Monrovia — Liberia, currently ranked 177th out of 188 countries in the annual Gender Inequality Index is poised to see more decline in the wake of measures aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19.
A review of statistics from the Bureau of Corrections at the Ministry of Justice for the months of January to June 2020 shows that more than 600 cases of aggravated assault, sodomy, sodomy with criminal intent and rape were reported and are currently being investigated.
According to the Sexual Gender Based Violence Unit of the MOJ, total new cases from January to June indicated: 107 cases tried in court, leading to 44 convictions and 42 acquittals. This includes all cases received from the Liberian National Police(LNP) and have or being adjudicated by the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence at the MOJ. The Data covers Montserrado, Bong, Nimba, Lofa, Maryland, Grand Gedeh, River Gee and Grand Kru.
In an address to the nation on April 10, 2020, President George Weah declared a State of Emergency requiring all Liberians and residents within the borders of Montserrado County, Margibi County, Nimba County, and Grand Kru County are to stay at home for the next 14 days, beginning at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, April 10, 2020."
Perpetrators Range from Men of God to Police Officers
The emergency has since been reduced despite the ongoing 6pm to 6am curfew in place, many who are confined to homes find themselves falling prey to abuses while young boys and girls spending most of their time at home out of school because of the pandemic, are being abused by family members or stepparents.
From law enforcement officers to men of God, the alleged perpetrators have come in all forms from all parts of Liberia, with one motive in mind, destroy the innocence of young boys and girls during a deadly pandemic that has taken the world by storm.
One of those cases involved Mr. Johnson Chuluty, 36, who pleaded for forgiveness after being accused of raping his 15-year-old stepdaughter. "I am the one who did the act," Chuluty told FrontPageAfrica shortly after he was charged with the Crime of Rape in violation of the Act to Amend the New Penal Code Chapter 14 Section 14.70, approved December 29, AD 2005 and Published by Ministry of Foreign Affairs on January 16, 2006.
Last week, Winston Holmes, 33, was arrested and is currently in detention at the Zone 9 Depot in Jacob Town, Paynesville over the alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl in the Neezoe Community. The alleged act reportedly occurred Sunday night, July 5.
In the Logan Town community, Police charged and forwarded to court a 29-year-old man for allegedly raping 2-years, 10 months old twin girls. Varmuyan Swaray was arrested in June and interrogated for the accusation of rape, during which he allegedly admitted to police and sought forgiveness.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with OK FM, Survivors Mai and Maria (not real names) father John (not real name), said it was on June 26, 2020 Swaray came from Bong to stay a few days with his family to buy his goods and return.
Last month, an officer of the Liberia National Police allegedly raped a 15-year-old girl last Saturday, June 20, at a police sub-station in King Gray, Paynesville, while police were investigating another man accused of attempting to rape her.
The minor had been placed into police custody with the man, in his 20s, accused of trying to have sex with her on a truck. While at the police station later that night, Officer Emmanuel Wesley, in his 30s, allegedly forced sex with her, the victim told FrontPage Africa.
Said the victim: "Wesley put on a [pornographic] movie on his phone with a dog having sex with a woman, and I told him to remove the movie because our mother never allows us to watch such movies," said the teenage girl, whose identity is not revealed to protect her identity. "When he cut off the phone, he said I should sit on his lap. When I refused to sit on his lap, he held me by my two hands and forced me to sit on his lap. He stood up and took off his trousers and took off my clothes, too. Then he bent me over the [office] desk and had sex with me." Wesley threatened to hurt her if she screamed."
Also in the Logan Town community, the Founder and General Overseer of the Community Revival Church located between Logan Town and Jamaica Road Community has been arrested and charged for rape. Pastor James Kollie, age 50, was on June 17, 2020 arrested in Logan Town after his alleged rape victim uncle reported the case to the Women and Children Protection Section at the Liberia National Police on June 8, 2020.
602 Cases Documented During Covid-19
While the measures are intended to reinforce the public's adherence to health protocols in order to limit the spread of the virus, some Liberians in domestic relationship and others simply taking advantage of the situation are simply taking matters into their own hands and preying on the vulnerable and indefensible.
According to the statistics, viewed by FrontPageAfrica, 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. There have been a total of 27 other offenses against women and girls involved in domestic situations. Authorities are also closely monitoring cases of aggrevated assult and sodomy, involuntary Sodomy with criminal Intent, rape and aggravate sodomy and statutory rape, bringing the total to 602.
Serious Cases in Rural Areas
Authorities say rural Liberia remains a concern amid mounting calls for awareness and caution that some are taking advantage of the State of Emergency to engage in violence against women and vulnerable young boys and girls.
Areas of particular concerns are Cape Mount, Lofa, Bong, Nimba, and Grand Gedeh counties where most women and girls do not even know their rights when it comes to abuse because of the very high illiteracy rate and many harmful traditional practices.
While the government has put all harmful traditional activities on hold due to the COVID-19, they are still said to be practiced underground in some areas.
To date, several alleged perpetrators are in prison awaiting court appearances while some survivors are under surveillance under the protection of the Ministry of Gender.
Despite the inroads, advocates say survivors and perpertrators need psychosocial counseling and rehabilitation with heavy concentration on refurbishing homes nationwide with particular emphasis on logistics and vehicles to adequately deal with the growing number of cases nationwide.
The bottom line, advocates say is that in order to reach places like Lofa, the South East and others, provision of transportation is key with many concerned that girls, women and boys can never heal or recover in the same atmosphere or community, where they were victimized.
SGBV 'Won't Be Tolerated', MOJ Says
Cllr. Frank Musah Dean, Minister of Justice says the government is working with international partners to address the issues. "Relevant law enforcement agencies and the Ministry of Gender are holding meetings with international partners to step up efforts in combating this menace. We continue to warn that rape and other forms of sexual gender-based violence are grave crimes that will not be tolerated."
According to the World Health Organization(WHO), violence against women remains a major threat to global public health and women's health during emergencies. "Violence against women is highly prevalent. Intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence. Globally, one in three womenworldwide have experiencedphysicaland/or sexualviolence by an intimate partner or sexual violence by any perpetrator in their lifetime. Most of this is intimate partner violence."
The WHO says violence against women tends to increase during every type of emergency, including epidemics. "Older women and women with disabilities are likely to have additional risks and needs. Women who are displaced, refugees, and living in conflict-affected areas are particularly vulnerable."
Under Liberia's Rape Law of 2005, statutory rape or sexual intercourse with minors is a non-bailable offence.
Domestic violence, rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls, including practices such as female genital mutilation and early marriage remained widespread. Impunity for rape and other forms of violence against women remained prevalent.
According to the UN Women in Liberia, Liberia continues to grapple with rising incidences of sexual and gender-based violence. "Children as young as six are being raped, with devastating impact on their health and wellbeing. Little Decontee from Nimba County was returning from the farm when a 22-year old male relative raped her. She is among a minority of survivors whose rapist was eventually prosecuted and sentenced to prison. Under Liberia's Rape Law of 2005, statutory rape or sexual intercourse with minors is a non-bailable offence. However, a proposed amendment that is now with the House of Representatives, could make statutory rape a bailable offence. UN Women, together with partners is advocating for stronger laws and engaging community leaders to prevent violence against women and girls."
A 2016 Amnesty International report documented that two out of 10 Liberians endorse domestic violence against women and children, and one out of 10 endorse sexual violence, including rape. 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.
Liberia's high incidence of rape is in part a legacy of its 14-year civil conflict, from which the country is still rebuilding, says the report. According to the World Health Organization, "between 61.4 and 77.4 per cent of women and girls in Liberia were raped during the war." Despite this, there has been no criminal accountability for perpetrators of war crimes in Liberia, including perpetrators of wartime sexual violence.
Impunity also prevails for recent rapes, with only two per cent of rapes and Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) cases reported last year resulting in a conviction in court.
Rape victims do not achieve justice due to multiple challenges, including institutional weaknesses, corruption, lack of due diligence by government as well as logistical and financial constraints. "These combined factors have led to a widespread culture of impunity for SGBV, particularly for rape, putting women and children at continued serious risk of sexual violence," said the report.