By Ornette Turay
Rape in Sierra Leone and elsewhere is a heinous and horrible experience. It is a violation of the rights of the victims. It happens in Sierra Leone too often. Due to a lack of willingness for people to testify in court, fewer people have been convicted of this despicable act. In some instances, family members resort to out of court settlement, sometimes, after huge sums of money have changed hands, while the victims or survivors of rape have to go through the trauma, an experience no amount of money can compensate. This dastardly act has attracted condemnation from various women’s groups in the country calling for stiffer penalties for the perpetrators.
In a pre-testing monitoring by the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL), it was discovered that the weak institutional capacities and minimal resources to adequately investigate, prosecute, punish culprits, and heal survivors, undermines the effectiveness of laws set aside to fight this gross abuse. The HRCSL study shows that there is a rise in rape cases across the country.
Most of these cases go unpunished because they are not managed in a manner that allows for thorough prosecution. Case preparation involves many stages. It starts with a report by the victim, an FSU officer taking a statement, an investigation follows, the evidence is gathered and, charges proffered. The latter sometimes does not always proceed as they should to the frustration of the victims.
I came in contact with Gbontor Kalusu (not her real name) during a conference convened by the ‘Salone’ Women’s Organization in October 2018. During the interactive session, Gbontor narrated her rape ordeal from her uncle. Moved by her story, I approached her at the close of the conference and kindly requested that I do a story on her predicament. She willingly accepted my request.
As the situation worsened and became unbearable for Gbontor’s grandmother, she contacted her only surviving son residing in Freetown. Gbontor’s uncle faithfully promised his mother that he would enroll his niece in school, which he did. However, she was doing all the household chores. She had less time to study her school notes. At 12, she was still in Class four. ‘’It was a disturbing situation for me that I had no time to study my school notes seriously. I was getting poor grades at school, but my uncle never cared about my poor performance in school. All he cared about was I do the housework period! When I went to bed to sleep, he would open my room at odd hours. He had been doing that countless times. I asked myself, what does my uncle want from me? Why does he enter my room late at night?
"I was getting worried,’’ says Gbontor.
One night while she was asleep, her uncle entered her room and stuffed a cloth into her mouth. She could not shout to alert her neighbours, and her clothes tore during the struggle. ‘’I struggled with him, but he overcame me, and I became helpless. It was at this stage that he raped me. Afterwards, he threatened me not to tell anyone.’’
Gbontor says at dawn the following day, she confided in one of her neighbours what her uncle had done to her the previous night. ‘I was ashamed, but I mustered the courage to tell Aunty Doris my ordeal. She advised me to report the matter to the Police Station,’’ she discloses. After her uncle had left the house for work, she packed her belongings and went to stay with Aunty Doris. She was then accompanied to the police station by Aunty Doris to report the matter. Having made her statement, she was given a medical examination form to visit the Rainbo Centre, where rape victims usually undergo free medical treatment and psychosocial counselling .
Gbontor’s uncle was arrested at his place of work, and the matter charged to court. He was found guilty and sentenced to five years imprisonment. ‘’I am happy he was jailed. Justice has been done to me. Our men must stop raping women,’’ she said.
Gbontor is happily staying with Aunty Doris. ‘’ She is kind to me as if she is my biological mother. I am attending a vocational school where I am acquiring skills in dressmaking’’ Gbontor revealed.