For days we have been reading, with horror and disgust, about the alleged rape of a 24-year old female engineering student of University of Sierra Leone (Fourah Bay College) by the Sierra Leone Deputy Minister of Education. We have learned from newspaper reports that the deputy Minister, has been charged with “four counts of rape, assault and wounding.” He is now out on a ten million Leones bail.
Rape is a highly unreported crime in Sierra Leonean society; the majority of rape victims are silenced by the stigma of “shame” associated with their victimization and in most cases, the perpetrator is able to either bribe authorities to turn a blind eye or entice community leaders to sweep the crime under the rug.
In many cases, victims who report are also subjected to intimidation, harrassment and even assault by perpetrators or their suporters. In the case of this 24-year old college woman, the judge, upon releasing Mr. Minister on bail, strongly cautioned police to ensure maximum security for the young lady; her life could be in danger for her bravery to come forward with this crime against her.
Another major drawback is the silence about rape in our society. In an era in which the silliest event goes viral on social media, a high profile case such as this is not being discussed by Sierra Leoneans; if anything is said it usually has a tone of blaming the victim.
This societal silence and blaming the victim send the message that as a people, we condone this vicious crime against women and it also perpetuates the victims’ silence as they feel unsupported by society when they take the risk of reporting the crime.
In this case, the victim, a young college woman, is actually braving the societal tides against her by reporting this crime committed against her. Sadly, however, having been granted bail, Mr. Minister may never see the inside of a prison again for this particular crime; he now has the chance to bribe his way out of this and probably also secure the silence of the young lady either by coercion or otherwise.
This case has many of the imprints of rape cases in Sierra Leone, e.g.,
- the perpetrator is not a stranger, he is an acquaintance
- the perpetrator acted with impunity
- there is an imbalanced power dynamic between perpetrator and victim
In this case, a man who is older, more powerful and richer, tries to seduce a young college woman, she refuses, he tries to entice her with money or favors, she still refuses; he finds an opportunity to be alone with her and then rapes her with impunity; as if she was withholding from him something that he had a right to take as he wished.
The detail of the horrendous experience of the 24-year old college woman is in the recently released audio recording of her narration of the event. She gave her account in Krio, the recording is a little hard to transcribe because she is crying throughout; this is what we are able to gather from her explanation:
The young lady befriended the deputy minister through a mutual friend. From the onset, Mr. Minister made passes at her but she laughed them off and even discussed them with her boyfriend thinking that the Minister was joking.
At one point Mr. Minister invited the young lady to his office, since she was looking for a scholarship to study abroad, she accepted the invitation…Upon arrival, Mr. Minister said to her that when he had told her before that he would find her a man to marry, that he (Mr. Minister) was that man and he would like to marry the young lady. She responded that she was not interested in marrying Mr. Minister but would appreciate one favor from him, which was a scholarship to study abroad. He agreed to help her get a scholarship since she is determined and serious about her education…
…Mr. Minister then asked her to bring her documents, which she did, including her passport; she put them in a brown envelope and handed it to him in his office at the Ministry of Education…
…Mr. Minister said he would submit the documents to the secretary in charge of scholarships and would give the young lady’s number to that person in case something comes up and he (Mr. Minister) is not in town.
…Then the young lady asked to get the secretary’s number so that she could follow-up. But Mr. Minister responded that the young lady did not need to follow-up with anyone because he (Mr. Minister) has given his instructions to those in charge.
…Mr. Minister then said that the main issue at hand was that he liked the young lady but she has been wickedly refusing to accept his offers. She responded that she was not being wicked…but needed his help…she has a boyfriend…
…Then she left his office, but they met by the exit and he offered to give her a ride to the gate…she sat with him in the back sit of his car…however, they did not stop at the gate. Then he suggested that she come with him to Kinghama Road to get her something to eat; when he was getting out of the car to go into the store, he instructed the driver to lock the car doors, that if he allowed the young lady to get out of the car while he (Mr. Minister) was gone, he would jail the driver. The young lady took this too to be a joke and laughed it off. She told Mr. Minister that it is not nice to keep her like this…he said that he just wanted her company and he did not mean anything bad. She waited in the car until he returned.
Then Mr. Minister returned into the car after making his purchases…he instructed the driver to drive to Kingtom, to visit a friend’s place… Mr. Minister revealed that his friend was not in town but his son was at the house. Upon arriving, she started begging him to please give her some time to think about his proposal and not get into intimacy with her.
Mr. Minister then told her that tonight, whether she goes up or comes down, he (Mr. Minister) is going to force her to have sex with him because she is too much…too wicked…and is acting as if she is a virgin.
A struggle between the two ensued…when the young lady screamed, Mr. Minister slapped her…she told him she did not expect this from him…he responded that everything was going to be ruined…She told him that she is under parental care and would like to go home…Mr. Minister told her that he did not care about that…he said how could a grown woman like her be worried about staying out late…
After a period of verbal and physical assault by Mr. Minister, as the young lady was screaming and struggling to get out of his hold, Mr. Minister told her that no need to struggle because no matter how hard she fights, he is stronger than her and that she was not going to leave without having sex with him. Mr. Minister held her down with one hand, slapped her with the other, and then pulled down her pants.
The young lady suffered the worst of the ordeal when she tried to keep her legs tightly together; Mr. Minister proceeded to beat her up mercilessly and forced her legs apart, got access to her private parts and raped her…
Rape defined in the dictionary:
- The unlawful compelling of a person through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse.
- Any act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person.
However, rape, like other gender based violence against women, is more about power and control and this case has all the imprints.
To those in our society who are quick to blame rape victims, Please remember that NO MEANS NO!
One such example we can point out is a headline that reads: “THE LATEST SCANDAL: Was it Rape or Not!” The article, written by a Sierra Leonean male goes on to talk about misdeeds of the young lady and why it was not a rape.
Of course, we respect the doctrine of innocent until proven guilty; however, people like this and most Sierra Leoneans jump to the judgment that the victim deserved it because she brought it upon herself. This young lady had a right to associate with a fellow citizen in the person of Mr. Deputy Minister, an entrusted public servant. His decision to rape her is his crime not hers.
- Even if she consented to a point and then changed her mind, a descent, law-abiding man would stop no matter how far he had gone.
Regarding the young lady’s request to Mr. Minister for a scholarship to study abroad, any Sierra Leonean can attest to the fact that scholarships for study abroad or higher education, usually given to the Sierra Leone government by host governments (e.g. Russia, U.S., U.K., Australia, etc.) are not awarded to Sierra Leoneans on the basis of academic merit; they are owned by politicians and awarded by them to their relatives, including their mistresses and others in their network.
Obviously, this young lady felt that a friendship with the Deputy Minister of Education (what an irony) was the ultimate opportunity. Unfortunately for her, our politicians are not Good Samaritans; they always want something in return. From young women who approach them in hopes of securing study abroad scholarship, jobs or other opportunities, sex is always demanded in return, unless the young lady is already having sex with him or is the niece or daughter of someone in his network.
This is why politicians in Sierra Leone are famous for having many mistresses, regardless of their marital status. They use their official titles to acquire sex from young women who are looking for opportunities; yet this rapant misbehavior by governement officicals is not part of the governement’s so called fight against corruption.
What we do not know is the number of young women who are being raped daily in Sierra Leone, especially by these “powerful” men. Some young women might get financial or other gain from such men, especially if they settle into condoning continued sexual exploitation in which the man uses her for a period of time for sexual purpose until he gets tired and moves to his next victim.
In Sierra Leone where women have the lowest literacy rate, least number in legislative and political office, it is widely believed that a woman’s rescue from poverty and attainment of higher social standing will only come from her connection with a man who has money or power. Women, like this young victim, who are trying to defy this societal trend by getting an education, are still running into people like the Deputy Minister of Education as stumbling blocks.
Bravo to this brave young lady from Fourah Bay College!
We hope that other girls and women who find themselves in similar situations will be inspired to following her footsteps; it is the surest way to transform our society into one that respects women and their rights.