Seated in a darkroom with a sparkling flowery dress, six-year-old Decontee (not her real name) narrated a painful moment she encountered when she was raped by a twenty-two-year-old relative.
With tears streaming from her eyes but with determination, she explained to journalists in Ganta, Nimba County during the five-day training on sexual and gender based violence, how the incident happened and how later she informed her grandmother.
According to the six-year-old, the perpetrator, when asked by her grandmother about the allegation denied it and accused little Decontee of saying something stupid.
Not satisfied, she further explained that her grandmother immediately ran to the police station, and the twenty-two year old was immediately arrested by community members and turned over to police authorities.
Decontee suffers from fistula, as she explained: “I urinate and toilet on myself sometimes and my stomach can hurt me, especially when I am urinating and toileting.”
The Government of Liberia and its partners are not just campaigning to end rape, but are also caring for victims.
Today, rape has become one of the most challenging menaces in the Liberian society, and many healthcare professionals and others are helping to deal with the adverse effects on victims.
“Hospitals take responsibility to provide treatment for those affected by sexual and gender-based violence. They also undergo counseling,” Nimba County Gender Coordinator Yaah Belleh Suah, who is the focal point for the Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection (MGCSP), in the county, said.
Decontee is pleased with the care she is receiving. “They are taking care of me good (Safe Home), they can send me for treatment and provide me with food.”
Nimba like any part of Liberia experiences a huge number of rape cases over time.
According to Madam Suah, between August and October 2017, 18 cases of sexual and gender-based violence were reported.
However, there are major issues confronting the court system, because of the delay in prosecuting perpetrators, especially those involved in a rape.
“Sadly, from 2014 to 2016, only 12 cases were placed on the docket, which undermines the fight against SGBV. Only 2 persons have been prosecuted for the past three years,” Madam Suah narrated.
“We have only 3 rape cases on the docket in a year; the court can free some of them, because of the delay to prosecute them. Lawyers can free some of them,” she said.
Decontee got some justice when her perpetrator was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The sentence should, however, be graver, according to the six-year-old survivor, “I want them to put him in jail until he dies.”
According to the Nimba County Gender Coordinator, a special court is needed in Nimba to deal with only cases related to sexual and gender-based violence.
Madam Suah explained that tradition and family involvement is one of the impediments hampering the fight against sexual and gender-based violence.
“Most of these cases are discussed at the community level and they are not reported. But we continue to educate the people on the importance of reporting these cases. We have people who are married and leaving their wives and taking new homes, which is also a serious problem,” she said.
Survivors like Decontee face serious challenges reuniting with the community, according to Madam Suah. “Taking victims home remains a big stigma because of discrimination. We always take the survivors where they feel safe, some of the children are entrusted to close family members.”
Madam Suah said there is a need for more awareness and education in order to avoid family and community interference into sexual and gender-based violence cases.
“Consequences of rape do not stop halfway but continue from the time the child survived and even when they are older. Some may not have the opportunity to bear children. So we have to continue to carry on awareness and education to ensure that we prevent it,” she said.
She said intervention from the government and its partners continues to make an impact as compared to the past where rape and domestic violence were not reported.
She stressed the need to equip the police, including training in handling cases and equipment that will enable the police to carry out their work effectively.
The SGBV training was organized by UN Women from October 30 to November 3.