To grow up in Sierra Leone as a girl child through adulthood without being molested, abused, sexually harassed or raped is a privilege, a big flex actually. It seems as if women are meer sheep among wolves and this sick notion is only getting worse, even after the presidential proclamation about rape. My heart weeps for myself, my heart weeps for Khadija Madinatu Saccoh, and for all the Khadijas who died through this inhumane act without anyone knowing. For those who lived to tell their stories, yet no one believed them. For those who told their stories but were gaslighted and blamed for being raped.
I see no justification for this sick act of rape, none at all. It is just selfishness and cowardice in the first degree by those who commit rape. But, then the most distasteful part is the hypocrisy of some of our leaders. They will come out and shout with the people, meanwhile, not making the necessary decisions that will help us see a downward spiral of these cases. They know the longest these shouting will last for is a week. After that, life will go back to normal and Sierra Leoneans will forget or pretend this never happened. They feign to be oblivious to how much of a problem RAPE is in a small nation like ours. Rape culture is deeply embedded in our society, and most times perpetrated by people the victims know. Most times these are people with power or people that are associated with power; traditionally, socially, religiously and politically. Rape is prevalent in Sierra Leone and mostly committed by family members, family friends and neighbours, but this does not mean strangers don’t commit these crimes.
We grew up hearing stories of fathers raping their daughters and people manufacturing phrases like “udat cook soup na ein first de taste am.” Interpreted as the cook is the first to taste his sauce. Instead of bringing them to book, these stories are humourized by our communities. We grew up in a society where men see a day-old girl child as a potential wife. We grew up in a society where men think it is normal to touch the woman’s body inappropriately in offices and other public spaces. A society wherein male bosses use sexual advances as a tool to intimidate female employees. A society where women are seen first as an object before anything else. A society where neighbours observe these happenings but turn a blind eye, in the guise of minding their businesses. A society where people would birth a child and think it’s the responsibilities of others to train them. A society where parents think it is the responsibility of the children to fend for them. A society filled with rapists and paedophiles preying on vulnerable young girls. They are known in these communities yet community members chose to ignore them, why? A society where children are giving out to family members, acquaintances, friends to train (referred to in Sierra Leone as “menh Pekin”). These children suffer the brunt of this barbaric act.
We all have failed ourselves, we have failed this generation, our leaders have failed us, those in decision making positions have failed us, especially, the rape apologists who by their actions or inactions are normalizing rape and the rape culture. Now let look at what rape is and the other things that can be classified as such;
RAPE– is a form of sexual aggression involving violent penetration without personal consent.
SEXUAL ASSAULT is a form of rape– it is when a man knowingly touches a girl/woman in a sexually motivated manner without the girl/woman consent. This can include intimidation or causing the woman to engage in sexual activity when she will rather not.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT is a form of rape– it is making undesirable and improper sexual comments or advances in any situation.
We all have seen the recurring topic here is CONSENT. Now, what is consent? For every literate woman or man reading this;
CONSENT here means actively agreeing or accepting to be sexual with a man. But bear in mind, consent cannot be given by a child, a minor, a girl below eighteen years. Consent cannot be given by an individual who has an intellectual disability. Consent cannot be given by a girl/woman who is challenged or intoxicated. Consent cannot be given by a girl/woman who is unconscious.
So sleeping with a woman who is drunk is rape. Sleeping with a girl below eighteen is rape. Touching a girl/woman’s vagina while she is asleep is rape. Compelling a girl/woman after she has said no, is rape.
Even though this happens less often than with girls and women. The Boychild can be raped as well, by a fellow man or woman. Someone who is married can be raped, A person in a relationship can be rape by the partner. No man has the right to force a woman to have sex without her consent.
Meanwhile, there are some actions that are not rape but are still forms of sexual abuse and add to promoting the rape culture, such as;
1. Rape Apologist: A rape apologist can be of any gender that endorses the acts of rape, usually by arguing that rape is not a significant crime or that people do not need to give approval before sex. Any individual who indicates that women may be able to take precautions to reduce their chances of being raped, such as carrying a hidden weapon for self-protection or avoiding places where a rape crime is likely while alone at night.
2. Victim Shaming/Blaming
3. Jokes about rape
4. Catcalling Women
5. Nonconsensual removal of condoms
6. Revenge Porn
There is a lot of advocacy and social work on rape and other gender-based violence in Sierra Leone. What I have not seen is engaging the men in our communities of their actions and to create awareness, education, and engagement targeted at them on the grassroots level.
What I have not seen is mothers/ women paying more attention to their daughters and learning to listen to them, they should try to investigate their every concern. Teaching them to know about their bodies, having the sex talk with them, teach them to be comfortable with their Vaginas, train them on how to look for the signs of rape or abuse, such as what’s appropriate and inappropriate touches by the opposite sex is our best bet.
What I have not seen is the creation of programs directed at teaching parents, the village elders and community members about rape, its effect on the victims and it’s implications on the society as a whole. The criminality of the act and the punitive measures for those who commit these offences and those that may try to sweep it under the carpet.
What I have not seen is teaching girls that rape is not normal, and to speak up and speak out to someone, when they are faced with such situations. Girls mostly, cannot defend themselves against these perpetrators who are likely to be physically stronger than them.
What I have not seen is the forming of women groups and training them on how to detect the signs of rape and abuse and how to look out for these signs among girls within their communities. They could be young women who have taken a leadership position in our communities. They may also act as a medium with whom these victims may feel safe to report or open up to about these incidents. If they are afraid or frightened to talk to anyone else at home. These women will then forward these cases to the appropriate law institutions.
What I have not seen is Providing community health workers with the training on how to diagnose and treat rape cases, provide rape kits for community health centres. The government or NGOs should try to establish more Rainbow centres all around the country. Whose job will not only be to treat rape victims, but also to engage in awareness and educational activities in these communities. Develop laws, reform outdated laws, empowering law institutions and law officers especially, on rape cases. Develop proper punitive measures, charged rape cases to court, monitor and make sure that the courts treat rape cases with the required urgency they need. Set examples with guilty perpetrators and see the actual result.
Are we not tired of merely giving lip service to rape issues in the country? Are we not tired of not getting the answers we need? Are we not tired of protesting with no much result? Are we not tired of seeing culprits walking freely after a short period of time? We need actual results, we need answers and we need it now.
@By Rahima Vandy Kargbo known as dasalonetiti Rahima
Reference Sources; Wikipedia, Merriam-Webster dictionary, Brittanica.