With about two weeks gone in the three-day of mass protests against rape and other forms of sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in several counties across Liberia, the menace continues to linger, even among family members due to comprise.
The latest is the case of 21- year- old Emmanuel G. Flomo who allegedly raped and impregnated his 13-year-old cousin in the Weaver Avenue Community, Paynesville.
An investigation conducted by the Daily Observer discovered that both Emmanuel and the survivor are offspring of two siblings (a brother and a sister). The two cousins have been living with their respective parents in a house belonging to their grandmother.
Explaining her ordeal, the survivor said that in December 2019, her cousin (Emmanuel) attempted raping her, but she was afraid to tell her parents for fear of the parents’ reactions.
She said while they were at home alone some time in this year, Emmanuel dragged her to the bathroom and forced her into sexual intercourse. According to the survivor, her cousin threatened to kill her if she revealed the secret.
“After he finished, I saw blood but he told me if I tell anyone, I will die. So I was afraid to tell my people and he has been doing it to me since that day,” she said.
She said after months of abusing her, she started experiencing frequent morning sickness and stopped menstruating. It was at this time that she informed her mother.
“My mother noticed me sleeping with my head and she asked me, but I was very afraid to tell her. After she forced me, I explained everything to her, and that was how she took me to the one stop center for check-up and treatment.”
Emmanuel has admitted to the act but said he did not force the survivor.
“We have been having sex since April, 2020; I did not force her against her wish,” Emmanuel said. “We did not approach each other; we just got together and started loving and having sex in the house both at night and in the day when nobody is around.”
Chapter 14 section 14.70 of Liberia’s Rape Law states that: “A person who has sexual intercourse with another person has committed rape if he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus, mouth or other opening of another person with his penis without the victim’s consent; if the victim is less than eighteen years old, provided the actor is eighteen years of age or older.”
Daily Observer’s investigation has also discovered that a two-year-old girl was also sexually abused by an unknown person in 2019 in the very house where recent incestuous incident occurred. The child could not identify her abuser. The two-year-old toddler was taken from the community for fear of stigma and reoccurrence.
“This is not the first time, people children have been sexually abused and we cannot find the individual only because the children cannot speak to name their abusers,” the 2-year-old survivor’s parent lamented.
According to the mother of the two year old, she left her daughter with a neighbor and had to go sell to fend for her family, upon her return she met her daughter in a pool of blood and no one could trace the perpetrator.
The parents of the toddler, coming across 21-year-old Emmanuel G. Flomo as a hidden perpetrator, have no one else to connect to the act perpetrated against their child in 2019. He was living in the house at the time the 2-year-old was sexually abused.
“This is the same thing that happened to my two-year-old daughter. She was sexually abused by an unknown person. I cried and cursed the person that they will continue to rape until they are exposed, and today he is behind bars paying for his sins,” said the toddler’s mother.
Tamba Johnson, National Coordinator for He For She Crusaders Liberia (HEFOSEL), a gender advocacy group, said incest rape (one family member raping another) is one of common types of sexual abuse around the world that is under-reported because of shame or efforts to protect the family’s name.
Johnson said to end incest rape, families must be able to start early sex education among children to make them understand the danger, adding, “there should be good relationship between parents and children to help them report or freely express what happened to them on a daily basis.”
Amid reports about rape in the country, babies and minors are becoming the key targets for perpetrators as media reports indicate daily. It can be recalled that a four-year- old child was raped in a similar manner by an unknown person in Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County.
Evidence gathering has been a key challenge in the fight against rape. To mitigate this, the United Nations, on April 11, 2018, donated a DNA machine to the John F. Kennedy Medical Centre to produce scientific evidence in rape related matters. Since it was donated, the machine is yet to be utilized to produce even the first result in any rape case.
President Weah, amid the rise in cases of rape, has instructed the Minister of Finance to purchase another machine.
Rape cases of recent have been alarming. According to Williametta Piso Sayde-Tarr, Minister of Gender and Social Protection, in the last seven months, 992 rape cases have been reported. Of the total number, 22 persons were convicted, while the rest are pending court trial.
Experience has shown that involvement of communities and relatives in compromising rape has contributed to the increase, thus putting young girls and children at risk.
A 26-year-old rape survivor who joined the recent anti-rape protest in Monrovia strongly believes that families compromise cases to save perpetrators, as it was in her case.
She said her family was unable to take the case to the court because close relatives influenced the process for home settlement.
Tenneh Scu Johnson, SGBV Sex Crimes Unit and Victim Support Advocate at the Ministry of Justice, told the Daily Observer via telephone that the unit receives a lot of rape cases involving close relatives but they treat them as any other rape case and send them prosecution.
“We see these cases many times and we treat them like any other cases by building the case file and sending it to the grand jury for trial,” Madam Johnson said. “At times people make the victim’s family afraid that they would pay money or have a long process in the court.”
Deddeh Kwekwe, Executive Director of My Voice, My Safety, said when the survivor of rape is unable to have the needed justice, they become traumatized, leaving them to live with the fear of reoccurrence.
“Rape affects the survivor both physically and psychosocially because they are always thinking the incident may reoccur,” Kwekwe said.
Atty. Vivian Neal, president of the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL), says compromising rape has a negative impact on prosecution, especially in the case where the survivor is not available to provide information to prosecutors.
“Let’s take, for example, if the defendant is indicted, the
Survivor is the private prosecutor and prime witness to the case, even though the case has been perpetrated against the state. If the survivor stays away, it is difficult to get all the evidence,” said Atty Neal.
Atty. Neal, however, called on the government to play its role in strengthening the justice system.
This story was supported by the UN Spotlight Initiatives in collaboration with the Female Journalists Association of Liberia as part of reporting the increase of SGBV during COVID_19 and its impact on Women.