AFL Chief of Staff suggests
Maj. Gen. Prince C. Johnson, III, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), has said that in order to put an end to rape in Liberia, there is a need to revisit the issue of the death penalty law.
With financial support from the European Union (EU), Liberia has been compelled to relax capital punishment, to be replaced by life imprisonment; something many critical lawyers and other independent individuals have viewed as a conduit to encourage the commission of crimes since perpetrators, when convicted, spend some time in prison, are fed and, by the will of the President in line with his constitutional duty to pardon, are set free and allowed to live with their victims.
Gen. Johnson said even though the international community does not support this decision of death penalty, “I think with the huge number of statistics we have on rape, there is a need that we revisit the issue of the death penalty for those who sexually abuse our women and girls in Liberia.”
He said it is saddening that men will even go to the point of raping minors, adding: “It is sad that a person who has been sexually abused will make a complaint to the police station, and someone from the security sector also abuses her instead of protecting her.”
The AFL Chief of Staff made the statement at a daylong program under the theme, “Say No to Rape Game Changers Event Program,” organized by fashion model and philanthropist MacDella Cooper in Monrovia over the weekend.
The event was characterized by survivors telling their stories, dramas on rape, speeches, songs depicting rape messages from Liberian musicians, among others.
The program brought together women advocates, women in politics, adolescent girls, female journalists, and men championing women’s rights.
Johnson said when he took over the AFL, the issue of drugs and rape were considered zero-tolerance and that, “after you have been tested positive for drugs, immediately you will be dismissed and have no role to play in the army; and the same applies to rape. After investigation and one is found guilty, he faces the full weight of the law.”
Speaking about the issue of drugs, Johnson said if drugs must be taken seriously in Liberia, it must start with all elected and senior government officials, who would be able to set an example before creating awareness.
Without dwelling on just one side of the rape issue, Gen. Johnson, said women who lied about men raping them should also face the full weight of the law.
He called for active involvement of the family, schools, religious and traditional leaders, and the government to address the issue of rape as it is increasing in the Liberian society. He promised not to entertain rapists in the AFL as long as he remains at the helm of the Army.
Hawa Bropleh, an SGBV specialist in Grand Cape Mount County, said the issue of rape is something that is done in an organized way in the rural parts of Liberia. In rural communities, she explained, girls are given in early marriage by their parents, rather than educating them for a better future.
Ingrid Wetterqvist, Swedish Ambassador to Liberia, called on the Government of Liberia to enforce the rape law to reduce the number of cases across the country. She said it is important that the government be able to create a safe space for women and girls to be free from all forms of violence in the home, school, community, and job site.
Amb. Wetterqvist encouraged the Game Changers to extend their awareness throughout Liberia, to help educate every citizen about the danger rape poses to the future of the girl child.
A survivor of rape (name withheld) at the program said speaking out about being a survivor of rape is a big step in reclaiming what was robbed from her at a very tender age.
“I must say it is not something that is so easy to say out loud. I have struggled with this for so many years, but I am confident now about speaking out because I know that it will inspire others to share their stories too and free themselves from all the pain, shame, and anguish that come with being sexually abused or assaulted.”
She told the gathering that “one of my very first experiences of rape was at the age of 8. I was raped by a person that I called uncle, a person in whose care my mother left me so he could care to protect me from any harm that came from outside. Little did she know that the harm she was so afraid of was right there under her feet.”
She said the encounter with her uncle was the beginning of her never-ending nightmare as a child because she was raped repeatedly by this same person so many times and was cautioned not to say a word to anyone or she would get into serious trouble.
She said growing up as a child, she was never told that if a man touches her anywhere around her private part it was considered rape or must be reported.
She said, “This is why it is our responsibility and duty as mothers, stepmothers, aunties, and big sisters to protect our young women and girls from these horrible experiences. We should not be ashamed when it comes to educating our girls about rape and the importance of speaking out.”
The survivors urged all Liberians who have survived rape to speak out the truth, adding, “It is hard, but when you do, you are saving someone closer to you. And let’s continue to help educate our younger ones about rape,” she said.