OTHER THAN corruption, the civil war, bad governance and everything wrong with Liberia these days, the issue of sexual and gender-based violence has been dominating the headlines of late.
NOT A DAY, week or month goes by without some headline about an underage young girl being rape - or a young boy being molested or sodomized.
JUST WITHIN THE LAST six months alone, the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Unity at the Ministry of Justice documented total new cases, indicating152, with 107 cases tried, 44 convictions and 42, acquittal. The data covers Montserrado, Bong, Nimba, Lofa, Maryland, Grand Gedeh, River Gee and Grand Kru.
ALL OF THESE statistics viewed by FrontPageAfrica covers the period from January to the present, and mostly captured during the period of the State of Emergency, part of measures intended to reinforce the public's adherence to health protocols in order to limit the spread of the virus.
ACCORDING TO THE STATISTICS, between January and July, there have been a total of 450 incidents of statutory rape, 100 cases of rape, 55 cases of gang-related rape and ten cases involving sodomy
NATIONALLY, THERE HAVE BEEN a total of 288 cases of rape and domestic abuse in Monsterrado, fifteen in Tubmanburg, Bomi County, 13 in Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County, seven in Bopolu, 19 in Voinjama, Lofa County, 56 in Sanniquellie, Nimba County, six in Greenville, Sinoe County, five in Rivercess/Cestos, 8 in Fishtown, one case in Barclayville, Grand Kru County, 36 in Gbarnga, Bong County, sixteen in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, 26 in Kakata, Margibi County and 76 at the National Palace of Correction, resulting in a total of 575
SIMPLY PUT, many Liberians are taking advantage of the insecurity and vulnerabilities of the State of Emergency to prey on the weak and those who can't fight back.
IN THE PROCESS, the age of adolescence for many innocent young Liberian boys and girls are being shattered by evil forces under the guise of adults with no remorse about the harm they continue to inflict on the lives of the next generation of leaders.
SUCH EXPERIENCES are not easily forgotten and in some instances, take an entire lifetime for a victim to recover.
TRAPPED IN A STATE OF EMERGENCY, many involved in domestic relationships are being forced to endure pain and suffering at the hands of their partners.
IN JANUARY, an 11-year-old girl in the Doe Community was allegedly raped through her anus by a Nigerian man identified as Ifeanyi Henry, a spare parts dealer in the Clara Town Community. Ifeanyi is currently in police custody awaiting a transfer to Court.
JUST LAST MONTH, a man confessed to shooting his long-time girlfriend to death in Bong County. Police investigating the death of Fatu Yarkpah, 29, a resident of Mansansue Town in Salala District, arrested her boyfriend, Jacob Nyumah.
A RECENTLY-RELEASE data from the Social Cohesion and Reconciliation Index (SCORE) revealed that about two out of 10 Liberians endorse domestic violence against women and children, and one out of 10 endorses sexual violence, including rape.
ACCORDING TO THE REPORT, Some of these trends find roots in cultural practices and beliefs defended or normalized by both men and women, and hence strongly linked to contextual gender norms. "This is also illustrated by the fact that SGBV is higher in rural areas where the SCORE Index found more fragility and higher victimhood. Many SGBV survivors such as rape victims have to bear the trauma and shame in a society where cases of violence against women are most of the time compromised."
ACCORDING TO THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION, COVID-19 has the propensity to exacerbate risks of violence for women. "As distancing measures are put in place and people are encouraged to stay at home, the risk of intimate partner violence is likely to increase," the WHO says.
FOR EXAMPLE, THE world health body says the likelihood that women in an abusive relationship and their children will be exposed to violence is dramatically increased, as family members spend more time in close contact and families cope with additional stress and potential economic or job losses.
WHAT CAN the government do to avert the ongoing crisis?
IT IS IMPORTANT to look at the period before COVID-19 and beyond.
MORE IMPORTANTLY, GOVERNMENT must begin putting in place the essential services to address violence against women in preparedness and response plans for COVID-19, fund them, and identify ways to make them accessible in the context of physical distancing measures.
PRIORITY MUST also be given to victims who disclose by offering first-line support and medical treatment. Shielding victims pending trial is not the only way these issues can be addressed. It is important for government to fund the work of thoroughly-vetted humanitarian response organizations and bolster services for young men and women subjected to violence.
THERE ALSO MUST be a strong effort to sensitize the public and make communities aware of the increased risk of violence during this pandemic and the need to keep in touch and support victims.
THE SAD REALITY IS that many parents, loved ones and communities are contributing to the recurring circle of impunity which has engulfed Liberia, by standing by and doing nothing when victims and whistleblowers are blowing alarms.
GROWN MEN AND WOMEN, instead, turn their rage against the victims for speaking out. Mothers and fathers, in some cases blame their young ones for putting themselves in such positions, forgetting to know that they are simply vulnerable, weak and statistics of a broken system lingering in abject poverty and either doing anything to survive - or just powerless to scream.
FOR YEARS now, Liberia has been a nation of excuses.
DURING THE CIVIL war, those who were victimized were later told it was because of the war. The war has been over for more than a decade now, what's the excuse? What's stopping lawmakers and law enforcement from putting an end to this madness?
THE WHEELS OF IMPUNITY is still turning and more and more victims are falling prey to a system of neglect and poverty. It is time for all to stand and be counted and bring an end to this mess.