For the first of this series, Chiamaka speaks to Ola, a twenty-one-year-old who was sexually harassed while on a bus going home from CDS.
This past week, an unknown woman was sexually assaulted on a public bus in Lagos. A witness posted a picture of the culprit on Twitter, alongside a description of what had occurred. Unfortunately, none of the men on the bus responded to the victim’s distress nor attempted to hold the culprit responsible for his actions. The victim, now a survivor, was thankfully backed by the women on the bus, who offered support and pointed to places she could receive assistance even after the incident. DSVRT, a Domestic & Sexual Violence Response Agency picked up on the viral thread on Twitter and asked people to report any sightings of the culprit, as he was apparently a repeat offender. As a response to the tweet, a few women also shared their experiences of sexual assault while on public transportation. This inspired me to speak to different women who had been victims of sexual assault in any form of public transportation. To share their experiences and also highlight just how rampant this obscene act occurs. For the first of this series, I spoke to Ola, a twenty-one-year-old who was sexually harassed while on a bus going home from CDS (Community Development Service), a requirement of the National Youth Service. Here is Ola’s story.
This story has been condensed and edited for clarity purposes.
It was Monday the 25th of November, 2021. I woke up early in order to be out before it was too late. In Lagos, any time after 7 am is late. Bus parks, sometimes, are already full as early as even 6 am. Since CDS can be extremely chaotic, I prefer to get there early and be in line before 9 am. I boarded a bus from the closest bus stop to my house, down to CMS. The bus was not tightly packed since I was early, so I was lucky enough to pick a comfortable seat very close to the edge. I love to get on the bus when it is virtually empty, as that decreases my chances of human contact or having to sit in the middle when it is really uncomfortable. I am chubby, so I prefer buses to keke napeps (tricycle) because they have more space. I managed to get to CDS at about 8 am. I sign in and then check the line to make sure I hold my spot. It is horrific to lose your place in line as it is almost impossible to get it back. By the time CDS is over, we get sprung up with some directives from the people in charge. Apparently, they want us to go over to some streets in the area and organise some cleaning efforts there. We are to pick up trash and make sure the spots look clean. I am already grumbling as this is an unplanned directive which means I will have to make my way home later than I planned. After we clean up, it starts to rain heavily. I try to wait out the rain in a small shop, but it continues to persist. When it shows no signs of letting up, I wait for it to lighten a bit and head over to the bus park. Unfortunately, I board the first bus I see as a result of desperation. It is already very packed and damp.
I try to seat beside the conductor, but the seat attached is bending as if it was about to snap. When a male passenger alights, I take his seat which is beside a woman and another man. Behind me, there is a whole row of men so I was definitely not trying to seat there. I begin to feel knees brush against my butt from behind several times in the middle of the trip. I assume that it is because passengers are alighting frequently and I try to ignore it. The brushing persists, to my discomfort, so I try to shift further away from the edge of the seat. At some point, I realize that somebody’s hand is now grazing my buttocks. When I look back, the man directly behind me pretends that he has not done anything. I wanted to scream at him, but I was scared because the row is filled with all men. I did not know if he had other people with him as well. Luckily, someone in front of me alights and I go over to their seat. The experience terrified me for days, especially because I had the inkling that more than one person’s knee may have been brushing against me. I still had to enter a bus when I was going to my PPA the next week, which I did to my utmost caution. Even now, I am hesitant to board full buses, especially at night, even when I know I have to. Existing as a woman in this country, especially one that is low-income is extremely painful. Feeling safe is not even an option, as I am always on high alert everywhere I go.