MONROVIA – The genital mutilation of a 22-year-old woman in Sinoe County has sparked anger from women’s rights activists who have since started calling for tougher legal action against those who commit dehumanizing acts of violence in the city. towards women.
Patience Teah suffered an act of extreme violence from her fiance, Joe Winnie, who allegedly poured caustic soda on the woman’s genitals and then sealed it with super glue.
The incident, which happened on Oct. 15, is believed to have followed a dispute over sex. The perpetrator, according to community members, became angry after the victim refused to have sex on the grounds that she was tired.
The victim told local reporters that she was asleep when her attacker entered the room with an object threatening to harm her. Alarmed and frightened, she bowed to his threat as he committed this inhuman act.
Enraged female lawyers, reporting to the Association of Women Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL), have expressed disgust at the perpetrator of such a “barbaric act” and demanded that he be prosecuted.
“The abuser shouldn’t be a free man right now. He must be severely punished by the state. He is such a cruel being ”, President of AFELL, Atty. Vivian Neal, said while expressing her disappointment at the level of violations against women and girls in the country. “The state has to be tough on these kinds of people,” she said.
AFELL campaigns for the promotion, protection and advancement of the rights of women, children and needy people.
The suspect admitted to committing the act during a preliminary police investigation. He was held in Sinoe Central Prison, awaiting trial. Several county civil society organizations, including the National Institute for Public Opinion and the Southeastern Women Development Association, have condemned the act; vowing to pursue the matter to its logical conclusion. Some want the trial to be transferred from this county.
Marian Deah, executive director of Restore Their Hope, a women’s empowerment group, called the 30-year-old man’s act cruel and evil.
“This treatment of a woman he calls his fiancée is cruel, inhuman, diabolical. Overall, this is the highest level of human rights violation, ”Deah said.
She says that in order to keep perpetrators or potential perpetrators in check, it is first necessary to harmonize customary and statutory laws so that offenders can receive the maximum sentence.
“This will let men know that sexual and gender-based violence is a crime and that it should not be seen as a traditional problem that does not need to be compromised in the community,” she said. .
“Most of these cases of sexual and gender-based violence are considered traditions in the community and are mostly compromised by the inhabitants of the community, which gives the perpetrators or potential abusers an advantage to always carry out inhumane treatment against the women. in our society. “
About 2,708 cases of violence against women were recorded in 2019, according to the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection. But women’s rights activists say the real figure is likely higher, as victims are often reluctant to report such crimes because of the stigma they carry. About 79 percent (2,141) of this total amounted to rape; gang rape and sodomy accounted for 567 (20%) for other forms of GBV; while 68% of rape cases were survivors under the age of 18, which is well below the statistics for 2020, the ministry said.
In just nine months in the past year, during which the coronavirus hit the country (between January and September 2020), 1,715 cases of GBV have been reported. Of the total, 1,388 or (80%) constitute rape, gang rape and sodomy. 151 (8.8%) represented other forms of GBV. At least 477 cases of GBV were reported in the third quarter of 2020. Of the total cases recorded in the third quarter of 2020, rape represents 312 or 65%, physical assault or domestic violence represents 11.9% and sexual assault represents 7 , 4%.
“While this year’s statistics have not yet been released, we are concerned they may be higher,” Atty said. Mmonbeydo Nadine Joah, Executive Director / Legal Advisor of the Organization for Women and Children (ORWOCH), an institution that helps women and children who are victims of violence. Almost every week we see cases of women and children being raped or killed, ”atty. said Joa.
Rising cases of sexual and gender-based violence, especially rape, sparked a mass protest in Monrovia last year. The protest, which organizers said was aimed at convincing the government to declare the rape a national emergency, was sparked by the use of a razor blade, allegedly by a 19-year-old boy, to mutilate his genitals of a 3 year old child. old maid, which he would have thought would have given him easy access.
Dubbed the “March for Justice,” the protests brought more than 5,000 people, mostly young people, dressed in pitch black to the streets in solidarity with rape victims and survivors.
The mass civil action prompted President George Weah to declare rape a national emergency and presented plans to appoint a special prosecutor to deal with rape cases, create a national sex offender registry and earmark $ 2 million for solve the problem.
Despite these actions and commitments, the act continues to endure. A 47-year-old man raped a 13-year-old girl in Grand Cape Mount County, while a 30-year-old man recently chopped his wife with a cutlass in Maryland County for allegedly denying her sex.
AFELL describes them as acts of savagery against women and girls.
“We condemn in the strongest terms acts of violence against women, girls and boys and call on the Ministry of Justice to do everything in its power to bring the perpetrators to justice. as soon as possible. These attacks, mainly against women and girls, must stop, ”the group said in a statement last year.
The group said it was deeply troubled by the persistent sexual and gender-based violence and attacks on women and girls amid the COVID-19 crisis.
“We expect everyone to be practicing social distancing at such a time, but the huge increase in cases of sexual and gender-based violence is jeopardizing the fight against COVID-19,” the group said.
These rather disturbing events take place amid growing campaigns against rape and gender-based violence across the country, championed in part by the government, international partners and civil society organizations. Some have accused the justice system of not doing enough to protect women and condemned a culture of victim blame.
Rape is punishable by five to ten years in prison or up to more than 20 years if committed against a minor. The law makes rape a non surety offense. Women’s rights activists like AFELL have said that convictions are hard to come by and that poverty and a culture of shame often discourage victims from coming forward.
“It’s the societal factors that hinder justice more than the legal mechanism, although the latter never helps anyway,” Atty said. Joa.
Meanwhile, Sinoe County Gender Coordinator Julie Tetteh is appealing for help as the state of Patience, 22, who received medical treatment at the JF Grant Referral Center in the provincial capital, Greenville, gets worse by the day. She says the hospital lacks medicine and other basic supplies.
“We want Patience to be transferred to Monrovia as soon as possible so that she can seek better treatment,” Tetteh told reporters last week.
This story was produced with the support of Journalists for Human Rights (JDH), through media mobilization in the fight against COVID-19 in partnership with FrontPage Africa.