Liberia’s Inexcusable Cases of Rape

Tee Wonokay

Rape is defined as a sexual assault carried out against a person without their consent, or the use of physical force, abuse of a position of authority, coercion, etc, to impose oneself on another person who does not have the genuine ability to consent.

Tee Wonokay, Executive Director/FOHRD [email protected] 

In some instances, victims of rape may be incapable of providing a valid consent due to being unconscious, incapacitated, having intellectual disability, or not being at the legal age to consent.

But what ever the case maybe, society owes it to its people (especially the most vulnerable population), to protect them against people who intent to hurt them.

So, laws exist in part so that our communities are not likened to animal kingdom where the ‘strong survives.’ But sadly in Liberia, victims of sexual violence usually long for help that never comes in time.

It was only after countless cases of public outcry between 2002 and 2005, that Chapter 14 Section 7 of the Penal Law of Liberia was amended in 2005 to specifically indicate that statutory rape was a first degree felony, a non-billable offense punishable by life imprisonment. 

The hope that many people had was that the amended law, due to its harsh terms, would make many people not even think about committing this (rape) crime, but now more than ever before, rapists are on the rampage and going not just after every age group of teenagers, but little babes including nine months old have recently been raped in Liberia.

Even though rape is a non-bailable offence, several rape cases in Liberia continue to get bailed since the law was passed, for instance, the 42-year-old perpetrator in the 2018 case involving the raping of a nine months old child in Bahn, Nimba County, was let out on bail. 

So, in my view, the biggest obstacle when it comes to dealing with the rape problem in Liberia is the judicial system and law enforcement agencies. They are the ones who have disappointed victims and their families the most by their repeated failure to enforce existing rape laws, and this failure is causing the number of rape cases to skyrocket.

From January 2020 to now, Liberia has actually recorded more than a thousand cases of rape, this astronomical spike in the number of rape cases would definitely not be possible if those responsible for these heinous crimes were paying the high price outlined in the revised penal law of Liberia.

This should claim the attention of every civilized person who especially cares about human dignity and equal justice under the law, women groups, civil society organizations, and religious institutions should all work concomitantly to tackle the issues of rape.

While we commend the Liberian Government’s recent action of declaring rape a national emergency, the Foundation For Human Rights Defense believes that much more tangible actions, including a “whole of government” response that brings to bear the full capabilities of law enforcement agencies, supported by the judicial system should click into action.

FORHD acknowledges that poverty, corruption, logistical and financial constraints, as well as general institutional weakness, contribute importantly to the increase in the occurrences of rape in Liberia, but those issues cannot provide justifiable defense for such actions. The scourge of rape in Liberia can definitely be mitigated through a synchronized institutional framework.  

Towards this end, FOHRD calls on the Liberian Government to establish an Independent Anti-rape Commission, which will centrally focus on all issues concerning rape. 

This commission must have included in its terms of reference among other tasks, the organizational, logistical, financial, and human resource structure needed for the purpose of assisting rape victims in the legal process to insure that perpetrators do not go with impunity.