Liberians have been making headlines around the world lately for all the wrong reasons, especially for sexual impropriety.
And it seems like the nine years prison sentence verdict for both Moses Owen Browne, Liberia's Permanent Representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in the UK, and Daniel Tarr, Director of the Department of Marine Environmental Protection, for sexual assault in South Korea, has done little to warn their compatriots.
And barely a month after the South Korean court ruling, and two months after Carlos Dahn, a Ministry of Finance employee and student in India, was also arrested for allegedly raping a Liberian student, another Liberian student, Promise Worzeen Klehkleh, is in police custody for allegedly raping a 22-year-old female student from Zimbabwe.
Like Dahn, Klehkleh is awaiting trial in Punjab, India, as an investigation done by the Daily Observer has established.
The Survivor's story
According to the Hindustan Times Newspaper, an Indian media outlet, Klehkleh was produced in a local court on Wednesday, April 19, 2023, and has been sent to police return.
The report disclosed that the accused allegedly came close to the survivor on the pretext of helping her cook food in his brother's rented apartment, where he sexually abused her.
The victim, who lived in a rented accommodation in Khanna City, told the police in her complaint to the police on Tuesday that the accused, who lives in a rented accommodation in the same colony, had invited her to his brother’s room during the evening hours.
She said that when she entered the room, both brothers were consuming alcohol, and she refused their offers to join them.
“I went to the kitchen to cook food for myself. That was how he came into the kitchen and started molesting me; despite my resistance, he did not back off and started forcing himself on me,” the Times quotes the survivor.
She said the accused followed her to her room even after she returned to her home.
Station house officer, Sanjeev Kapoor, confirmed to reporters that a case under Section 376 (rape) of the Indian Penal Code has been registered against the accused at the Khanna City police station.
According to sources, Klehkleh came to India in 2021 to study Mechanical engineering at the Gulzar Group of Institutions (GGI) and is living in a rented apartment outside of the university hostel.
Our investigation has also established that Klehkleh is a very close friend to Carlos, who is also facing trial for raping a 22-year-old Liberian student in the same state. Both Carlos and Klehkleh attend the same university, GGI.
“Klehkleh has been a strong supporter of Carlos' wife since he went to jail. He is even the one who is driving Carlos car and taking his wife around to seek redress in the rape case to ensure that Carlos is free,” our source said.
“This is evidence of the proverb that says birds of the same feather fly together. With his involvement in the same rape case, this may be difficult for his friend because the police will think that is their attitude. Remember, the prosecution team is looking for every piece of evidence,” the source indicated.
According to civil society experts, the constant involvement of Liberian men in rape cases in foreign countries is the result of Liberian society normalizing sexual assault and not seeing it as a crime or violation.
Loretta Pope-Kai, head, National Civil Society, in an interview disclosed that sex should be consensual but men across the world feel that women are their entitlement.
“The way society has normalized the fact that if a man wants to have sex with a woman, he is entitled, so even if she refuses, he has the right to force her to do so,” Pope-Kai said.
She said the issue of rape in Liberian society has not been fully addressed due to systemic failure.
Pope-Kai said, as it was done with Moses Owen Browne and Daniel Tarr, both Carlos and Klehkleh should be tried in India because the reported crime was not committed in Liberia.
She, however, called for a speedy investigation to ensure justice; because rape is not a case that should be compromised. “Rape is not a family matter that needs consultation but a threat to society that needs to be addressed,” she stressed.
“Family should step aside whenever there is a rape case and allow justice to be served. This is not an in-house discussion.”
Siatta Scott-Johnson, President, Female Journalist Association, agrees with Pope-Kai that rape has been normalized in the Liberian setting, and that is likely the reason men do not see it as a violation or crime.
However, Scott-Johnson said, to address the issue of rape in Liberia, it requires family involvement.
“At the level of the family, we need to start to tell our boys that violence against women is wrong and a crime. Taking it from the family level and leading it to the larger society. This is not about the women's group, but society at large.”
Like Pope-Kai, Scott-Johnson agreed that the case should be tried in India because that is where the crime was committed.
“Justice delayed is justice denied. In my honest opinion, let the case be tried in India and let the Indian law deal with them. That will be a warning to those back home,” she said.
Scott-Johnson said the involvement of Liberians in rape cases outside the country is sad and paints an ugly picture for the nation.
Atty. Mmonbeydo Joah, head, Organization for Women and Children, described the alleged rape saga as sad and confirmation of the ENOUGH consultation that was held in Liberia.
She said during the consultation, 60% of the respondents showed justifiable reasons for violence against women.
Joah, like previous speakers, believes that the Liberian government needs to fix the system in handling rape cases and provide accountability for women and girls.
“This is a message to the Liberian government that we need to fix the system, and if they think that the only way women and girls can get accountability is outside the country, that is wrong,” Joah said.
Joah agrees with Scott-Johnson that the increase in rape cases by Liberians internationally is a shame to the country and, therefore, requires urgent attention.
Editor’s Note: Hannah N. Geterminah is a Daily Observer Journalist studying in India.