Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mass rapes continue in Liberia

Despite ending over five years ago, one ugly thing from the civil war in Liberia remains; mass rapes. Occurring regularly during the war, the men who were desensitized to it, continue to rape young women during peace time.

From this op-ed piece in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof visited Liberia to explore the problem.

In modern times, we’ve seen mass rape as an element of warfare in Congo, Darfur, Bosnia, Rwanda, Liberia — but the lesson here in Liberia in West Africa is that even when the fighting ends, the rape continues. And that brings us to Jackie, a lovely 7-year-old with tight braids and watchful eyes.

Jackie is too young to remember the 14-year civil war in Liberia, from 1989 to 2003, when as many as three-fourths of women were raped. Jackie’s world is one of a bustling, recovering Liberia with a free press and democratically elected leaders.

Yet somehow mass rape survived the end of the war; it has been easier to get men to relinquish their guns than their sense of sexual entitlement. So the security guard at Jackie’s school, a man in his 50s, took the little girl to the beach where, she said, he stripped her and raped her. Finally, he ran off as she lay bleeding and sobbing on the sand.

“I couldn’t walk well, so they took me to hospital,” Jackie told me. It was worse than that: She was hemorrhaging, and the hospital couldn’t stop it. So Jackie was rushed in critical condition to Monrovia’s largest hospital, where she spent weeks recovering.

Jackie is now in a shelter for survivors of sexual violence — and what staggered me is that so many of the girls are pre-teens. A 3-year-old survivor has just moved out, but Jackie jumps rope with girls aged 8 to 11.

Of course, children are raped everywhere, but what is happening in Liberia is different. The war seems to have shattered norms and trained some men to think that when they want sex, they need simply to overpower a girl. Or at school, girls sometimes find that to get good grades, they must have sex with their teachers.

“Rape is a scar that the war left behind,” said Dixon Jlateh, an officer in the national police unit dealing with sexual violence. “Sexual violence is a direct product of the war.”

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