Liberia: Alleged Rape at AME University

“Due to the University’s Zero Tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse, the administration has suspended the accused employee indefinitely until the investigation is complete,” AME University said in a statement.

An entrance examiner at the African Methodist Episcopal University in Monrovia has allegedly raped an 18-year-old woman seeking admission to the University. 

According to the victim, she met with Tony Fassai in his office as a result of her quest to challenge her entrance result. There, Tony raped her -- victim alleged.

The victim claimed that Tony grabbed her from the back when she tried leaving his office after complaining about the test result and, after a few tussles, he raped her.

“I told him since this is the case, I’ll get my father to take it up with the University Administration. As soon as I turned to leave the office, he held me from the back, we tussled and his strength overpowered me and raped me,” the victim alleged in a complaint, as quoted by Women’s TV, an online media platform. 

Tony meanwhile has admitted to the police that a sexual encounter took place but denied the rape allegation. Police Spokesman, Moses Carter told the Daily Observer that Tony, while being investigated, admitted to having consensual sex with his alleged victim instead of rape.

“The police are investigating the case and the medical report has confirmed penetration, but for now, we cannot say if the claim of rape is true or not, as the matter is still being investigated to establish all the facts. The suspect confirmed that they had consensual sex,” Carter added.  “The police will investigate the matter and will do so in accordance with the law. The suspect is in police custody and has contacted his lawyer, who is now involved in the case.”

The victim, whose identity is being protected, claimed that she entered Tony's office alone with another prospective undergraduate who followed her to challenge the test result and, after a while, the attendant friend was told to leave and that she passed the entrance test.

“We were two students that he told we failed the test. So we said ‘no, we challenge the test [results],” the victim added as reported by Women’s  TV. “Afterward, he told the other girl to leave because she passed, [but] asked why I keep failing.”

AME university takes action

Meanwhile, the administration of the AME University has released a statement suspending Tony for time “indefinite” but provided few details about the circumstances of the alleged incident on grounds that they do not intend to render judgment in a matter that is being investigated by the Police.

The University statement confirmed that Tony, who happens to be one of its employees, was invited by the Women and Children Protection Section of the Liberia National Police (LNP) on March 10, based on a complaint of alleged rape filed by a female seeking enrollment at the University. 

“Due to the University’s “Zero Tolerance” policy on sexual exploitation and abuse, coupled with our desire to ensure a fair and transparent investigation, the administration has suspended the accused employee indefinitely until the investigation is complete,” the statement said. 

It added that while the University seeks not to render judgment in a matter that is being investigated by the Police, “the Administration believes that our action provides safety for our students and staff and will take further action(s) in line with our policies, pending the outcome of the investigation.” 

“The Administration assures the public of our ZERO TOLERANCE on any act of sexual violence and abuse as we conduct our core responsibilities of developing the future leaders of Liberia.”

The AME University (AMEU) is a private institution of higher learning located in Monrovia, Liberia. Located on Camp Johnson Road, the school has about 5,000 students. 

AMEU was organized in 1995 by Bishop Cornal Garnett Henning, Sr., and leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, during his administration as presiding prelate. Bryant Theological Seminary was the first component school of the university. Bryant Theological Seminary had been started in 1992 by David R. Daniels, Jr., now a bishop in the church. The university was then chartered in February 1996.

 The alleged rape incident happened during the week of the celebration of International Women's day – with calls to strengthen the fight against rape and other forms of violence against women and girls. And at a March 8 celebration of the day in Liberia, President George Weah, in the presence of his predecessor Sirleaf, promised stringent measures to help tackle the surge in sexual and gender-based violence against women in the country.

“I will be reviewing the progress made by the Sexual and Gender-based Violence taskforce and will take stronger measures to bring this national strategy under control, President Weah said.

President Weah then added that Liberia celebrated international women's day under difficult circumstances with an increase in sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). The issue of SGBV, particularly rape in Liberia, has been on the increase despite thousands of Liberians protesting against the crime in 2020 in a bid to draw local and international attention to the country’s alarming rate of sexual assault.

Rape has been a long-standing concern and a United Nations report in 2016 recorded 803 rape cases the previous year and found only 2 percent of sexual violence cases led to a conviction. Harrowing tales of sexual violence against girls as young as three years old are not infrequent.  Sexual crimes including rape are part of the legacy of the country’s 14-year civil war between 1989 and 2003 when rape was commonplace. A heavily underfunded and weak judicial system and the culture of impunity continue to fan the rape epidemic. 

In 2020, President Weah declared rape a national emergency and ordered new measures to tackle the problem after a recent spike in the number of cases in the West African state. 

But since then, the President has done little to fulfill his pledge of having a special prosecutor for rape in Liberia, as well as set up a national sex offender registry.  And the government’s “national security task force” on sexual and gender-based violence is yet to succeed in terms of prosecution and conviction of the alleged perpetrators.

The Weah administration has purchased a DNA machine to fast-track the investigation and prosecution of rape cases but, since the machine arrived at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center in 2021, it is yet to be used due to the lack of skilled medical professionals to operate it.