By Lekpele M. Nyamalon
Monrovia — I honored an invitation to speak to an all-girl class in Monrovia on the basics of poetry and creative writing. I asked the class to list three trending National issues and we would settle on the top of the list. We settled in on RAPE.
The class agreed on two things: To use RAPE as an acronym to motivate young readers and writers and to write their own poems about RAPE. The Class coined an acronym thus: ‘Read. Apply. Produce and Excel.’ Those who Read, and Apply themselves will Produce something and they will ultimately Excel. How awesome!
Towards the end of the class, we began reading and interpreting the poems written by the students thus sparking a critical dialogue around RAPE and we found ourselves in an emotional pool. One of the students broke into uncontrollable tears when she connected with a line by one of the groups. In a chilling narrative, she spilled her ordeal of the menace and the accompanying emotional effects.
Most perpetrators of RAPE do not realize that their actions of forceful sexual advancement go way beyond a singular moment. The victims go through a long-emotional wrenching period of grief before becoming survivals and storytellers. The point that most survivors crave for is closure.
I cannot be certain, in the case of the student that day, that she has reached the point of closure. It would take time, professional counseling and an emotionally safe space to allow her to reach the milestone of closure.
While perpetrators often walk on, dusting themselves, survivors of Rape endure a long dark tunnel of revictimization, self-blame, emotional neglect, lack of empathy and a potential relapse each time they come in contact with the perpetrator or a semblance thereof.
During the recent anti-rape demonstration in Monrovia, a young lady began to undress herself as a sign of protest when the police attempted to arrest her for protesting. African traditional values prohibit a woman from undressing herself in public and a deliberate act by a woman to do so is seen as a protest of the highest order. The police had to stand down.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the months of January to June 2020 shows that more than 600 cases of aggravated assault, sodomy, sodomy with criminal intent and rape were reported and are currently being investigated.
The Sexual and Gender Based Violence unit of the Ministry of Justice Reports that total new cases from January to June indicated: 107 cases tried in court, leading to 44 convictions and 42 acquittals.
President George Weah declared Rape as a National Emergency in September and promised to install a special prosecutor for rape in Liberia as well set up a national sex offender registry, a move after series of protests in the capitol Monrovia. This is a laudable initiative.
The full extent of the fight against rape has to involve community ownership and participation backed by the rule of law. Community involvement through whistleblowing and providing safe spaces for victims, avoiding stigmatization and revictimization are all factors that lead towards the healing process to ensure that victims receive adequate medical, emotional and special needs.
While on a tour of the United Nations in 2018 as a Mandela Washington Fellow, I asked our tour guide, a Political Officer at the UN on the role of the UN in prosecuting perpetrators of Rape by UN troops in countries where they served and the collective role of the UN in ensuring that victims get justice. His response was bleak: The UN as an Institution does not have such policy in place to prosecute troops under its mandate, rather member countries are asked to do so. Such cases usually vanish in the bureaucratic woods. Al Jazeera reports that according to a recent investigation by the Associated Press, between 2004 and 2016, the United Nations received almost 2,000 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against its peacekeepers. In 2001, it was discovered that aid workers and UN peacekeepers had sexually abused refugees in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Sustainable Development Goal 5 seeks to achieve Gender Equality and empower all women and girls. The world cannot be a better place when the existence of women and girls are under persistent threat from sexual predators, serial rapists and the lack of coordinated global efforts in confronting the menace. The world has to adopt a consolidated approach in dealing with the social factors leading to Rape and ensuring the rule of law works to protect women and girls in every corner of the globe. A rigorous post Rape experience that allows survivors tell their stories in a non-judgmental, emotional safe haven will give them the final milestone of closure.
With the right legal framework, psycho-social counseling and community ownership that brings together state actors, civil society and other stakeholders, we can achieve these goals.
Lekpele M. Nyamalon is a Poet, Writer, Author, Speaker and a thought leader from Liberia. He is an OWISA Poetry Fellow and a Mandela Washington Fellow. He can be reached at www.lekpele.com and [email protected].