By Kola King
The recent global lockdown witnessed in most parts of the world was necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Regrettably, rape which is a major social problem has reared its ugly head along the line. Hence there have been several reported cases of rape in Sierra Leone and other parts of the continent in the wake of the global pandemic. Records have indicated that cases of rape have surged since the beginning of the lockdown. Also, the rape of minors has been on the upsurge.
The most widely reportedcase is that of Khadija Madinatu Saccoh, a five-year-old girl who was raped recently. The government pathologist, Dr Simeon Owizz Koroma had told a Magistrate court that Khadija did not die from sexual penetration rather her death was due to manual strangulation, spinal cord injury, and bitten tongue.This act of bestiality perpetrated against Khadija and her subsequent tragic death have caused outrage and uproar in Sierra Leone. It has brought to the fore the danger posed to women and girls, especially minors by sexual predators on the prowl.
Even so, this rape of a minor has elicited the ire of the First Lady of Sierra Leone, Mrs. FatimaMaada Bio, and has further amplified the argument for the establishment of “Hands Off Our Girls,” (HOOG) campaign. The First Lady’s campaign has complemented the efforts of the government by rallying support to find a lasting solution in dealing with rape, teenage pregnancy, and early marriage in the country. It is reassuring that the HOOG campaign has met with relevant stakeholders and has also raised awareness about rape and sexual violence against women and children.
Expectedly, HOOG’s campaign has succeeded in gradually shifting the culture of silence and indifference about rape, thereby increasing the number of reported cases. This has also provided a platform for civil society and human rights organizations and public-spirited individuals to rally together to end all forms of violence against women and girls in the country.
It is commendable that the government has followed up by declaring an emergency on the issue of rape in society. To this end, President Julius Maada Bio recently held a high-level stakeholder meeting to draw attention to this growing menace in society and to find a solution to the problem. At the meeting, President Maada Bio urged parents and community to support the government’s efforts in tackling rape, early marriage, and all forms of violence against women and girls in the country. The president noted that the statistics around rape and sexual violence were grim, adding that that was why he declared a national emergency on rape and sexual violence in February 2019.
According to the president, “Rape is unacceptable because it is about the future of our children. The parents and communities need to stand up because it is better to work towards prevention. Parents should be attentive to raising our children. There is a need for a multi-sectoral approach and coordination to get rid of impunity.”
Most reassuring is the launch of the country’s first-ever Sexual Offences Model Court (SOMC)which aims to tackle this menace frontally. During the inauguration of the SOMC, the president saluted the courage of survivors of Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV). “Be assured that there are Sierra Leoneans and friends of Sierra Leone who care and who will continue to stand with you steadfastly, President Maada Bio stated. He also applauded the First Lady, Madam Fatima Bio for her tenacity in championing the Hands Off Our Girls campaign that also promotes the cause of women.
The President noted that HOOG is not just a statement, saying it has become a rallying cry of resistance and a trenchant restatement that the government will fight back until the country is rid of SGVB. He thanked the First Lady for emboldening young girls and women all over the nation that they can and must say ‘No’ to predators and molesters. According to the president, the battle against sexual violence requires that all hands should be on the deck which would involve parents, community members, traditional and religious leaders, security forces, professional organizations, civil society, ordinary citizens, and national leaders at the forefront of this national emergency. He also urged for greater collaboration to change attitudes and end these crimes.
Also, the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Sierra Leone Police and the National Emergency Medical Services, and Aberdeen Women Centre at the office of the First Lady to combat Sexual and Gender-Based Violence further underscores the commitment of security forces to stemming the tide of rape scourge.
According to a National Violence Against Children Survey, it established that one in four girls and one in ten boys experienced sexual violence before the age of 18. Some of these include defilement, rape, fingering, indecent touching, fondling among others. Studies have shown that over 95 percent of children sexually abused are abused by persons known or close to the child or the child’s family.
Furthermore, the survey noted that cases of child sexual abuse can be linked to parental negligence, carelessness, nonchalant attitude, and peer pressure. Other causes include absentee parents, as well as parents who pay less attention to their children. The survey advised that children should be informed as to what sexual abuse is and why they should guard against it. Most often pedophiles get their victims through grooming, befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child, and sometimes the family, to lower the child’s inhibitions with the objective of sexual abuse.
Besides, the survey declared that possible signs that a child is being abused include isolation, aggressiveness, anxiety, fear, difficulty in walking, a sudden drop in academic performance, poor social interaction, and an uncontrollable display of inappropriate sexual behavior. Moreover, the effects of child sexual abuse include depression, suicidal thoughts, stigma, and guilt, and lifelong psychological trauma, aggression, withdrawn behavior, and infection with STDs.Indeed the pernicious effect of rape leaves the victims with a life-long debilitating scar, which can only be assuaged by counseling and rehabilitation.
That said the government should be commended for confronting this menace head-on in its renewed battle against sexual violence against women and girls. Still, the onus is on the government to safeguard the rights and future of women and girls. On their part, parents and guardians need to take their responsibility towards their wards with all the seriousness it deserves. The setting up of a specialized court in the form of the Sexual Offences Model Court will go a long way to get justice for the victims of sexual violence. With this, there will be no more hiding place for sexual predators.
All said, tackling rape requires urgent collective effort and action. To nip this crime in the bud, especially the rape of minors and girls, the battle must start from parental care and attention, that is, parents must pay more heed to the wellbeing of their wards because prevention is better than cure. Plus communal efforts towards tackling this rising menace, as well as a joint multi-sectoral approach that would involve the security forces, traditional and religious organizations, and civil society and human rights groups. In short, prevention should be key. Where this fails, detection and prosecution must be swift and culprits promptly brought to justice. To protect women and girls, society must stand up and say ‘No’ to the crime of rape.