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Sierra Leone News: Women urged to stand up and speak out about sexual abuse and rape

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Amira Catherine Koroma

Amira Catherine Koroma

mira Catherine Koroma, now 26, was abused as a child. At the age of 8, she was abused and at 18 she survived an attempted rape. Abuse and sexual assault can take their toll on victims. Very often, survivors of sexual crimes suffer stress, nightmares, physical ailments and emotional pain.
But, the stigma and discrimination faced by survivors often limits their willingness to come forward and press charges or testify in Court. For many women, they suffer in silence; afraid to come forward and scared of the process involved in prosecuting the perpetrators.
The Sexual Offences Act of 2012 was established to provide legal protection for victims of sexual and gender base violence (SGBV). Part 4 of this Act makes provision for sentencing of perpetrators and compensation for victims. Section 35 of this part states some aggravating factors that can permit a maximum sentence: if the perpetrator commit an offence in the company of another person, if the perpetrator uses or threatens to use a weapon, “the defendant confined or restrained the victim before or after the commission of the offence (e) the defendant in committing the offence, abused a position of trust, authority or dependency; (f) the defendant is a member of the same family as the victim; (g) the victim is a child; or (h) the victim has a physical or mental disability.”
Section 36 further states that in order to determine the sentence to be imposed under the Act, the court will consider any statement of the victim of the offence describing the harm done to or loss suffered by the victim arising from the commission of the offence. Despite this statement, the law also makes provision for witnesses to make statement in court on behalf of victims of the offence.
Subsection 3 of this section 36 furthered “(1) When a person is convicted of an offence under this Act, the court may, in addition to any other punishment order the person convicted to pay the victim such sum as appears to the court to be reasonable compensation. (2) An order under subsection (1) shall compensate the victim for (a) Costs of medical and psychological treatment; (b) Costs of physical and occupational therapy and rehabilitation; (c) Costs of necessary transportation; (d) temporary housing and: child care; (e) lost income; (f) legal practitioner’s fees and other legal costs; 4 (a) compensation for emotional distress, pain and suffering; and (b) any other losses suffered by the victim”. The law also makes provision for victim to access free medical treatment, police assistance and advice, protection of the victims’ privacy.
Despite the provisions found in this Act, there is still an increase in offences and though they are reported to the police, further prosecution in court remains a huge challenge.
The 2016 National Crime Statistics of the Family Support Unit of the Sierra Leone Police records 11,362 cases of Sexual and Gender Base Violence cases (SGBV). Out of this figure 2,149 is sexual penetration while 78 are rape.
In a recent Court proceeding at the Siaka Stevens Street High Court in Freetown, Justice John Bosco expressed dissatisfaction on the issue of absenteeism of prosecution witnesses in cases of sexual offences. He said, “Locating victims is a challenge, how can the matter proceed? People should come to prosecute their cases”.
During a recent interview with Justice Adelaide Dworzak, she urged, “It is for people to inform the police. Inform where you know it is domestic violence. It is your business if a woman is ill-treating the man or the man is ill-treating the woman it is your business because you are all Sierra Leoneans.”
Some reasons for the silence of victims of SGBV is that some of the perpetrators are family members. Victims are also afraid of stigmatization so they prefer to keep quiet.
In an interview with Amira Koroma last Monday, she said society’s perception that victims are embarrassing themselves if they speak out and the fear of some becoming homeless if they expose family members that are perpetrators have resulted in victims becoming silent.
“With constant community engagement we have realized that millions of women and girls are dying in silence”.
Lucy was sexually abused at age at about age 4. She said, “I was usually sent to stay with a neighbour when my parents were not around. In that house there was a boy who sometimes grabbed me and placed his organ in my anus.” She added, “Victims should not relent; they should come out and speak. The law is there to support us”.
In order to break the silence and encourage other women to come forward and prosecute offenders, in September 2016, Amira Koroma established the SMART Women Initiative (SWI). Using her story, Koroma is now urging victims of sexual abuse to come out and speak.
SWI is providing free counseling for victims of SGBV, ensuring constant community engagement and working with the disables to ensure their safety. Koroma said they are engaging the FSU to make them understand how the issues affects victim.
She added, “We want to go into action; we want to provide safe space for women to be able to talk about these issues. We want to stop SGBV. Though people will say you are lying, we at SWI believe you and we will support you”.
Koroma is determined to break the silence. She said over 50 women have expressed interest to join her. SMART is on Facebook or can be contacted via smartwomeninitiative16@gmail.com or call 076794097, 077367659.
ES/4/8/17
By Edna Smalle
Tuesday August 08, 2017

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