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Increase in rape cases: Why victims shy away from prosecuting perpetrators

August 11, 2016 By Regina Pratt (IWPR Fellow)

The Sierra Leone Law Courts

Saffie Kay (not real name), a victim of rape from Towama Bo, was in tears when I visited her in their makeshift structure. According to her, she was raped by her uncle but that the matter was resolved on family grounds so that it could not affect her future.

“Uncle Kamara raped me…but the matter has been resolved internally. My dad did not want to involve the police, so that my future will not be affected,” Saffie says.

The increase in rape cases and sexual penetration in Sierra Leone has become a daily reported case at the Family Support Unit (FSU), the arm of the Sierra Leone police that deals with gender and sexual violence. However, victims of sexual violence have continued to shy away from prosecuting their perpetrators in the court of law, because of fear of media publicity or interference with the prosecution in the case.

The 2014 National Crime Statistics (NCS) obtained from the FSU for major offences shows that sexual penetration accounts for 2,124 and rape cases account for 77. In 2015, the NCS says there are no data available because of the Ebola virus that ravaged the country.

According to the Sexual offences Act of 2012, section 6: “A person who intentionally commits an act of sexual penetration without the consent of the other party has commit an offence of rape and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not less than five years and not exceeding fifteen years.”

The dimension that rape cases are taking looks scaring. In Bo City, Southern Sierra Leone, there are reported cases of rapes committed by members of cliques. Superintendent Muctarr Mahdi, Bo City Deputy Police Chief, confirmed the rape cases.

“This ugly incident happens within the township when these boys [clique boys] started their atrocities…investigations are ongoing….I shall comment on the matter much later,” says Superintendent Mahdi.

There is also the issue of an alleged sexual penetration in Bo, where a 34-year-old man defiled an 11-year-old girl. The mother of the rape victim, Hawanatu Jalloh, a nurse working with the government hospital, when contacted declined to make comments on the issue, saying “I can’t say anything about my daughter. This is a big embarrassment to my family. I am not comfortable talking about my daughter to the public. I am taking care of her at home,” she says.

Extrajudicial settlements

In Sierra Leone, when a case of rape or sexual penetration is reported by a victim, police officers attached to the FSU are drafted in to investigate whether it is a criminal offence.

Isata Bundu, 16, who resides in Tengbeh Town, Western Urban Sierra Leone, says the issue of rape cases is affecting the minds of teenage girls although they do not discuss this menace in their leisure time with their parents who are suppose to help them get justice.

An FSU officer in Bo, who prefers anonymity, reinforces Isatu’s concerns. “Some of the problems they [teenage girls] are faced with are that some parents do not show up to continue investigations into the cases,” adding that they cannot pursue such cases if the victim is not prepared to continue with the matter as it is sometimes difficult to prosecute in a court of law.

“You cannot prosecute a case when the principal witness is not prepared to give evidence on such case…at times even when some of them do make statement to police and a medical report is issued they do not return with the signed reports again,” he says, adding, “because of the long distance that some of them [victims and parents] have to travel, they prefer taking their cases to the chiefs in their villages for settlement.”

The Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) stated in one of their releases that some parents compromise the cases, either because they have been bribed by the accused or offered a pleasant promise, thus denying the rights of raped victims, mostly very young girls.

The article also states that some family members even receive monies from the perpetrator and stop pursuing the latter’s conviction, failing to realise the effect this attitude will have on the girl later in life and even in the community as a whole, since it will encourage recurrence of the act once perpetrators continue to evade justice.

This corroborates the FSU officer’s remarks that some parents do not show up because they have received cash or and also because of some traditional beliefs they stick to.

Speaking to the FSU administrative officer-in-charge of Freetown, Detective Sergeant Rita Kamara, she confirms that there is indeed an increase of about 85% rape cases and sexual penetration in the country, noting that some of the victims do not report again so that they could speed up their investigations into the cases.

“We conduct preliminary investigations into cases of rape and sexual penetrations by obtaining statement from the victim and then prepare a medical report to one of our line partners, the Rainbow Medical Clinic, for further medical investigations, before we continue further investigation against the perpetrator,” explains Detective Kamara.

Detective Kamara also says there is a difference between rape and sexual penetration, but that rape and all sexual penetration related offences are criminal offenses in the country, stating that a child below 18 who is sexually assaulted by an adult is sexual penetration, whilst an adult who forcefully has sex with another adult without their consent is rape.

“As a unit, we are doing all we can to ensure that justice is given to the victims, after the medical reports are received from the Rainbow Medical Clinic. The medical reports help us to conclude our investigations before the files are taken to the Director of Public Prosecution to peruse them and make recommendations on the report,” Detective Kamara adds.

He also says that even if there is consent, whether rape or sexual penetration, the law will take its course, as the FSU will investigate the criminal aspect of the case, adding that cases are charged to court after receiving medical report from the Rainbow Clinic.

“The penalty should be life imprisonment because of the stigma on the victim do cause some of them to shy away from prosecution,” she argues.

A staff at the Rainbow Medical Clinic says all victims sent to them for medical examinations are done in secret and sent back to the Family Support unit for onward investigations into the matter.

She says they cannot give data as it is the police that should release data on rape cases.  “Some of the victims do not report for examination,” she adds.

Speaking with one of the desk officials at Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equal Right and Social Justice (LAWYERS), Jamir Dumbuya, he said: “The police uses whatever investigation and statement they get from the victim to charge the perpetrator to court, and that in some cases the victims do not appear to prosecute the alleged perpetrator.”

He also said that a main instrument that will help sexual penetration and rape cases to be thoroughly investigated and charges levied according to results, is a forensic expert who would assist medical personnel to further prove if indeed there was an act done by the perpetrator.

Founder of Women’s Centre for Good Governance and Human Rights (WOCEGAR), at Station Road, Makeni, Madam Mary Conteh, says some of these cases [rape] are not factual as it could be a setup by the victim to tarnish the character of the perpetrator.

“Victims at times are not sincere, especially the sex workers. Some of them do makeup stories that are not true, as sometime they do have disagreement with some of their clients over payments and if she is not paid accordingly, she will report to the police that she was raped,” Madam Conteh avers.

According to her, some of the perpetrators of rape and sexual penetration go scot free, leaving victims quite unhappy with the outcome of the trial. The police have the legal mandate to investigate and prosecute those cases in the court of law. “Our own opinion about some of these cases is that they are not properly investigated due to interference in the prosecution, using money or political affiliation,” she concludes.

According to forensic science and real world investigations by Dr Larry Jetmore, rape is usually thought of as a male-on-female crime. In Criminal Investigation (McGraw Hill, 2006), the authors cite series of studies indicating why women do not report being raped, including lack of belief in the police’s ability to apprehend the suspect, fear of further victimisation by court proceedings, embarrassment about publicity, and fear of reprisal by the rapist.

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