EDITORIAL: Liberia’s losing War on Rape

THERE WAS HUGE commendation and much expectation as well when President George Manneh Weah declared rape a national emergency on September 13, 2020. His swift action came in the aftermath of a 15 year old boy who had raped a 3 year old girl using a razor blade to commit the crime around that period. The nation was stunned and reactions that followed the ugly incident called for tougher stand from the government to bring the perpetrator to justice and further actions taken to avert similar occurrences in the country.

PRESIDENT WEAH PROMISED to set up a special committee to investigate sexual and gender-based crimes as well as promising to appoint a special prosecutor to handle rape cases, setting up of a national sex offender registry, and a national security task force to handle sexual and gender-based violence.

UNFORTUNATELY, DESPITE THE declaration that was greeted with such enthusiasm, rape persists at crisis levels with most survivors denied justice, rapists avoiding prosecution and large number of cases of rape going unreported due to pervasive corruption, stigma and victim blaming.

IN ADDITION, CULTURAL stereotypes, failures of law enforcement officers to investigate rape cases, and insufficient support for survivors have created a culture of silence and impunity which continues to fail hundreds of women and girls every year.

THE GORY TALES of rape cases involving minors are just disgusting. There was an incident of a 13 year old girl raped, sodomized and killed not too long ago and another 3 year old girl raped by a 17 year old as well as the embarrassing news of another case involving a 7 year old daughter of a Liberian diplomat, Nat Bayjay that occurred right within the premises of the Embassy of Liberia in Abuja, Nigeria. These stories represent just the minutest portion of others whose cases are either not reported because of no media visibility or the perpetrators decide not to talk about them to avoid stigmatization.

WE NOTE WITH dissatisfaction that the unabated cases of rape in general are bad enough and deserve serious attention and far reaching action. It is eating deeper into our localities; it is spreading faster and debasing our women and destroying our girls. We believe that the government is losing its war against rape, a situation that prompted the President to declare an emergency on the menace. Nothing tangible has shifted beyond the public declaration, especially coming from the Feminist in Chief.

WE THEREFORE call on the government to act now to protect women and girls form rampant rape and other forms of sexual violence. All reported cases of rape must be thoroughly, promptly, and impartially investigated and perpetrators must be prosecuted, and if convicted , sentenced with appropriate penalties. All apparent discriminatory laws must be repealed and followed up with a concrete implementation and enforcement framework.

WE WANT TO be specific to call on the President to revisit all his promises made when he made a public declaration against rape. To be précised, we want President Weah to set up a special committee to investigate sexual and gender-based crimes, appoint a special prosecutor to handle rape cases, set up a national sex offender registry and a national security task force to handle sexual and gender-based violence a major measure to reassure the citizens that he is serious to combat the rising and unchecked occurrence rate of rape cases in the country

THE POLICE MUST provide all necessary support to survivors and act in line with their code of conduct, by providing safe process of seeking justice for survivors to report rape and other gender-based violence and get justice.

COURTS MUST ENSURE that cases of sexual violence are fairly and promptly prosecuted. Any backlog in rape cases that may create unacceptable barriers for rape survivors’ access to justice must be addressed.

LIBERIA MUST PROTECT women and girls by ensuring that perpetrators of rape face justice and survivors get protection and psychosocial and medical support. The tide of sexual impunity against women and girls must be turned now.

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