothing. Did you know there is a so-called “pro-rapist lobby” in Indian politics at the moment?  Seems like the U.S. media would be all over that especially since the worlds largest democracy is voting right now. I guess not. John Oliver came close, dedicating about 10 minutes to the multi-phase Indian election on his new HBO show Last Week Tonight, but failed to mention that whole rape lobby.

I spoke to a colleague in Cameroon last night via IM about the situation in Nigeria. Cameroon shares a dangerous border with Nigeria. My colleague runs a fledgling group educating women in northwest Cameroon. She suffered domestic violence and realized that education is the key to women’s empowerment.

She is worried. Boko Haram has been infiltrating northeastern Cameroon for some time now—a new travel warning was just issued last week.  She told me to “pray for” the girls, and pray that Boko Haram will not come any further into Cameroonian territory. I worry for her.

When I was in Cameroon earlier this year there were posters out to be aware of Boko Haram—keep our eyes peeled for backpacks or sketchy characters lollygagging, I saw the same kinds of signs in Uganda a couple of years ago.  We are familiar with the tactics of the Lord’s Resistance Army and kidnapping kid soldiers (or go back to Pol Pot and others if you like). But this mass kidnapping in Nigeria seems to have no strategic meaning; if reports are correct, it was some kind of deal to sell of girls into sex slavery. Maybe as simple (and horrifying) as that. And we all know women are things to be owned and can therefore be sold.

As a journalist, I have to report the truth. Reporting words like “marriage” and “husband” in regard to the 234 girls may be technically correct, but it isn’t the truth. These girls aren’t isolated in their suffering. Their suffering is unique and horrific—but we are connected. As women, we are going to have to be the ones to do something about this. As women in the media, it is our job to keep making connections around the globe.

Photo of Nigerian girls by Flickr user Joachim Huber under license from Creative Commons 2.0

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Andy Kopsa is a freelance investigative reporter based in New York City. She has written for Al Jazeera, The Atlantic, Talking Points Memo, Ms. magazine and many other publications. She was awarded a 2012 Society of Professional Journalists Award for investigative reporting and was a 2013 recipient of a Knight Grant for Reporting on Religion in American Public Life from USC Annenberg.

Comments

  1. No we are not. Let’s acknowledge our privilege. I am in solidarity with, fight for/with, here to listen, here to help, but I am not a black woman (nor are you) from a developing country. Words have meaning and they are powerful. Recognize the difference please.

    • Great article – poorly chosen title (and theme) for the reasons “Name” notes here.

    • Pamela says:

      “Name says”, is this your name? Your comment seems out of step with the compassion shown in this article, and quite instructional and condescending.

      At least sign such a comment!

      • NOname says:

        It doesn’t matter what her name is, or yours; and, you typing “Pamela” for a name (real or not) doesn’t impact my address to you one way or the other. White writers need to realize that it is NOT about them, and their discovery and compassion. I didn’t google “Kidnapped Nigerian Girls” to read a piece about her, I want to read about these girls – which is lacking. YOU are NOT them, and you can show your solidarity without making it about you. Your comment, Pamela, is quite useless and irrelevant to the point Name made.

        At least keep such inconsequential commentary from serious matters!

    • Amanda says:

      Show a heart. Don’t not pick stupid details! No matter what, little girls have been kidnapped and raped. Therefore, forget semantics and think about these innocent babies. I worry about the world we live in when after reading about the truth of what is happening in Nigeria people are left to make irrelevant comments like this. We are girls. Women around this world are suffering but now we see immediate suffering in Nigeria. It is in our face and here we are on our smart phones and laptops dividing. We are the Nigerian girls. We are women and strength lies in numbers. If we divide we are failing the real issue at hand, rescuing the young girls. Women around this world need to speak and demand action. Indeed most of us will never experience what these young girls are, but we are humans capable of empathy and sympathy. Do not divide. Stand up for these little babies.

    • There is no difference between a white middle-class woman in North America being in the “sex trade” or women from poor countries. It is just a class difference. We never make class distinctions with domestic violence – it is wrong whether the woman is a movie star or a poor woman or a woman from a poor country. Sexual exploitation in itself is violence against women. The very nature of sexual exploitation (strip clubs, prostitution, pornography) itself is violence and sexual abuse – women don’t choose this in North America. Sexual exploitation also existed in the former Communist countries, suggesting that the problem is not totally economic. In fact, many victims were sexually abused as children/teenagers/young adults.

  2. Seconding the above commenter. We can educate ourselves on the issue and fight to change it but chances are most people reading this will never come close to experiencing what these girls have, so to identify with them is dramatic at best and downright insulting to them at worst.

  3. Reeltalk says:

    How does acknowledging privilege help this situation? White women, young girls and children are sexually abused in the United States. Their assailants would face tougher penalties for a drug crime. Wealthy women are victimized, raped, molested, beaten, by strangers and famy members. Poor women are too. Your need to bring up privilege and to reject the real implications of a shared gender is a very disturbing, purposeful show of superiority and redirects the conversation in a way that is not helpful and away from a place of shared humanity.

  4. Golden Goddess says:

    Excellent, informative piece. Only after reading it did I understand you weren’t being purposefully reductive, as stated on FB. I hope the piece overrides the title. Thank you.

  5. Birdies says:

    And just a week or so ago the mantra for the day was: “Never again.”

    We say “Never again,” while we close our eyes.

  6. Neasie24l says:

    Thank you so much for this informative article. I think Reeltalk expressed my sentiments best with her remarks. Also, the above remarks that we are far from being in these little girls situation continues to show me what an ignorant and naive little bubble some of our privileged society still lives. For your sake I hope that you don’t have to learn the hard way that this can happen to all of us.

  7. seaotter says:

    Atrocities against women & children are not treated seriously right here in the US. Rapists and child molesters are let off easily and some are registered offenders, allowed to live in society once again, to go back to their dirty deeds. I agree that this mass kidnap of these innocent children in Nigeria is horrendous and a crime against all women and humanity. Everyone, not just the US, should have given this news story more attention that it got. The international community should rise up against such heinous crimes and help Nigeria. My heart goes out to these kids. I am totally taken aback by the loose comment about pro-rapist lobby in India. There are as many or more number of rapes and crimes against women & children here in the US, than in India. Do not slander a whole country just because you are not familiar with the race or culture of that region of the world. I see a propensity among some of us Americans to make flat out stupid or insensitive remarks about people from countries outside the Euro zone. Let us as human beings, do what we can to help victims of mindless, horrific crimes. No need to brand countries.

  8. Heather Fraser says:

    I applaud this. As the mother on young girls I fully appreciate the message that we are but a hop skip and jump away. It is true that we don’t have rogue terrorists roaming our streets – yet – but Sharia law is working its way into our system country by country. A system that disavows women’s rights is becoming commonplace. Here at home though, this issue is ever present. Why else do we ensure our daughters go in pairs, why we instruct them to never be alone with a man they don’t know or one they don’t trust, why we warn them against boys? Why as adults do we encounter the proverbial glass ceiling and work place bullies and accept that as the price of entry…I celebrate my girls – encourage them – and try to keep them focused on their success as the awesome women they are and are becoming…. But I worry every day that they will experience the things that I did (I think that’s every parents fear…) and know if my parents had only known…

  9. This is a good, passionate piece. I think the early commenters misunderstood the tactic the headline writer (who may not even have been the same as the article writer) was employing with that headline. The point is that human brings don’t act in many cases unless they personally feel the pain of those being victimized. The writer here was calling us all to action by means of pointing out that we each could, in any moment, black or white, Nigerian or American, become a victim of sexual abuse. I can’t understand how an invitation to unite in the face of such evil is taken as a slight. I’m Jewish and if I had lived during the time of WWII, I would have loved to see a non-Jew publish a piece that said ‘we are all holocaust victims’. The problem was that no one identified with the Jews over in Europe so no one gave a shit. And millions of people died. I agree that , in some way, we are all those Nigerian girls. We all are those who perished in the holocaust. We are all human beings and when one of us is tortured or raped or killed, we ALL suffer. We are not as separate as some people think. My heart goes out to those girls and I applaud any writer willing to make some noise about it in any way.

    • Thank you for this, Karen. You’re absolutely right: the article writer was NOT the headline writer; the editor was. And she (me) was thinking along the same lines as you suggest here. Speaking of being Jewish, every year at the Passover Seder, we say words to the effect of, “It was as if I were a slave in the land of Egypt.” And moving forward in history, we must indeed imagine ourselves in the holocaust death camps. More recently, we have said, “I am Trayvon Martin,” or “I am Malala,” even if we are of different races, religions, sexes and levels of privilege. If one person is oppressed, we are all oppressed …

  10. Some of the comments above are coming from so much unawareness of the truth and depth of the continued war against women. The author of this article is completely correct when she states that if violence is happening to some women, it is, on some level, happening to all women. All groups have a “energetic group matrix”. This invisible matrix sends ripples to other parts of the matrix: how do animals communicate information as a group without words? They do it through their corresponding species matrix. As a shamanic medicine woman, I work with subtle energies – they are very real. Women too have this group matrix – if things are happening to women in a different continent, on some level, their suffering is affecting all of womankind. Another point that has eluded some of the above contributors is that all women are subject to some form of violence towards them from men – whether they live in Africa, Papua New Guinea, or the US. The violence only differs in form and intensity. Women in the west are exposed to more subtle forms of women hatred. To say that because we haven’t experienced what the Nigerian girls have means that we are “out of the woods”, is a sign of women being in complete denial. All the evidence of the war against women is there – for most women, it’s easier to stay in denial. Denial is a coping mechanism that helps women survive – but at a terrible price. The more women come out of denial, the more they will wake up to the lie that says: “because a male slave owner doesn’t beat his female slave, she is empowered”. A point that I often put to women who I am giving soul retrieval to is this: imagine that you know a woman who is part of an all-female group who have just kidnapped and raped nearly 300 men. When did you, as a woman, last hear of that happening? Turning things around like this gives women a new yardstick for the cruelties that continue to occur against women. There is a solution: the return of Goddess and reverence for the sacred feminine, (facebook under Charly Flower).

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