“Err. . . I don’t think it is a good idea,” I told him. A heavy silence greeted me on the other end of my phone. I found the situation very awkward. “Have you told your parents?” I asked. “No,” he replied. I had just completed an interview with eighteen-year-old Celebrity Blogger Shei Funmi, a Nigerian who at the time we were speaking was based in Houston, Texas. My interview was about his blog and the many Hollywood celebrities he frankly ticks off with his Perez Hilton style blogging. I was intrigued that he was Nigerian/African, had not spent much time in the USA, barely a year, yet he was able to gather the attention of many celebrities and even have persons like Lady Gaga following him on Twitter, among many.
Unexpected, was his request to share with the Ladybrille audience the story of being raped, at 10years old, by his male cousin. “Shei, I really don’t think it is a good idea.” I continued with him. “I am not a mother but if I was, I’d hate to discover my child was raped through an online magazine by my Nephew! It would be devastating. You should at the very least tell your parents, your mom?” I pleaded in a very empathetic tone. He remained silent. “Could you at least tell your mom about it?” He after a long silence, agreed but wanted to know once he did, whether I would still publish the story. “Yes, I will,” I responded. This was in February of this year. “When?” he asked.
“I will let you know but it will be consistent with our editorial calendar.” For almost eight months, he checked in periodically to see if it was time. It wasn’t. This December 2010 our Holiday Edition, it is now time to tell the Shei Funmi story.
Many times, when we think about the Holiday and what it embodies i.e giving, we think about giving gifts in the traditional sense. This story is about giving in the non-traditional sense. It is about sharing a story that hopefully creates awareness and breaks the taboo of not discussing sexual crimes/assault committed within African communities. Most importantly, it is about saving a life through sharing Shei’s story.
For many who have been raped, it is often hard to put into words the effects and aftermath of rape to loved ones or anyone who cares to listen. But, common feelings include post-traumatic stress disorder, deep anxiety, replaying the assault/rape in thoughts and memories, suicidal thoughts, drug use, promiscuity, deep shame, guilt, depression, depersonalization (hard to have an intimate relationship with the opposite sex), among others. Worse, within Africa and other ethnic communities, rape is a taboo not open to discussion, especially where a male is involved, leaving those assaulted to almost/go crazy from keeping it all in. For females who are raped, often, society blames them. As a result, the crime remains one of the most under-reported.
Shei’s subsequent and recent interview for this feature took place while he was in Lagos, Nigeria. Unfortunately for him and despite telling his family about the abuse, the perpetrator of the crime (his cousin) still regularly visits his home. Please share, help create awareness and possibly save a life.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Shei, where are you right now?
SheiFunmi: I’m in Nigeria . . . I’m at home.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: How are you feeling at this moment?
SheiFunmi: I feel relieved and at the same time there’s this spot in my heart that feels it needs to heal.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Tell us about that spot. What is going on?
SheiFunmi: That spot is about forgetting what has happened in the past. I keep having that image in my head over and over again. Unlike before, I start to cry. I get depressed and curse and I feel that spot will heal if he (male cousin) apologizes and feels remorse for what he did.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Can you forget the past? Move on? Worse case scenario if he never apologizes, what will you do? How do you intend to confront the past so you can move forward?
SheiFunmi: Yes I can (forget the past) but I’ll have to stand up to him, let him know the damage he has done. I think I have to be brave.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Shei, I am going to take you to that place where it might not be very comfortable; the past because I know you’ve been wanting to share for almost nine months now, your story with the world. Let’s go back to the past. What happened? What happened to that 10year old? Where were you when it happened?
SheiFunmi: I was ten. I always went over to my cousins for the weekend until a weekend came by and it was just one of my cousin that was in the house. We were watching Nigerian movies in the (living) room and all of a sudden (the one cousin in the house) said let us go upstairs to the room. This was in the afternoon. I went upstairs to his room. He began tickling me. I was laughing. Then, he started touching my penis. I asked what he was doing and he said he was playing with me, saying that is how adults play.
He pulled off my shorts, went to his shelf to take lotion and he was rubbing the lotion on my a**. It still didn’t occur to me what was going on. He tried forcing his penis in my a** so I began to scream and cry because it was painful. No one was in the house to come to my aid. After forcing his penis and he couldn’t penetrate, he started jerking off touching my penis.
When he was done, he told me to go and shower in the bathroom and I was still crying. The next morning, my dad came to pick me up and my cousin told me not to mention to anyone that if I tell anyone I’ll die because it is adult secret.
I said, “okay” thinking about death. At the same time, I wanted to tell my parents but they where always fighting so I kept it to myself. My mom would usually take Lexotan (used for anxiety and panic attacks and insomnia) to sleep after the fight or when she’s stressed out and all. I started taking it too. I would sneak into her room and then would take it to calm my nerves down so I could sleep. As time went by, I started buying it myself from the pharmacy. I also bought Benylin with Codine because it got to a point where Lexotan didn’t work for me anymore.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: WOW! (Pauses) Let me understand this. When you say your parents were always fighting, what were they fighting about? Tell us the kind of home you grew up in.
SheiFunmi: I grew up in a polygamous home (Shei’s father married four wives and has a total of nine children). Even though (my father’s) wives lived in different houses, my dad always caused trouble but I never understood or knew what they were fighting about. I just (would) hear them scream and shout at each other. My dad is somewhat insecure and was always accusing my mother of wrong doings which are not true. I never know the reason why they fight till today. I still don’t know what exactly (they fight about) but it is always from my dad.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (In an empathetic tone) Let me take you back to the day after the incident. What did you do next?
SheiFunmi: Nothing. I just kept alone to myself in my room and would have my lights off. Then I (began) liking the darkness. The light in my room was always switched off and the only time I used the light is when I wanted to dress up.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Tell us. How did this unfortunate incident affect you at 10 and how does it affect you now as an 18yr old who is evolving as a man?
SheiFunmi: Wow (it affected me) in a lot of ways. I became a loner. I started to push people away. I started taking excess sleeping pills. I became a drug addict. I did weed and had suicidal thoughts. But the worst of it all was my addiction to sleeping pills.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What age did these self-destructive habits begin?
SheiFunmi: 12 and above. I did weed at 16 but stopped a few months later because I am asthmatic and have the severe kind. I was always having constant asthma attack.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: You mentioned to me (in our earlier discussions) that you began at some point receiving psycho-therapy. When and how did you come to receive psycho-therapy?
SheiFunmi: Last year, sexual abuse was a topic in college (in the USA). My instructor asked victims to seek help and meet the counselor. I did and I was referred to a rehabilitation center in downtown Houston. I went for 2weeks after school and I made progress.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I know you are in Nigeria now. Do you intend to seek/get more therapy?
SheiFunmi: (Yes) I intend to seek further help. . .
LADYBRILLemag.com: I can’t even begin to imagine so I will ask directly, how has this affected your sexual identity as a boy and now growing into a man?
SheiFunmi: I grew up dealing with masculinity issues and I felt inferior. People always made fun of me in school (and) called me “diva.” I stopped fighting that at 16 and I developed a big attitude and stopped caring.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: When you say “I grew up dealing with masculinity issues,” what do you mean by that?
SheiFunmi: I acted in ways society considered feminine. I loved doing girl-like things. I used to knit, make beads and I was always conscious of the way I acted, walked and talked so I won’t be called a “fag” or a “diva.” I always wanted to fit in with the guys.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Did you fit in?
SheiFunmi: No I did not. But, I was accepted the way I was and everyone started showing me love and extending a hand of friendship. But I refused to be friends with (people). The reason why I was accepted was because I stopped caring and I always made (people who attacked) me look stupid and began standing up to them.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Shei, I know I asked you this back in February. I will ask you again. Why now. Why do you feel the need to tell this story? What are you hoping comes out from this?
SheiFunmi: I see a lot of people out there who think females are the only ones who get molested. It is not true. I also have a friend who committed suicide (recently) from bolting things up and not sharing his pain. Moreover, I’ve seen weird cases of people thinking it is cool to molest someone; and there are a lot of teenagers out there with the same experience even worse than mine.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I am so sorry to hear about your friend. You are right men go through this too. I was watching Tyler Perry on Oprah say this and of course his experience.
SheiFunmi: Yeah . . .
Shei Funmi Confronts his Cousin, Online
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What next after people read and hear your story?
SheiFunmi: I want to emphasize that parents should pay more attention to their children and take them seriously. They should also know males do get molested and boys going through this experience should seek help and open up.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I’d like to zoom in on your culture as an African and specifically Nigerian for our audience that are unfamiliar with where you come from. Let’s talk about your parents and the Nigerian society you grew up in as a whole. Your mother now knows. When did you tell her and what was her reaction?
SheiFunmi: She knew, randomly. I cannot recollect what happened that day but I spoke out angrily and she said, “Wow, you have been through a lot and you never told anybody.” That was all but she probably thought I was healed already.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Did you tell her the details?
SheiFunmi: I told her who. She was shocked because my cousin has that innocent, child of God look but still no action was taken.
LADYBRLLEmag.com: I know it frustrates you seeing your cousin in your own home. What do you think at this point you need to do to confront him?
SheiFunmi: He acts like he didn’t do anything, playing cool and all of that. But, in his head, (I feel) he’s thinking “oh he (Shei) can’t remember. He was a kid then.” And that’s one of the steps to heal, confronting and you let go totally. Letting him know what he did was wrong and who knows how many children he’s (hurt)?
LADYBRILLEmag.com: If he was reading this interview at this moment, what would you say to him?
SheiFunmi: I can remember what he did vividly and it has affected me in a lot of ways but he should be remorseful for his act, not try to act like nothing ever happened.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Talk to him directly.
SheiFunmi: I remember what you did vividly. The memory of it lingers and it has affected me in so many ways. Stop acting like nothing ever happened and playing cool. Be remorseful for your action.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Anything else?
SheiFunmi: Nothing more. I just want him to know what he has done and I have not forgotten.
Shei Funmi Looks Towards the Future
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Let’s sort of bring all of this to the present and tie in with the kind of work you do now and sheifunmi.net. What are you working on? Actually, before we do, can you address Nigerian societal attitude towards rape victims, in your experience?
SheiFunmi: The society should see deeply what victims of sexual abuse go through. Just because they look okay on the outside doesn’t mean they are not dying on the inside. [Nigerian] society should also understand that it is not easy to get over experiences like these. For youths who experience this, they should have someone to confide in and talk to. Someone to share their problems with and that can help them heal, preferably a counselor.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Let me shift gears to a much lighter topic and talk about your projects. You close out December as Ladybrille Man of the Month. What other projects or things do you have going for you and what we should expect?
SheiFunmi: There’s a lot going on right now. . . I am the host for a reality show “Kids Can Sing” starting in December 2010. I am also doing the live feed/stream for MTV Africa Music Awards. [I] am also one of the ambassadors for the Cool to Vote campaign/initiative; and apparently the youngest ambassador.
LADYBRILEmag.com: Excellent. When do the MAMA awards take place again? Are the projects you mentioned inline with what you have going on Sheifunmi.net?
SheiFunmi: The award is in December. The date has not been released and yes it is in line with SheiFunmi. (The date for MAMAs has since been released. It is December 11th, 2010). I am also working on a TV and Radio Show but taking it bit by bit.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What about Sheifunmi.net, will it continue to make trouble and gossip?
SheiFunmi: Sheifunmi.com & .net is still making trouble and most hated by celebrities. I still gossip and also do celebrity interviews but now I premiere videos and do big time adverts now for companies.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Oh boy!) Congrats Shei on your accomplishments. I thank you for sharing your story and hope you find healing in sharing it with us and the world.
~Interview by Uduak Oduok
Courtesy photo/ Photo credit: Obi Somto
Founded in 2007, Ladybrille® Magazine is a California based pioneer digital publication demystifying the image of Africans in the west through contemporary African fashion and celebrating the brilliant woman in business and leadership, with an emphasis on the African woman in the diaspora. Our coverage includes stories on capital, access to markets, expertise, hiring and retention, sales, marketing, and promotions.