Shattered: An Opinionated Review on Breaking the Silence
the cast of Shattered
Based on Bode Asiyanbi’s entry for the BBC Short Story competition, Shattered explores the culture of silence around rape. The play examines the series of events following the occurrence of a rape and the consequences when the victim decides to break the silence.
The performance debuted in 2013, at the British Council’s Lagos Theatre Festival, provoking widespread advocacy to break the silence on social media and news platforms. It was staged again in Lagos from the October 22- 23, at the Presidential Suites, Eko Hotel and Suites in recognition of the International Day of the Girl Child.
The play was for some of us in the audience, a novel approach to a stage drama. A fly on the wall concept that saw us moving between rooms, from set to prepared set, to watch the scenes unfold. If we wanted to, we could have touched the actors, jumped in the fray and become the unscripted part of the drama. Comments and opinions on the unfolding scenes were voiced loudly, although the players could neither see nor hear, or perhaps we had been relegated to that realm reserved only for ghosts.
Once one could get beyond the ultra-high emotions and the ungainly interjection of parody, the message the play Shattered was trying to convey soon emerged to detail the experience of mostly young girls at the hands of older, usually male relatives. In Shattered, a young girl, Loveth (played by Goodness Emmanuel), who was being valiantly raised by a widowed mother (played by Bola Haastrup), had somehow fallen to prey to a sexual predator, her uncle, Dave (played by Jide Kosoko).
What was apparent was that Loveth’s recently widowed mother found unusual but strong support in her sister in-law (played by Bikita Graham Douglas), enough for her to integrate Bisi and her daughter into the economic framework of her own family. Her brother in-law, Dave, gave her a job, which she was either poorly qualified for or which was extraneous to the needs of his company. He never the less placed her on the payroll and caved to his wife’s persuasion to provide additional off-payroll financial support including meeting the family’s pressing need for Loveth’s fees. For Loveth’s mother, her aunt’s salvific roll in her life needed to be secured through prayers and she demonstrated a superlative penchant for the spiritual. This manifested in her dependence on pastors with whose help she warded off spiritual attacks from members of her deceased husband’s relatives. Loveth’s mother was also a firm believer in discipline and did not spare the rod or her waspish tongue when it came to raising her daughter.
This mix left Loveth living in fear of her mother’s ire but extremely wary of religion, with a healthy dose of doubt as to the efficacy of her mother’s pastor (played by Patrick Diabuah) and his tools for keeping away the disaster, as well as hard luck. Somehow Loveth became prey to her Uncle Dave and was raped. It was not clear whether the bloody evidence that Loveth had given to her friend; Nancy (played by Tomi Odunsi) was a result of violence or the loss of her virginity.
In its telling, the story was designed to raise awareness of the molestation of the young, this vulnerable group who continue to fall prey to sexual predators. The story was meant to rend the hearts of the audience, if only by sheer volume of passionate emotion. The challenge is that there was no story told. The cast made a heroic effort to pass the message but the delivery was completely lacking in subtlety, making it impossible to identify with key characters. It might be argued that there is nothing subtle about rape. Still that is precisely the point when it comes to rape perpetrated by trusted members of a social network, especially family and friends.
Rape connotes violence until we start to define it to include unlawful carnal knowledge of a minor who is not old enough to make an informed choice to engage in sexual activity, especially not with a worldly wise older person. Sexual predators adopt extremely careful, cunning and stealth tactics. That is why sexual exploitation of minors comes as such a surprise if discovered although more times than not goes undetected. The message from the producers of Shattered is that we should break the conspiracy of silence. What we need to explore more deeply is why there is so much silence around the issue. Why for instance, do young people not volunteer information or raise an alarm, preferably in advance of the sexual act or as soon as possible after? Why do they seemingly acquiesce to repeated abuse?
Taking a closer look at the storyline in Shattered, it becomes necessary to ask why despite a mother’s strictness about the moral and social development of her child, the child was still able to play hooky from school to attend a party. It is also necessary to ask how come but more importantly why, this young woman could give her best friend with whom she attended the party the slip to go visiting at her aunt’s house. Of course, one can just imagine that at the time of this particular visit, Loveth’s aunt, a full-time housewife with plenty of time to dabble in her niece’s affairs was not home. However, her husband, a busy businessman with a company to run was.
Victims of continual sexual exploitation are groomed. It does not matter whether the predator is a father, uncle, brother or family friend, they find a way to groom or coerce their victims. Grooming takes time and unsupervised contact but perhaps acknowledging this will make evident that we who hold a duty of care towards these young people are failing in our responsibility. Some of us may harbour more primal reasons for ignoring the signs even as we make our children, victims twice over.
Given the increasing rate of abuse of both girls and boys, we should begin to acknowledge that our nearest and dearest could be the closet predators. Encouraging victims to speak is therefore not adequate solution, because this comes after lasting damage is done. Also, talking about it does not necessarily make for healing. It is better to apply a universal principle for keeping our children’s safe, for breaking an insidious cycle perpetuated because no one wants to cause offence. In our society, it is so important to keep up appearances, to help to maintain the myth that only the poor do bad things, that the person who gives gifts to our children, spends time with them and takes them out is only showing that they care for us and our children. We also seem to believe that bonds of family and friendship immunise our children against abuse, despite common evidence to the contrary.
Please understand that when I will not leave my child alone with you, no matter how close our relationship or the sheer weight of your standing in society, it is one more thing that I must do for protection, for securing a balanced and well-adjusted future for my child. Shattered can however be applauded for attempting to fight the stigma of rape through the performance of the actors.
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