MONROVIA, 18 December 2020 – Rights groups have appealed anew to Liberian President George Weah to deliver on his promise to treat rape as a national emergency.

In a speech launching the anti-abuse roadmap last September in the capital, Monrovia, President Weah promised to improve support to rape survivors.

He also pledged to strengthen the country’s prosecution system to ensure that it effectively holds sex offenders accountable.

Benita Urey – Photo The Echo

Few concrete steps have been taken to address the issue, rights activist, Benita Urey, said Friday in Monrovia.

The appointment of a Special Prosecutor for rape, the creation of a National Sex Offenders Registry, and the establishment of a National Security Task Force on Sezual and Gender-Based Violence are all now stalled initiatives,” said a disappointed Benita Urey, a 22-year-old student, blogger and charity worker.

Urey pointed out that sexual and gender-based violence was hardly mentioned during the country’s recently concluded senatorial elections.

In his September speech, President Weah had acknowledged the “alarming increase in rape and sexual and gender-based violence in recent times, especially during a time when we are at war with the deadly COVID-19 pandemic”.

The country was shocked in August 2020 by sexual assault of a three-year-old girl who was sexually violated by a 15-year-old high school student.

Protest Against Rape, Monrovia – Photo ProPublica

The three-year-old was lured away from the central water pump in her grandmother’s village of Gbarpolu in the northern part of the country.

The attack sparked public outrage and led to three days of protest in the capital, Monrovia.

Between January and July 2020, more than 150 sexual and gender-based violent crimes were forwarded to Criminal Court E, the designated court for sex crimes.

That number is double the number of such crimes over the same period in 2019, according to Isaac George, director of the sexual and gender-based violent crimes unit.

The New Humanitarian cites Liberia’s Deputy Minister for Gender Alice Johnson Howard as saying she sees the increase in Liberia’s rape figures as reflecting a greater public awareness and faith in the justice system.

“People now now where to go to report and how to report,” Johnson Howard told The New Humanitarian.

Rights activists disagree, insisting that there is a pandemic of rape, likely made worse by the COVID-19 lockdowns and curfews.

“All of us have friends who have been raped, by their fathers, by their stepfathers, by their friends, by their uncles,” said Urey.

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