On February 7 2019, the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone; Julius Maada Bio declared Rape and Sexual Violence as a National Emergency. This was triggered by the highly publicized case of the 5 year old girl who was raped by her 28 year old uncle and left paralyzed from the waist down.
Though the national emergency brought about an amount of cognizance of the embedded rape culture Sierra Leone not only has but protects and enables, it started the momentum to amend the Sexual Offenses Act of 2012, but even at that it is not enough.
Police statistics of the Family Support Unit (FSU) reported in 2019 there were 3,252 recorded sexual penetration cases in Sierra Leone. In 2018, the Rainbo Centres recorded 3,137 cases sexual and physical assaults nationwide with the youngest survivor being 12 months old and the youngest pregnancy as a result of rape being 12 years old.
Let that sink in.
I cannot fathom what the statistics of sexual violence that will be recorded in 2020 with COVID-19 leaving many victims with no safe spaces at home with their predators. And for those who do not or cannot report, we can only dare to imagine the numbers.
More than a year later, on June 20 2020, the Sierra Leonean digital space was overwhelmed with yet another rape of a 5 year old child that led to her death. Kadijah was raped and killed by her cousin and this has led for the demand for justice, reform of laws and protests in the capital Freetown and as a country.
All over the world, citizens have taken to the street to demand social justice from their governments, with Sierra Leone being no exception in the past.
Today, Monday June 22 2020, activists and sympathizers demonstrated peacefully as they stood outside the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Headquarters in Freetown demanding #JusticeForKadijah. Many of them were arrested without being told what they were arrested for and were later released. Many went to Twitter and Facebook to reach out for the intervention of lawyers and recorded their arrests. Poet, writer and activist Adeola Carew tweeted her experience this morning about the details of her arrest:
With COVID-19, Sierra Leone has declared a State of Emergency and under this ban no public gatherings are to take place and all protests and demonstrations are to receive police clearance first. This is a well known fact, but the abuse of power and hypocrisy on a human rights issue is what baffles many of us this morning. Sierra Leone has lent its voice internationally to speak on the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the United States on police brutality and with the same mouth it proceeds to repress voices at home. Do #BlackLives of girls and women not matter at home at the hands of the police?
So, where do we go from here?
As an activist and director of a safe space for adolescent girls, in our line of work Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) when huge public outrage over an incident or case occurs many organizations and individuals want to be first “responders” when really their actions are reactionary because the hype dies down in a week or two. It is not enough to be fed up and sick now and then forget about it, because these issues will continue to resurface as it is ingrained in our society.
It is ok to protest, it is ok want to help, it is ok to be angry and disgusted, it is ok to be tired but it is not ok to capitalize on the exploitation of someone’s worth for your own relevance or to enhance your cause. It is not ok to overlook the plight of other victims, today its Kadijah, but tomorrow? Next month? What about last year and 5 years ago?
It is not ok to stop discussions around SGBV because it makes some “uncomfortable”. These are the discussions to be had in our society as Sierra Leone enables and protects #rapeculture. These pedophiles and perpetrators more often are those you know than those you don’t. They are the ones you hang out with, confide in and with whom you are intimate.
If you’re feeling hopeless, what can you do?
Talk to the men and boys in your circle and community about the rights of women's and girls’ bodies, dignity & safety.
Sensitize girls on danger signs of predators and pedophiles.
Incorporate these as life skills and gender mainstream them into formal education.
Reach out to your councilor or MP on SGBV and lobby for legislature and policy changes.
BELIEVE VICTIMS WHEN THEY REACH OUT, this will aid them on their healing journey to becoming survivors and to encourage others to tell their stories to help others.
Learn to detect signs of sexual abuse when you notice a person’s behavior has drastically changed.
Do not allow JUST anyone to take care of your children. Parents, guardians and caregivers talk to your children about inappropriate touching, language and behavior.
Support the work of Rainbo Centres and Aberdeen Women Centre who provide free psycho-social support, trauma and care for victims and survivors.
Volunteer with organizations or clubs working in SGBV and that support underserved youth.
Enroll girls and women in self defense classes and teach boys and men not to rape and have discussions on consent!
Encourage children to be vocal so they can talk when they’re inappropriately touched or talked to
Educate yourself on the issues because chances are you are perpetuating #rapeculture
For men, confront your "friends" who are dating PEKITOS! (underaged girls!)
Be open to learning more and do not invalidate others experiences if you have been fortunate to not be a victim of sexual and gender based violence.
Most importantly, do not let this die! We have to keep talking about SGBV in our societies in ALL forms. When more than half of our population is denied dignity and seen as a sex object and NOT as human that is a HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUE! It’s not political!
Kadijah was 5.
She was only 5.
Kadijah's [alleged] rapist as well as her female guardian are reported to be in police custody and the investigation is in process.