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"I rather be without a mother than to compromise my dignity": a rape survivor declares

Harriet is 17 years old. She was gang raped by three men in Kakata, Liberia in October 2019. 

According to Harriet, she went out with friends in a nearby town. Late in the evening while returning home, Solo, a young man who had requested her to be his girlfriend intercepted her. 

“Solo stopped me and demanded that I should go home with him since he had requested me to be his lover. I resisted him and in the process, Jamah, Innocent and another friend came and forcefully took me away from Solo with a promise to take me home. While on our way and upon reaching an isolated area, to my outmost surprise, Jamah said they would have to have sex with me as their reward for rescuing me from Solo.  I fought them but they overpowered me and one by one three of them had their turn on me;” Harriet recounted.

Jamah, Innocent and the third assailant whose name Harriet cannot remember fled the scene after they realized that she was unconscious. Upon regaining consciousness, Harriet said she went to report the incident to the Town Chief who immediately took her to the Women and Children Protection Unit of the Liberia National Police Central Depot in Kakata. The Police immediately referred her to the Sexual and Gender Based Violence One Stop Center at the C.H Rennie Hospital where she was treated.

The next day, the Police brought Harriet in for statement. While at the Police Depot, her mother came and demanded that she should take the case home.
“I was shocked when my mother came and requested that I changed my statement. The Police upon realizing what my mother was up to, threatened to arrest her. That was how she left the scene. I have never returned home since that day. I later realized that Jamah’s family had gone to plead with my mother to ask me to change my statement as it may lead him to life imprisonment;” Harriet said.

The Police arrested Jamah and Innocent on the account of Harriet’s statement and medical records, while the third person is still at large. 

Harriet says that due to her refusal to change the statement, her mother has demanded that she should never return home. She is now awaiting the adjudication of the case. According to her, a conviction for her alleged violators will help to heal her emotional trauma and anguish she currently suffers. 

Magnitude of sexual and gender-based violence in Liberia

More than 15 years after the end of the civil war in Liberia when the fighting forces used rape as weapon against women and girls, sexual and gender-based violence including rape still permeates the Liberian society. A 2018 report by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection highlights the rape of minors as accounting for more than 75 percent of reported cases in Liberia.  While many alleged perpetrators were arrested, they were rarely brought to trial due to various factors, including legal and institutional weaknesses, social norms and attitudes, corruption, lack of will or diligence on the part of the prosecutors.

Efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls

The United Nations and other partners have continued to assist Liberia to strengthen mechanisms to discourage or ensure severe penalties for perpetrators of rape. There is a Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) Crimes Unit to prosecute rape cases; a specialized Criminal Court (Court E) to fast track such cases; and a mobile trial screening to ensure confidentiality of survivors; One Stop Centers and safe homes to provide comprehensive health and psychosocial support to survivors. 

The safe homes provide protection for SGBV survivors. 
© UNFPA Liberia/Calixte S. Hessou 

Liberia is one of the beneficiaries of the Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls launched in 2019 by the United Nations and the European Union. The programme engages stakeholders-especially the civil society and private sector sector-on the prevention, response and awareness of the referral path for sexual and gender-based violence survivors in Liberia.