A friend shared this account from Christabel Steel-Dadzie, one of Ghana’s young changemakers and founder of the Ahaspora Young Professionals network. Reading it, I was aghast, but not surprised. I have encountered similar in Ghana (in a trotro/public mini-bus no less) and heard similar stories from other ladies. Christabel found the courage to open up about her traumatic experience of physical and verbal assault. With her permission, her un-edited account is reproduced here in the hope that we can have a candid conversation about assault (in all its forms), raise awareness, and find the courage to counter incidents like this. It is never okay to abuse or assault anyone – physically, verbally, emotionally – and especially not when entrusted with relative power and responsibility.
I have so many emotions as I write about this incident – first because I had such an amazing Saturday celebrating my country – it’s beauty, it’s wealth, heritage, pride, etc…. but like most things in life, not long after your golden moments, you are starkly reminded of the reality of a broken system, a broken country.
My cousin asked me to help her run an errand, as family does, I hopped into the car, picked her and up and we were on for a fun 1-hour+ ride – we spent the whole journey reminiscing about the good old days, family members we had lost and were memorializing. We arrived at our destination around 7:20pm and the following unfolded:
I got to the gate of a gated community I had been to several times. Surprisingly they opened the gate for me (later on lied that they didn’t’t open the gate but that they had let a taxi in prior to our getting there and I followed; somehow that taxi vanished…) Because I know how the system works and I have been brought up generally to obey ‘the law’, I stopped of my own volition. The (female) security guard was taken aback and it took her a few seconds before I think she realized she didn’t know me, so asked who I was looking for… I mentioned the name of the person I was going to see, but knowing she (my hostess) wasn’t the house owner, and they have been confused by that before, I begun to dial her number… Security guard asks, as I dial – do you know the house number, I am talking on the phone and at the same time say, I am not sure, but she’s calling you. We hear the phone ringing in the security office… The security guard (female) says that I am blocking the entrance and therefore if a car is coming behind me they won’t be able to enter. I look in the rear view mirror, no car… The phone has stopped ringing so I know they have talked to my hostess… so I say again, she has responded, so can I simply go? I will move away if a car shows up.
There are 4 other men standing around, some in uniform, others not… Security guard tells me to go and park… I say, she has called, so can I go? Within a matter of seconds, 4 men are yelling at me to park, so I say in a very calm voice – “I am not sure why you are yelling at me, I haven’t done anything wrong and I don’t think you should treat humans this way.” Another man (not in uniform) shows up and pokes his fingers literally in my eyes and bellows “PARK! PARK! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? PARK!” At this point, I get upset and I say again, “you cannot talk to me that way, you need to calm down!”…. Dude then does what is done by most people in power “SHOWS ME WHERE POWER LIES!”… Yells his head off at us and stands in front of our vehicle… “You will not enter this community” “You will have to run over me first!”…. To be very honest with you, for a quick second, I almost moved forward just to prove a point – but thank God for the Cross and home training, I backed off and put off my engine. My cousin at this point is livid; she says, “Ewuradjoa, since we are decent people and won’t run him over, let’s lock up and walk.” We get out of the car, and within seconds the so called security guard (not in uniform by the way), shoves me hard! I was shocked! Stood still for a quick second – What just happened? Did he just hit me? I wondered.
Found myself saying the words out loud “No, you didn’t just hit me!”… Oh apparently that was uncalled for; how dare me small girl driving (my father, or is it sugar daddy’s) four-wheel drive and I think I know everything – how can I question whether he’s hit me?
Oh, then round two – He hits my arm again!
A woman who was entering the complex and saw him hit me – literally in the act (she was in her car with some kids) starts yelling – did you just hit a woman? You should never hit a woman, no matter what! And said a few more things that I didn’t hear and then drove off. EWURADE! At this point, my cousin went ballistic! “How dare you touch her?” She pulls out her camera to document the issue, and dude-no-uniform-security-guard throws his arm at her – a punch that would have landed straight in her face, had she not moved swiftly backwards. At this point, I am in so much shock that I go back and sit in the car – so:
- He hit me!
- He hit me again because I questioned him and told him not to touch me
Then to top it all off:
- He attempts to hit my cousin (bo ne ni su style – sorry! I can’t find the English translation for this)
A number of people start gathering at the scene. I hear someone calling the head of security… I call my hostess.
The ‘head of security’ (I put in inverted commas because I have no idea who anyone is, coz no one wears ID)… comes with another man to ask me what happened… I narrate the story; head of security walks away; comes back about 10 minutes later and says “He really hit you didn’t he?” I say “he sure did”… dude on the side goes “REALLY???” At this point, I get emotional! Did I not just narrate the entire story to this man a few minutes ago and tell him I was assaulted? Why should he question that I would make that up? Unfortunately, on paper, I can’t quite express this moment – I looked around – all men! I felt dirty; incomplete, I don’t even know what else… Why should I lie about such a thing?
So I said to the man, once I was able to catch a breath in between crying, “I am educated enough to know that it is a grievous issue to accuse a man of hitting me,… so I would never make that up!” Apparently this man only heard the word “educated” so started yelling at me and schooling me about how I didn’t know who he was or how educated he is!… At this point, I just give up! I call my cousin and hostess; I announce to them – I am going to the police and I would love to see this man go to jail just to set an example of him to many! Of course, they all scoff… and apparently rightfully so, because I didn’t know what was just about to happen. Fortunately, there is a police station around the corner (we find out later that the apartment complex built the station)… We get there –
“Good evening (there were 2 officers I could see) I would like to file a complaint. I have just been assaulted.”… Out of nowhere I hear a male voice yelling “what did you do to him before he touched you?”… I almost fainted! WOW!!! (I later realize that there is another officer behind the counter lying on a bench as he yells at me).
At this point, I give up! I can’t even find the words… So my cousin narrates the story… One of the cops writes my name and contact information on a tattered piece of paper … My cousin asks, “we would like to file a complaint; can we get the form?”… The officer responds in a very stand-offish voice, “there is no form… you have to go to a government hospital and get a doctor to endorse that you were assaulted, then you come back and then we will document the issue further and then find an investigator to go with you to find the person…” My cousin says, you realize we are way outside Accra and more than likely can’t get to a government hospital tonight? She retorts “that’s the system and there’s nothing we can do about it.” Oh and by the way, this is the only police station that I can continue the case with… so pretty much would have to go sit at a government hospital for say 5 hours; after a 2 hour drive, then do another 1-2 hour drive back to tell them that the doctor says they can’t physically see any bruises so it’s cool! Just WOW!
At this point, I am confused, still shocked by what just happened, and I find myself walking back to the car… I am simply speechless! We drive back to the complex to drop off my hostess who has been apologizing the entire time for this embarrassing and uncalled for event… We get to the gate and the ‘head of security’ comes to me to tell me that since his CCTV camera is not working, there is nothing he can do about the situation; moreover all the other staff who witnessed the event have just told him that the guy never touched me… He continues to say that it is my prerogative to pursue the police case, but on his end, it’s pretty much a done deal… I respond “Sir, wait until he kills someone before you do something about it! Since that’s the order of the day in our country.” We drive off. Am I physically hurt? – my arm hurts only slightly, but I am absolutely fine… I contemplated the entire night if I wanted to pursue the case… but I realized the sad truth:
We have a broken system, and it’s as simple as that! A system that frustrates the ‘victim’ to the point that more often than not, you’ll just let the matter go… which is where I am.
For the first time ever, I really wish I knew some commandoes who would go and ‘rough’ them up! I swear, that’s my innate feeling! But again, Thank God for the Cross, so I know what is right and won’t advocate for that – but I can really relate to instant justice within our system. Ok… Let’s just say I was completely wrong; even then, he had absolutely no right to hit me – TWICE! And then no one would believe it; then those who saw it just blatantly lied! Then I go to the cops and they yell at me with an accusing tone of being responsible for why I was hit??!!! And I bet you my last cedi that I will meet them all at church on Sunday, or at the mosque on Friday… There’s so much wrong with all of this right here!
I am writing this, not because I have been hospitalized, but because I want to tell my story, even if you think it’s not substantial enough, an assault is an assault, and should simply not be allowed! I am still meditating and trying to figure out why this happened to me, as I am a firm believer in “everything happens for a reason”… I think maybe God allowed me to go through this to help me relate to someone else who is going through the same thing and – possibly doesn’t know her right; or believes that she should let it go”… People, assault is not about physical bruises but more about the emotional and psychological implications of the assault…. And we should all stand up to our broken system, in any little way shape or form, to make changes… THIS MADNESS MUST STOP!
Written by Christabel Steel-Dadzie