– Right Activist alleges

The Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection has been chastised for remarks she made in a recent interview with the BBC. Gender Minister Williametta Piso Tarr Saydee responded to a BBC interview about the prevalence of rape in Liberia by saying that, while the government was making frantic efforts, rape shouldn’t be presented as a problem unique to Liberia, but rather as a global issue, a comment, critics say downplays the urgency that should be applied to the national fight against rape.

Ms. Satta A. Sheriff, the Founder and Executive Officer of Action for Justice and Human Rights, is one among those who is concerned about the Minister’s remark. Satta, who also spoke to the BBC, claimed the Minister’s remark implied that rape is acceptable and usual in Liberia because it occurs in other nations. She believes that such utterances have the potential to sabotage the battle against sexual and gender-based violence.

Satta, who recently visited Liberia, is currently studying in the United States of America.    

“In the interview with the Minister of Gender on the BBC, she said, “There’s no country in the world where rape doesn’t exist.” In other words, it is okay and normal for girls and women to get raped in Liberia because rape also exists in other countries. It is important to note that these kinds of statements have the power to undermine the fight against sexual and gender-based violence just by simply justifying and normalizing it”, Satta said. 

She said the US 2020 Human Rights report on Liberia observed that victims’ families sometimes requested money from the perpetrators as a form of redress; perpetrators sometimes offered money to prevent matters from going to court. Authorities often dropped cases due to a lack of evidence, alleging that the Women and Children Protection Section (WACPS) of the police reported that courts dropped 51 percent of reported domestic violence cases due to lack of evidence.

Satta observed that the ability to collect and preserve evidence of sexual and gender-based violence crimes was also lacking across the country. She said, in Bong County alone, eight pretrial detainees accused of rape and statutory rape were released without trial after spending a year in detention. Many SGBV service providers including the SGBV task force, and the Women and Children Protection Section still lack operational vehicles and are faced with budgetary and logistical constraints. For example, the WCPS in Gbarpolu only has one female staff and a motorbike to run the entire county women and children affairs.

She frowned that despite the realities on the ground, President Weah was able to declare in his 5th State of the Nation Address that sexual and gender-based violence had fallen dramatically in 2021 compared to 2020, which she attributed to the minister’s careless approach. President Weah and Minister Tarr, she claimed, should have disclosed the facts, but instead misled the public.

“I think this is one of the reasons why it was easy for President Weah to claim in his speech “We saw a significant reduction in sexual and gender-based violence cases in 2021 as compared to 2020.” President Weah and the Ministry of Gender should at least have the decency to acknowledge that not much progress has been made since the President declared rape a national emergency in 2020, and more than before, we need to focus on discouraging sexual violence. 

“We have lost not just one, but several girls and women to sexual and gender-based violence in the previous few weeks. We lost a 13-year-old to rape, a woman to gang rape, and a 14-year-old died in Gbarpolu County after bleeding to death owing to a lack of access to medical care just a week before the President’s speech. A 7-year-old child was allegedly raped at the Liberian embassy in Abuja, and a peace crops instructor was accused of molesting our schoolgirls near the end of 2021. In Liberia, access to justice for victims and survivors remains a difficulty, despite these grave examples and many others that go unnoticed”, Satta asserts.

While the President’s efforts in declaring rape a national emergency, forming an SGBV committee, purchasing DNA machines, and allocating two million dollars, the Right Advocate said were commendable, she criticized the government for failing to follow up on safe houses, equip various women’s and children’s protection sections outside of Montserrado County, increase access to medical care for rape survivors, ensure the prosecution of perpetrators, and exempt rape survivors from paying child support.

“Why are we not making progress even though the president has openly committed his office to the fight against rape?” She wondered and continued, “For example, we only have two shelters for victims of sexual and gender-based violence, victims of trafficking in persons, and others in need of protection—in Lofa and Nimba Counties, respectively, (US State Department report, 2020). We lack national psychosocial counseling programs for survivors of sexual abuse. It is one thing to prosecute a rapist; it is quite another to provide aftercare, support, and rehabilitation to the survivor. “

The Gender advocate said rape leaves an indelible mark; such, she would never desire for anyone to be raped. “No one is deserving of being raped”. She said alleged rape perpetrators are being freed on medical bills across prison compounds in Monrovia and neighboring counties; alleging that many of them never return to jail or the court for prosecution. She said due to the overburdened justice system, which continues to prevent prompt prosecutions and delays justice for victims, some men have spent years in prison awaiting trial.

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