More Than Me apologizes to 10 Girls Repeatedly Raped in 2014 by its community liaison to West Point, Macintosh Johnson; Advisory Board wants Myler step aside, sets up Independent Inquiry
An American charity agency, More Than Me, which sought to stop sexual exploitation of young Liberian girls in the Township of West Point, has admitted to reports that its liaison officer, Mcintosh Johnson (now deceased), raped ten young girls between the ages of 10 and 16, and has expressed remorse for the tragic experience of the girls.
In a statement posted on its website, More Than Me said “We are deeply, profoundly sorry. To all the girls who were raped by Macintosh Johnson in 2014 and before: we failed you.
“We gave Johnson power that he exploited to abuse children. Those power dynamics broke staff ability to report the abuse to our leadership immediately. Our leadership should have recognized the signs earlier and we have and will continue to employ training and awareness programs so we do not miss this again. We are moved by the courage and bravery of the girls who came forward and it is a tragedy that they ever had to. To the survivors that have HIV, we remain committed to supporting you.
“We are heartbroken by what happened and also have fundamentally changed how we operate as an organization since this incident.”
However, reports indicated that Johnson’s assault on the young girls continued with the protection of the community because it (community) felt he (Johnson) had brought improvement on the educational lives of many children. But when his crimes were known several attempts were made to make sure that Meyler or MTM’s names were not mentioned in any report.
In More Than Me’s release, they acknowledged the enormous complexity of being responsible for the care of children and that previously “we were naive to believe that providing education alone is enough to protect these girls from the abuses they may face – strong institutions, safeguarding policies and vigilance is, needed to do that.”
It added “More Than Me will now provide private, school-wide HIV testing at the Academy to all students. An independent audit completed this past summer noted our progress in protecting girls and called for the implementation of additional changes including survivor-centered protocols, additional resources to ensure efficient reporting, broad application of safety standards to all of our public schools and organizational culture change and we continue to be firmly committed to further bolstering our safeguarding policies.
“As we work to correct past failures, we welcome the Ministry of Education to the Academy at any time for a complete inspection.
“We regret that coverage in ProPublica and TIME presented a one-sided view of our overall work and achievements, often quoting out of context or minimizing our impact, institutional development, and response at the time and changes over the past four years. We will continue to share any updates as they become available.”
Meanwhile, the Liberian Board of Directors of More Than Me, in a statement to the media yesterday under the signature of Chairman James Dorbor Jallah and six other members, including Aisha Cooper, Fiona Weeks, Rosana Schaack, Dr. Mosoka Fallah, Samuel Sampson and Nelly Cooper, announced the setting up of an independent panel, comprising prominent civil society groups, women’s and professional associations, to review circumstances and the allegations of sexual violence against some young women in the organization since 2014.
The statement further said “We the Liberian Advisory Board (LAB) of More Than Me regret the incidences that were reported in 2014 regarding the sexual exploitation of some of the students in the institution’s care which is the subject of recent media reports. This Liberian Advisory Board was established in September 2015 to advise the US Board of More Than Me.
“More Than Me was founded to help educate vulnerable girls from Liberia, most especially West Point. These incidences are contrary to the values, objectives, and principles of More Than Me. We were informed that when the issue of the sexual exploitation was brought to the attention of the administration of the school on June 12th, 2014, More Than Me immediately reported the matter to the appropriate government authorities and within four days Mr. Macintosh Johnson, the perpetrator, was arrested by the police.
“More Than Me worked assiduously with the law enforcement and the justice system to ensure a speedy trial the first of which resulted in a hung jury and the second of which was ongoing up to the death of the perpetrator in 2016.
“Additionally, we have also been informed that medical records show that examinations were conducted for all 10 of the girls and one of the ten is HIV positive. She is in treatment and healthy. All the victims are currently in school with access to counseling and health care supported by More Than Me.
“In reviewing the allegations as published by ProPublica and TIME we uncovered several statements that were either inconsistent with the information provided to us by More Than Me leadership or that was new information.
“In this light, the Liberian Advisory Board has constituted an independent panel comprising of prominent civil society groups, women’s and professional associations and appropriate Government of Liberia functionaries to review all of the circumstances and allegations. This panel will have no one who is associated with the incidences or More Than Me involved.
The statement identified members of the panel as follows: National Civil Society Organization, Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL), Independent Human Rights Commission, REACH, Servant of All Prayer (SOAP) and Disaster Victims Association of Liberia. It said the panel will be
The panel will be supervised by Counselor T. Negbalee Warner, in collaboration with a globally recognized international counterpart from the African sub-region. The panel will come up with findings to get the Liberian perspective and present it to the public.
Following the release of this report, the Liberian Board in consultation with the US Board will take appropriate actions. Given the urgency of the issue, “we expect the panel to conclude its review within two to three weeks.”
The statement said Katie Meyler, who is the Chief Executive Officer of the organization, has sacrificed a lot to support education for vulnerable children. However, given the sensitive nature of this situation, the “Liberian Board has asked” her, to temporarily step aside while the investigation is ongoing, and she has willingly agreed for the objectivity of the investigation. The US Board concurs with our decision.
The statement further said since 2014, More Than Me has engendered a number of reforms geared towards reducing the risk of the recurrence of that ugly situation. The Liberian Advisory Board had an initial meeting with officials of the Government of Liberia (Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, and Ministry of Education) on October 12th, 2018 and are willing to fully cooperate with the government in whatever it envisions to do.
“It is very important to note that More Than Me’s primary concern and objective is giving our students the opportunity for quality education and a bright future as well as a safer environment for girls. Some of the girls reached out to the Liberian Advisory Board on October 12th, 2018 appealing for the non-closure of the More Than Me Academy and its ancillary programs. They are concerned because they believe that the closure of the program is the end of their hope for a better future.
“Additionally, over the four years following the incidences, More Than Me has been a reliable partner in the fight against Ebola and in supporting the Liberian education system,” the statement said.
However, it may be recalled that the Daily Observer in June 2014 published a story that authorities of the Liberia National Police (LNP) were investigating a senior staff of More Than Me (MTM) Academy over allegations of statutory rape.
In the second report on June 25, this newspaper reported that Macintosh N. Johnson, who was accused of having sexual relations with ten students of the More Than Me Academy, ages 12 to 16, appeared at the Monrovia City Court to face rape charges. After a brief hearing, he was remanded at the Monrovia Central Prison, being probed for rape.
Johnson, who was MTM’s community liaison to West Point, was arrested on June 16 following numerous complaints regarding his sexual misconduct toward the students. “Johnson is being investigated by LNP,” a credible source said at the time.
During interviews conducted in the Township of West Point yesterday, several women explained that while More Than Me’s presence in the township has brought tremendous educational support to many children, the abuses often young girls may have damaged the organization’s reputation.
“We are very poor,” a mother said. “So you can see why I can allow my girl children to get support from other people to go to school. I think our government can set some example because I know that More Than Me means well for us.”
ProPublica and TIME have reported exhaustive investigations on the journey of a young American woman to change the world of young women in one of the most vulnerable communities in Liberia but found the organization, despite its positive intentions, being sucked and manipulated against the very purpose of which it was established.