By Alpha Bedoh Kamara
The public statement by Sierra Leone minister of Basic and Secondary Education, Alpha Timbo, that women sometimes are responsible when raped is a deliberate act by the minister to cast aspersion on women’s stories of rape in the country.
“Sometimes the women are to blame. They provoke the men to rape them,” Alpha Timbo said at a UNFPA event in Freetown.
Unfortunately, the statement by Timbo is being downplayed by some sectors in society as a mistake and something not to be taken seriously despite the the high rate of rape cases and sexual abuse in the country. In February this year President Julius Maada Bio declared rape and sexual violence a national emergency and called for an end to the culture of “indifference” and impunity surrounding it.
The president’s announcement follows a national outcry over the prevalence of sexual violence in the West African nation, where recorded cases of sexual and gender-based violence doubled last year, reaching 8,505 in a population of 7.8 million, according to police statistics.
Timbo’s statement does not only creates a sense of fear but also bringing to mind memories of sexual abuse perpetrated against women and girls during the 11 years of war in which rape was used as a weapon.
Must women and girls always be on their guard to fight off rapists or its the responsibility of the government to ensure the protection of every girl child and woman in the country? Sierra Leoneans want answers.
The widespread and systematic use of rape and other sexual violence during the ten-year civil war in Sierra Leone is documented in a new Human Rights Watch report released on January 16, 2003.
The 75-page report, Sierra Leone: Sexual Violence Widespread in War, states, “‘We’ll Kill You If You Cry:’ Sexual Violence in the Sierra Leone Conflict,” presents evidence of horrific abuses against women and girls in every region of the country by the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), as well as other rebel, government and international peacekeeping forces.
“In this report, we have documented unimaginable atrocities against women in Sierra Leone,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “The people responsible for these crimes must be held accountable.” Takirambudde also said the victims of sexual violence urgently need help to regain their health and reintegrate into their communities.
According to the AfricaRenewal, The Sierra Leone civil war was known internationally for its horrific atrocities — especially the widespread amputations of villagers’ limbs. But until recently, little attention was devoted to abuses directed specifically against women. “Violence against women was not just incidental to the conflict,” Ms. Nowrojee told Africa Renewal, “but was routinely used as a tool of war. Sexual violence was used in a widespread and systematic way as a weapon, and women were raped in extraordinarily brutal ways.”
The statement by the minister of education speaks volume about the level of acceptance in government circles the suffering and abuse women are going through in the country. Sexual abuse and violations are committed with impunity and victims left to leak their wounds and suffering in silence, with tears and shame their only solace.
Unfortunately for women in the country the Government of Sierra Leone is yet to make a statement regarding the minister’s senseless pronouncement and we are still unable to understand why the statement was made in the first place, only if one may assume, is the minister emboldening perpetrators of sexual crimes in the country?