Who do we blame when an intersex teenager is attacked?
Recently, a video emerged of an incident of jungle justice against an intersex teenager which allegedly took place in either Delta or Edo state in Nigeria. The video which appears to be genuine, is hard to watch. This young person was forced to strip naked, and then had some form of liquid poured on their body, whilst being kicked and beaten. It’s not clear what has happened to the teenager since this attack. This jungle justice or mob violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression is of course not new – it happens frequently across Nigeria – but we need to challenge and change this status quo.
The most disturbing thing about this act of mob violence is that this was someone attacked for who they are. Why are we always scared of what is different? Why can’t we respect difference and not label difference as “witchcraft”? It was alleged that this intersex teenager was caught having sex with a man – and the video shows the man being humiliated alongside the teenager but the intersex teenager received more humiliation and regardless of the age this man might be, the act of jungle justice is still not valid – for the teenager or the man.
We have laws for a reason, and it is not the place of citizens to be the violent police, judge, jury and executioner. It is extremely disturbing that this teenager was attacked for a fact of birth which no one ever has control over, be it sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. An intersex person does not choose to have organs of both genders – this incident shows how inhuman we have become in Nigeria, and how insensitive we have become to human diversity. We have refused to acknowledge that we can’t force a society to operate on one person’s singular understanding of human existence. Perhaps even more striking is that the video of this attack has gone around the internet yet there has been no little or no outrage. This is a situation that everyone should be mad about, in any sane society we should all be worried.
This subject was a vulnerable, intersex young person still establishing how to relate to their environment and their body and instead of support, they get called names like “witch” and other unjust labels.
It is problematic that nobody is talking about it. As a country and a people, we have become used to being treated like animals for so long that we have normalised treating each other like animals. Therefore, people feel that jungle justice is appropriate and not much of a big deal, because the police should protect you from such acts, would probably do worse. Yes, we all know that we are living in a failed system but this is not an excuse for jungle justice. We have normalised a society where bad behaviour is normal – inhumane treatment to other people is thought of as okay. We need to begin to challenge the status quo that makes homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and all other kinds of intolerance, that promotes violence as normal in this society.
As citizens, we have as much work to do as the police. When that teenage person was being humiliated in public, you can’t tell me people were not walking on that street or didn’t see what was going yet chose to ignore. One would expect that, in a sane society, there would have been a reaction by passers-by. This attack re-enforces the fact that there is deep ignorance about sexual diversity, sexual orientation, and gender Identity and equality. It re-enforces the fact that what we teach our children and ourselves about people’s differences is inadequate; that the values from our religion that we hold on to are too often about condemnation rather than compassion, respect and love; if we constantly tell our children that people who are different are evil, there is a high chance that they will act towards people who are different with stigma, discrimination and violence.
That a vulnerable, intersex person, who cannot help who they are, was attacked in broad daylight is shameful; that we see it as a normal everyday occurrence is disgusting. It’s clear that we must tackle jungle justice as a social issue that is unacceptable in our communities, and as we do that we must ensure that issues of sexual orientation and gender identity are placed front and centre in relation to these issues. We must teach ourselves and children that being different reflects our diversity as humans and as such they must respect people who they think or feel are different from what they know.