LIBERIA: After Punishment, Stigmatize Rapists As Deterrence

Monday, May 6, 2013
Western Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

Throughout the lengthy regime of President Tubman, murder and rape were considered two terrible crimes that warranted not only drastic punishment for perpetrators, but they were permanently stigmatized in society.

Because the laws against these two despicable crimes were tough culminating in harsh punishment for convicts who lived with indelible stigma even after undergoing lawful penalties, most people did everything possible to avoid involvement in these crimes.

As a result, people being harshly treated for committing crimes other than murder and rape often cried: "Why am I being treated like this? I did not kill or rape", crimes considered very grave in society.

With the full knowledge that rape and murder cases were beyond their jurisdiction under the defunct Interior Regulations, district commissioners and traditional leaders simply arrested defendants in those cases and promptly forwarded them to the office of County Attorneys of their respective counties for appropriation judgment.

Convicted rapists, upon return to their villages following lawful punishment, were permanently ostracized, thus suffering the stigma more than the penalty already borne.

Avoidance of these waiting scars of rape was essential in reinforcing the strict observance of moral rectitude in society, and children listened when parents instilled such lessons in them. But the singsong of youngsters nowadays is "I don't want to know." How can moral decency be instilled in people whose adamant motto is they "don't want to know?"

What we are saying is that reports of rape cases were not as prevalent in those days as we have these days. Girls then chanted the message instilled in them to avoid trouble: "I was passing by, and my aunty called me by; and she said to me; take time in life... " People who do not want to know, can they take time in life?

Nevertheless, here is where we desire answers from morality scientists about this negative trend that is fast overwhelming our society, despite reinforcement in the legal system now than never before to deal specifically with rape cases.

Fine, the government last week began groping for the causes of rape and gender-based violence as it launched an anti-rape campaign intended to cover the entire nation.

Being that the search for the root causes of the escalation in rape cases began with no scientific studies, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf promptly refuted a suggestion by Chief Zanzan Karwah, head of the traditional Council of Liberia, saying the dress code of some women often makes them susceptible to rape.

The chief denounced rape against women, girls and children, but said females should respect their parents and dress in a proper manner that detracts the possibilities of rape.

"We want our children to dress properly," Chief Karwah said, adding: "We're against this act. But, our children, too, are taking no longer taking respect from their parents. The human rights business, too, is spoiling everything. Men who are raping must be put in jail. But our children, too, must observe their dress code."

Visibly angered by the chief's observation, President Sirleaf rebuked him to sensitize his fellow chiefs nationwide that no amount of dress code should justify rape and sexual molestation against women and children.

"Chief Zanzan Karwah, I say no. It is not because of the dress code. This is not the issue. However they want to dress should not be the issue. Rape is a crime and is wrong," she declared, stressing: "I want you to go and tell your chiefs and everyone that rape is a crime. People should stop raping our children because they're our future leaders."

"We've fallen short when it comes to prosecuting rape cases," the President lamented, warning: "If the judges cannot act, I think we need to find some unorthodox means in order to address this issue."

But there is need for a scientific research and study of the escalation in rape cases in Liberia that should be accompanied by appropriate recommendations.

We suggest the newfound dress style by many girls leaving titillating parts of their body hardly covered and the effect of moral decay, rampant alcoholism and drug abuse that females oblivious of value systems should feature prominently in the anti-rape campaign.

Adolescents, who cry of being unemployed, curse daylight to usher in dusk when they can hurry in thousands to many so-called clubs in Monrovia and its suburbs to drink alcohol under high pitch music unhealthy for the tympanum.

On the other hand, police have become virtually overwhelmed about how almost anywhere is nowadays a ghetto where promising youths resign their consciences and ego to the use of illicit drugs that will harden their resolve to commit hardcore crimes including rape.