The term “sexual violence as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) is “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person's sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.” Sexual violence against female students has become extremely prevalent in secondary schools and higher institutions in Sierra Leone. Slowly, this silent but chronic disease is crippling the educational system, while the victims mostly female are emotionally affected, thereby plummeting their self-esteem.
The perpetrators of this sinful act are mostly male teachers and/or lecturers depending on the institution of learning. This degrading act by teachers includes sexual jokes, unwanted touching of the breasts, waists, or pinching sensitive areas and/or having sexual intercourse with students. The students are compensated with high or passing grades to keep them silent. If they do not corporate they are threatened about failing or receiving lower grades. What these culprits do not understand is that they are sending the wrong message to these young adults that sexual abuse is “normal”. Students, who find such diabolical conduct appalling, usually make an attempt to report to the authorities or parents who do not treat their complaints with the seriousness and urgency they deserve.
UNDP Deputy Country Director, Mr. Samuel Harbor, recently pointed out that “By the end of her lifespan, nearly all Sierra Leonean women will suffer some form of sexual or gender-based violence” (un.org). Although SGBV is considered a punishable offence in Sierra Leone, latest figures show that out of nearly 1,000 sexual abuse and over 1,500 domestic violence cases reported in 2009, there were no convictions (un.org). An online article by New York Times Sex Abuse of Girls Is Stubborn Scourge in Africa stated that, “the number of abuse cases is rising in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, Sierra Leone and other African countries, statistics show”(nytimes.com).
Society can no longer be silent, school administrators, teachers, students, parents and the government need to timely intervene in this pandemic which is demoralizing our young women, girls and even boys/men who pimp the girls for the teachers or lecturers. We, the voices of the voiceless should speak up against this insensitive sexual violence against female students in Sierra Leone.
A call for action by all women organizations, advocates for the education and protection of the girl/child, youth organizations, political pressure groups to publicly denounce this fast growing act in Sierra Leone is paramount. Preponderant on these groups' agendas is to demand that the government of Sierra Leone put measures in place to eradicate this gruesome misbehavior and punish the perpetrators in both the urban and rural areas.
According to Amnestyusa.org, “all victims and survivors of crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws are entitled to justice and reparations”.