Liberia: Former Gender Minister Commends Gov’t Reopening of MTM Rape Case

Former Gender Minister Julia Duncan Cassell

Monrovia – Former Gender Minister Julia Duncan Cassell has commended the government for reopening of the rape case at the More Than Me Academy in Liberia. Madam Cassell commendation came in a statement issued in Monrovia over the weekend.

While the case is being re-opened, the former minister asked the media to respect the safety, security, confidentiality, and dignity of the survivors while reporting the issues. She frowned on some irresponsible media reports that blamed the ministry for neglecting the children who were abused at More Than Me.

The ministry, she said, has a mandate to prevent, protect and report sexual and gender-based violence. The Ministry does not have the authority to arrest or prosecute in such matter, but rather work closely with the Ministry of Justice and other line ministries and agencies.

According to the former Minister, in 2014 the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection received a tip about abuses by a predator at the More Than Me Academy and immediately responded through its SGBV Division by using the Referral Pathway (RP). The RP is an emergency response mechanism put in place by the Ministry for reporting, providing assistance and care (health & counseling) to survivors/victims of rape incidents across the country.

Following preliminary fact gathering and considering the initially reported numbers (10) of girls, the matter was elevated to the SGBV Task Force comprising the Liberia National Police, Ministry of Justice, MICAT, Health, Education, Youths & Sports, Criminal Court E, NGO Secretariat, and civil society.

During the fact-finding process, it was established that 10 of the girls were sexually abused, and the alleged perpetrator was identified, arrested, and turned over to the LNP and the Ministry of Justice for further investigation; the Ministry of Gender, Education, Youths & Sports along with SGBV actors provided care and protection to the victims while the ministry monitored their progress. However, let it be cleared that it was during the period that Liberia became Ground Zero for Ebola; hence all attention and emergency efforts were directed towards combating the epidemic once the alleged perpetrator was behind bars and the girls in safe care.

The release quotes Madam Cassell as saying; “The reopening of the case is a warning to all sexual predators that they will be held accountable for their crimes and the full weight of the law will be applied. Additionally, this would set a precedent that will compel institutions providing services for vulnerable girls to implement strong SGBV policies and guidelines for zero tolerance of abuse of girls in their care, as well as enhancing their monitoring capabilities. The More Than Me Academy saga is unfortunate and sad, but the Campaign is on and will not stop until justice is served. This is an urgent time to say NO to toxic and violent behavior against women and girls in our society.”

Former Minister Cassell credited the leadership of Madam Sirleaf for putting in place a mechanism that addresses the physical and emotional consequences of gender-based violence. She maintained that prevention, response and access to justice for victims & survivors were of crucial concern to her administration. She believes President George Weah is on track with advancing the gains made by his predecessor and as Champion of Liberia’s HeForShe Campaign, the president will do everything within his powers to protect women and girls across the country.