Monrovia, Liberia- Our Liberia society has been plagued by many social issues since the birth of our nation. In time past, especially pre-war years, many of these issues could not be brought to public attention either because of traditional beliefs, or the power at play at the moment. Although most of these social issues have had many victims, deliberately ignoring some of these issues have turned them into morally accepted practices; such is the case of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. The Liberian Billboard editorial desk have been studying and writes an analysis.
When a person with power or influence takes advantage of another person sexuality and attractiveness to make a personal gain or profit, it is known as Sexual Exploitation. There are many forms of sexual exploitation, which in our Liberian society, we ignore. Pertinent among the forms of sexual exploitation that affect our society are: rape, tricked or manipulative sexual encounters and sexual assaults. Of recent, revenge porn entered the fray, but has gone down to some extent since there was a wild public outcry.
Since rape became a felony in December of 2005, the law has only done more exposure of the issue, than actual prosecution. Many people charged or accused with rape had either walked free or cases settled in communities among families. On several occasions where rape cases have been forwarded to court, defendants were let go either by what judges or investigators called lack of evidence, or the case being withdrawn by family members. In some instances where a victim would have wanted to pursue a case to the end, if that particular case involved a government official or someone who had connections and influence, investigators in the police would most often not even charge the accused. For instance, Rep. Prince Moye, now Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Liberian Legislature was accused of rape in November 2016 by a 16-year old. After the victim’s family carried her to the C.H. Rennie Hospital and a report concluded that she was sexually active, the Liberian National Police concluded that they could not substantiate any rape allegations against the Representative because the Women And Children Protection Services of the RIA Police depot findings could not be corroborated and was inconsistent. Representative, now Deputy Speaker Moye was never charged in that case.
Another lawmaker, Morias Waylee of Grand Gedeh County was accused of impregnating a 13-year old girl in 2017. Investigation conducted by the Gender Ministry corroborated the abuse based on statements from witnesses, including the hospital where she gave birth. However, the lawmaker in connection with local elders and victim’s family hid the victim, and the Gender Ministry last effort to locate the victim was referring the case to the an Assistant Minister of Internal Affairs with an excuse of the case being a traditional one. Up to now, the 13-year old victim has never been located, and former Representative Morias Waylee was freed on bail and walks around freely. In June of this year, there were discussions by prosecutors to drop the case since the victim could not be located. As of today’s date, there have been no real efforts by the past government and the present one to locate the victim.
The instances mentioned above are just two of how many rape cases in Liberia are handled, and perpetrators, who are almost always men are allowed to walk scout free.
Unlike how rape is well understood in the Liberian society, the other two common forms of Sexual Exploitation still need a lot of awareness and education done. Amazingly, these are the two most common forms of Sexual Exploitation perpetrated against victims, who are mostly females. Sexual assaults are usually aligned with rape because both of them involve force. Meanwhile, the most ignored form of Sexual Exploitation is tricked or manipulative sexual encounter, and is the most prevalent in our Liberian society. In fact, tricked and manipulative sexual encounters by Liberian men has almost been accepted as a social norm. Female victims most often intentionally or unknowingly accept it based on economic situations. This form of sexual exploitation can be found in all sectors of the Liberian society; from families, to religious institutions, transcending to schools, as well as the private and public sectors. Another fact about tricked or manipulative sexual encounter is, officials and employees of government are the highest perpetrators of this act, since in reality, the government is the largest employer in Liberia.
As we are aware, Liberia is listed on the poverty index as one of the poorest countries in the world. The economic situation in Liberia has placed many young women in the state of vulnerability. As prostitution is unlawful in Liberia, most young Liberian women see sex for favors as goodwill on the part of the men in power or influence. Most times, these women don’t intentionally get into sexual encounters or relationships with powerful or influential men, but because these men create a manipulative environment, where they present themselves as crossovers to success for these women, they fall for it. For instance, if a young girl who family does not have money to send her to University is seeking a scholarship, and the individual who has approval powers of that particular scholarship make a sexual advancement or request to her, she easily falls to it, based on the limited amount of scholarships available. In most cases, these young women see it as being normal, thereby making Liberian men to stamp those behaviors as normal practices. Many young Liberian women are unknowingly exploited by older, and most often economically well-off men because of economic reasons. In our common Liberian slogan, these men are referred to as “Godpas”. In schools, male teachers will offer sex for grades to vulnerable females, while some religious practices in Liberia still see young women being married off to older men by their parents, most often, because of economic reasons.
Sexual Exploitation is frequent and constantly ignored in Liberia because, the perpetrators are often men found in position of power; simply put. A recent case involving the Deputy Director of the Liberia Water and Sewer, Moseray Momoh is an example. The victim accused Momoh of promising her a job, lured her to a hotel and forcibly had sex with her. This case which is still with the Women And Children Protection Services of the Liberia National Police, is stagnated because according to the victim, she was told by investigators of the police that the case won’t amount to anything as a result of his (Momoh) position in government; and that is a fact because the victim is still crying for justice. Like the cases of Deputy Speaker Moye and that of Morias Waylee, this one is on its way down the drain too.
Recently, President George Weah made a case for the right of Liberian women at the European Development Days Summit in a well written speech. If the President really meant what he spoke, it is time to start identifying and prosecuting perpetrators of sexual crimes. In addition, the Ministry of Gender needs to focus more resources on Sexual Exploitation and Gender Based Violence awareness. Most of these young Liberian women do not know that they are being abused. They see these favors being offered them by these men as opportunities. Furthermore, the government needs to invest large resources in women empowerment. Most of grandmothers, aunts, sisters and mothers have been victims of these occurrences. This is a long running problem in Liberia, but in recent time have gotten on the rise. The rape law and all other laws that protect women need to be implemented fully.
Until all of the above are done, Liberian Men will continue to see Sexual Exploitation and Abuse as status quo. And unfortunately, Liberian women will continue to be victims of all forms of abuses.