17 October 2018

Liberia: MTM Rape Scandal: West Point Community Divided Over Accounts of Sexual Abuse, Cover Up

- Residents of Monrovia's largest slum community, where hundreds of teenage girls were scouted as beneficiaries of More Than Me charity foundation, are divided over the impact of a recent documentary exposing the rape and abuse of several girls from the township.

West Point is one of Liberia's poorest densely populated communities, facing the menace of poverty and all other socioeconomic challenges. So, despite the horrific accounts captured in the ProPublica feature, many residents still have confidence in the charity.

MTM is an American charity founded in 2009 by Katie Meyler to help get girls from the streets of West Point and offer them education.

Since the damning report, there have been several concerns coming from the public with some people stressing the health condition of the survivors. Some residents of West Point are also worried that some of these girls may be infected with HIV/AIDS.

Meanwhile, some residents are calling for the prosecution of MTM founder Katie Meyler and the shutting down of the school, while others are terming the situation as a ploy to denigrate the foundation and Katie's sacrifice for the community over the years.

Regardless the divergence of views, they all have welcomed the reopening of investigation into the scandal by the government.

Devastating Impact

Wisseh Doe, a resident of the community, says the scandal is devastating and has further stained the image of the community.

Doe doesn't see Meyler as a savior like many others do. "Because she covered up rape and because of her relationship with the doer of the act," he said, suggesting that the charity should compensate survivors for covering up the scandal.

"MTM should pay [these girls that were raped] and the school should remain open for the girls. MTM should bear the consequence. You can't raise children and forget about their health," he says.

Doe claims because the community is one of the poorest in the world, it is prone and vulnerable to some of the worst tragedies of mankind.

Already, some of the survivors are facing stigmatization and residents say some of them have moved out to other communities.

"The image of the community is damaging and I will say let them (government) do what they can do best for the children," one residents said.

'Let Katie Leave the School'

Some are now calling on Meyler to quit the foundation and submit to the new prosecution while others say the incident has created reason for the community to be weary of other charity organization.

Early this week, MTM Liberian Advisory Board announced that Meyler was stepping from the day-to-day operations of the NGO, until the conclusion of the investigation.

And Charles Smith, a clergyman of the community, suggests that once the investigation proves that there was a cover-up by the school administration, it should be shut down.

"Let Katie leave the school and leave Liberia, but before she is deported she should be prosecuted," said another resident.

For Mardia Dahn, she wants the school shut down because it has caused more harm for young girls in the community by exposing them to rape and HIV/AIDS.

"Our children are sick today because of Katie's Negligence so she must be prosecuted," she said.

"I Don't Believe That He Died of AIDS'

While news about the alleged perpetrator's - Johnson McIntosh - HIV/AIDS status before his death spreads, some of residents who claimed to have known him, are skeptical about the medical report.

Aaliker Tugbeh, another resident, recalls how Johnson was seen as a hero for young people in the community made popular by his affair with Katie. He, therefore, argues that HIV/AIDS status for the decease means same for the MTM Founder.

"If someone will say he died of AIDS then Katie should have it because both of them were in serious relationship," Tugbeh said, while trying to play down all the pressure from the public.

"What happened has happened, when we keep talking about it will affect those that are survivors, our community soon they see the students from MTM they call them the AIDS patients coming."

"It is bad for us [West Point]," adds Anderson Lamah, another resident, who also recounts his interactions with the late Johnson while he worked for MTM.

"I don't believe that he died of AIDS and infected the girls, the deceased in question was a humble person and he left his family here."

Lameh says the news and all the fury from the public are stigmatizing the pupils of the MTM School in West Point and also reflects a bad image for the community.

'Don't Close the Down School'

But Finda Gbollie, who also wants Katie prosecuted for allegedly covering up alleged sexual abuse of the girls, is also afraid that shutting down the school will impact many parents who are unable to pay fees of private schools.

"My child just entered [the school] and she's five years," Gbollie said. "Katie and the school should be investigated and if they found liable the government should deal with them legally."

Lovetee Potter's 12-year-old daughter for three years has been attending the MTM school located downtown Monrovia. She too doesn't want to lose the chance her daughter has.

"She [Katie] came to help us [who are] the single parents. For me, she is doing her best," Potter explains, while rejecting reports that many of the children of the school were abused or are infected with HIV/AIDS.

"I can't spoil my child's education; I want the government step into it and let the students be tested, but they shouldn't stop their education. Not all parents get hand, let gov't intervene but I don't agree with any of the explanations."

Aloysius Massah says he has a sister in the school and is concern about her health although he's skeptical about the reality of the scandal.

"The students should be checked and the government and MTM must take responsibility," he says.

Anthony Nyenteah insists there were "no raping of girls" as being reported by the media.

"People planned to tarnish the institution," he said. "MTM did not hide the case, they reported it and they took legal step and the decease faced consequence."

Nyentaah, who worked for MTM for over three years as a security guard, is worried that shutting down the school would further expose girls of West Point who are beneficiaries of the charity to more sexual exploitations.

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